After my first experience with Langham wine (their stunning Classic Cuvée Reserve 2011), I was excited to visit the estate on an early September’s morning. Upon arrival, I was delighted to be greeted by Justin Langham, director and owner of this exciting and relatively new entry into the English Sparkling Wine market.
Justin, a lover of wine and traveller to many vineyards around the world had first enrolled in a course at Plumpton College after his father Jon had cultivated a small vineyard. Owning 5-6 separate farms across Dorset, and after consulting 2 independent viticulture specialists, the site at Crawthorne was selected as a perfect site with south facing slopes and chalk rich soils. The first vines were planted in 2009, and the area under vine now totals 30 acres. With a focus on producing world standard Sparkling wine, the grapes varieties planted are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with a small portion of Pinot Noir Précoce that is blended into the Rosé.
We starting our tour at the recently launched tasting room, an open and inviting space where visitors can drop in and buy wines from the Cellar Door, or sign up for a guided or self guiled tour and tasting. It was great to see several groups of people drop by and do so – none of who left empty handed, a great sign of the quality of the wines! The tasting room is tastefully decorated with bags of character – a large proportion of the décor was made with logs sourced from Justin's numerous farms.
Next we visit the winery, another converted farm barn that is once again full of character and intrigue. With capacity of 15-17k bottles initially, investments two years ago into new winemaking equipment has seen that double to 35k bottle capacity.
An impressive array of oak barrels are lined up on the far side, with planned purchase of more used Burgundy barrels creating a new issue – space! But fascinatingly, Justin’s ingenuity and resourceful will be put to good use here. Rather than opting for a conventional fixed position barrel racking, Justin has been devising a suspended system allowing barrels to be accessed, interacted with and tasted easily. With the exposed brick walls, wood beams, and all that beautiful oak there's a wonderful sense of calm in the winery - it must be a compelling place to craft wines in.
A third building houses bottle storage, riddling facilities and the grape press – which is moved into the winery only during harvest to allow a more productive use of the space throughout the the year. Surrounded by bottles from the last few harvests, I take the opportunity to ask Justin about how Langham approach vintage variation. The the exact blend, dosage and time spent on the lees will be decided by winemaker Daniel Ham based on what is picked each year, with the wines being released only when they are good and ready. Whilst one could think that the bringing of bottles to market might make business sense, Justin explains that right now everything is about quality and patience. What this means is that we must wait patiently for the reportedly divine Blanc de Noirs, as the 2013 sold out completely earlier in the year. This focus on quality is clearly working, with 50% of sales coming from the public directly from the cellar door and online – word of mouth is clearly doing Langham wonders!
No English wine visit is completely without a vineyard tour, so next we head out for a walk around the vines and a chat to vineyard manager Tom Jayne. Tom joined Langham in January, and had previously worked at both organic and biodynamic vineyards in England. He explains the significance of the natural shelter that surrounds the vineyards. Clearly at one with the land in Dorset, Tom explains that whilst he is now free from the shackles of biodynamic regulation, the policy in the vineyard is to minimise the use of herbicides and human intervention to preserve the rich soil qualities found at the site.
With low Chardonnay yields due to a challenging early part of the season, Tom explains that all fingers are crossed for an Indian Summer in September – prompting the grapes that had developed to be of great quality and concentration, despite the low yields. At the time I visited, many of the Chardonnay vines were looking pretty bare, but the weather that followed prior to harvest appears to have been just what Tom and the Langham team was hoping for. The final harvest is reportedly down on yield, but crucially with grapes of excellent quality.
Overall I was massively impressed with what Justin and his team have done with Langham in under 10 years. The vineyards are beautifully maintained, the winery and visitor facilities really make the most out of what were fairly humble surroundings. The wines, most importantly, are absolutely fantastic! The Classic Cuvée Reserve 2011 mentioned at the start of this article has already gone on to win UKVA Award’s Most Outstanding Sparkling Wine Trophy this year. But what really put Langham on the map was when their Classic Cuvée 2010 was voted the best English Sparkling Wine out of 30 at Stephen Skelton’s Judgement of Parson's Green IV (2014). An outstanding achievement for a maiden vintage, made from the first ever harvest from Langham!
Date Visited: Friday 2nd September 2016
Location: Dorchester, Dorset
LANGHAM BLANC DE BLANCS 2011
Grapes: Chardonnay RRP: £31.00
Kicking off our tasting was this all singing, all dancing Blanc de Blancs. Harvested in late October, the wine spent 48 months on the lees.
On the nose, very fresh aromas of pear and green apple with hints of sweet brioche and zesty lemon.
The palate is really rich with vibrant tongue tingling, punchy acidity. The mid taste has direct and clean expression of English orchard fruit.
The finish is lengthy, with hints of pastry and toasted biscuit. A wonderfully crisp and expressive wine.
LANGHAM CLASSIC CUVÉE 2013
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier RRP: £25.00
The latest Classic Cuvée release from Langham is a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier. A portion of the wine has gone through malolactic fermentation and 6 months lees aging, prior to a further 24 months on lees in the bottle.
Quite different on the nose to the BdB, with a fresher citrus focus, peach aromas but then some distinctive red notes too.
Starting with rich racy acidity, this again has that crisp green fresh picked English apple quality – but with a bit more citrus potency.
Great texture, though evidently youthful in character it should get better with another year or two in the bottle.
LANGHAM ROSÉ 2013
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £25.00
A slightly red biased blend of 42% Chardonnay, 43% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, the Sparkling Rosé has spent 18 months on the lees with approx 9-10g dosage.
Warmer red fruit aromas of strawberry and raspberry, with hints of spiced apple pastry.
A delicately textured palate of English summer berry pudding and cream is ushered along with persistent fine bubbles. Raspberry and cherry flavours form on the finish with hints of spice and biscuit.
The perfect wine to end my visit on!