Exton Park Vineyard

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Terroir. A word used to describe the impact of environmental factors such as altitude, soil quality and climate has on a crop. I’ve met few winemakers in England that have a better grasp of Terroir than Corinne Seely, Winemaker at Hampshire’s Exton Park. Corinne’s career has spanned an impressive geographic area, starting in Bordeaux then working in Australia, the Languedoc, then Douro before finally turning her attention to England. After the successful launch of Coates and Seely, Corinne now resides at Exton Park, where she has made a very affirmative stamp with a clear ambition to make top quality sparkling wines that are expressive of the very unique English terroir of this vineyard.

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We start our tour at a point that is in the middle of the vineyard in terms of altitude – with beautiful views over the Hampshire National Park. The sun is starting to peek through the clouds; it’s truly a stunning landscape. In 2003 the first 12 acres of vines were planted, with the classic three varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. With further plantings in 2009 it was then that Malcom Isaac, a local businessman with a background in watercress and salad trade, purchased the vineyard. Two years on, after a couple of years of selling grapes to other producers, Malcolm decided it was time for Exton Park to make their own wines. And with the contracting of Corinne Seely as head winemaker, the team planned and assembled their own winery – more on this shortly!

Vineyard Manager Fred Langdale another key factor in the vineyard’s success. He begins by showing us the vineyards distinctive and characteristically chalk rich soils. The chalk is a great soil quality for sparkling wine – forcing the grapes to work harder to grow and thrive and potentially inducing that ever so desirable minerality. This is quality that Exton Park does an outstanding job at preserving in their wines. The vineyard is structured in such a way that each plot has its own qualities – a ‘mini terroir’ in each plot if you like. With altitude ranging from 50 meters to 120 meters above sea level, multiple root stocks, pruning systems and vine densities, it’s clear that experimentation and flexibility are high up on the agenda. Ultimately the wines will be harvested and fermented in individual plots, clones and varieties, giving Corinne a huge flexibility when it comes to producing a wine of distinctive character and expression.

A general aim to keep yield down at 3 tonnes per acre retains focus and, most importantly quality. There are now 55 acres under vine spanning 45% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Noir. The vineyard is maintained as organically as possible, with weeds and greenery ploughed back into those chalk rich soils. All vines are pruned by hand, and each year a group of 20-25 people are employed to harvest all grapes by hand.

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We reach the highest point and what is perhaps the most experimental plot in the vineyard. This plot is planted with just Pinot Meunier, but there is no double-guyot system in sight in this area. Instead, and rather uniquely, the Chablis pruning system is being trialled here. The vines are distinctive with three shorter bud-bearing canes. This cultivation method results in fewer, but more importantly larger bunches of grapes, resulting in greater flavour compound concentration. It is going to be fascinating seeing what impact this experimental approach has on Exton Park’s already award winning adventures into Pinot Meunier. During our tour it’s clear to see that there’s such a clear understanding between the impact of terroir and nature, such a perfect synergy between vineyard manager Fred and Corinne, that there is a clear and precise vision from the growing of the grapes to the approach of the winemaking.

Entering the a large building that holds the winery, Corinne explains to us that when she first joined Exton Park there were already basic winery facilities in place, but ultimately they basically started from scratch. The centrepieces of the winery are two Bucher Vaslin nitrogen gas presses. This unique type of press utilises inert gas to gentle press the grapes in small batches of 2-3 tonnes at a time with a slow and gentle pressing that preserves the natural freshness of the grape juice. A vast array of stainless steel tanks are utilised to vinify in separate plots and clones. A investment in further fermentation vats is planned, allowing further capacity for additional trials and blending possibilities.

A separate room side room contains a selection of oak barrels that are used for oak ageing and reserve wines. Fascinatingly, Corinne see’s these as are “spice rack” – much like a chef who lets her natural produce speak for itself, Corinne uses the oak to add that extra subtle seasoning of complexity. This lets the fruit speak rather than dominating the wine’s flavour with winemaker-induced flavours. Outside of the winery is a plot of land that will be home to a new hospitality centre in the coming couple of years. Whilst Exton Park is a working winery with no intentions on becoming a tourist attraction, this new building will house a private cellar and tasting facilities for clients and other guests by invitation only.

And so we move onto the wine tasting, in what was the kitchen of the former residence of vineyard manager Fred. It was quite a charm to sit in this humble area and to work our way through the current range of six Exton Park wines. We sit with Corinne, Freddie and PR & Marketing representative Fiona Campbell, who had accompanied us on the tour with some fantastic insights. It was a truly fitting end to the tour to try the wines from the hands of the people who made them – and to see how all of that effort and precision was then replicated in each and every glass of wine. I must give a huge thanks to Fiona, Corinne and Fred on their exceptional hospitality.

All of the wines that we tasted are available to purchase by the bottle from the Exton Park website, with free delivery on orders of 6 or more bottles.

Winemaker:
Region:
Producer Website:
Total Acreage:
  • 55 Acres
Open to the Public?
  • No

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Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 201

Grapes: Chardonnay  RRP: £39.95

Harvested from the oldest vines at the highest point on the estate vineyards, this cherished area is home to pure chalky mineral rich soils. The Blanc de Blancs 2011 is also the first ever-vintage release from Exton Park, and was a small production of just 2,500 bottles. The wine is made from 100% Chardonnay and will be made only in exceptional years.

First impressions can be everything, and this starts well with tiny streams of very persistent bubbles demonstrating suitable finesse.

And then there’s the nose; fine, clean, elegant and pronounced are all words that come to mind. Citrus, crisp apple and baked bread notes are there, with a charming autolytic yeasty background. Perhaps most distinctive is the mineral character thanks to the chalk rich soils that the vines are grown in.

Onto the palate, there’s a delightful fusion of fresher green apple and citrus fruit clarity leading to a more rounded baked apple mid-taste. These flavours really linger, providing a vibrant profile with those ever present lemon citrus notes.

It’s a beautifully expressive Blanc de Blancs, perhaps a little more vivid and fruit focussed than some. These qualities really help to makes this superb sparkling wine stand out, as does its lingering lasting length and that clean elegant mineral backbone.

Exton Park Pinot Meunier Rosé

Grapes: Pinot Meunier  RRP: £34.95

If there was one wine that defines Exton Park’s winemaking intentions and style then it’s the Gold Medal Winning Pinot Meunier Rosé.

This wine has gone through just 12 months on the lees ageing, a reduced period intended on preserving the grape’s natural qualities. A low dosage of 6.5g continues to allow nature to be expressive.

The wine impresses on first glance with its delightfully pale pink complexion – it’s so subtle and inviting. In the glass, fine streams of bubbles, very persistent and elegant.

One the nose is a very clean profile; citrus zest and vibrant minerality meet notes of white flower and subtle red berry fragrance.

The palate is similarly clean with a distinctive precision. Taught flavours of fresh cranberry and red currant explode with each sip. More rounded on the mid taste with white peach and raspberry in there too before a lovely mineral finish lingers in the mouth.

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Exton Park Brut NV

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay  RRP: £27.95

A pale yellow coloured Non Vintage blend of 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay with 7g/l dosage. This wine has a lovely clean nose of citrus and green apple with hints of white flower and tropical fruit.

On the palate there’s a bold bright vibrant acidity with focussed crisp green apple and lemon flavours. The fruit flavours are really pronounced on the fuller mid-taste with tastes of peach and passion fruit.

Photo with thanks to Exton Park.

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Exton Park Blanc de Noirs NV

Grapes: Pinot Noir  RRP: £29.95

This 100% Pinot Noir has a slightly higher dosage of 10g/l and has a slight warmth in the colour. Gentle aromas of red fruit on the nose with notes of raspberry, redcurrant and red apple.

The palate is superbly rounded and balanced with a delightful mouth filling fruit profile. Those red fruit hints are there and partnered with with brioche and bready complexity.

Photo with thanks to Exton Park.

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Exton Park Rosé NV

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Chardonnay  RRP: £27.95

A blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier with 9g/l dosage. The wine has an elegant pale salmon colour and a vibrant red fruit led nose of raspberry and red cherry.

This wine also has a very precise and refreshing palate with a distinctive flavour profile that is more red apple and peach than the strawberries and cream one comes to expect from an English rosé. Delightful.

Photo with thanks to Exton Park.

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Exton Park Rosé Vintage 2011

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier  RRP: £59.95

Fascinating to try this developed rosé next to the youthful NV, with the deep almost orange toned colour showing the wine’s additional age. A richer layer of bready and nutty aromas supports the red berry character.

The palate is the most rounded of all of the wines tasted, with a very smooth profile and fine bubbles. Red berry flavours are seasoned with delicate spice and a lovely lengthy nutty aftertaste.

Photo with thanks to Exton Park.

John Mobbs

Founder of GreatBritishWine.com, John has been a prolific user on wine rating app Vivino for the last couple of years. Now a self appointed Great British Wine ambassador and with a mission to explore all corners of the UK to uncover the best producers and most exciting wines.

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