Date Visited: Saturday 4th July 2015
Location: Puttenham, Surrey
Tour Price: Free!
With the British heat wave still in full swing, a Saturday mid morning visit a local Surrey vineyard was the perfect way to begin my weekend. I hadn't realised that Greyfriars Vineyard was located just 15 miles away from our home in Weybridge, and the prospect of a free tasting of their 6 most recent still and sparkling wines was the only excuse I needed to be there!
Greyfriars Vineyard is set in a beautiful part of the Surrey landscape just outside of Guildford. The vineyard was originally planted in 1989 with the classic Champagne grape varieties of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunière and Chardonnay. It was since purchased and taken over by Michael and Hilary Wagstaff, who had shared a long time dream to own a vineyard. And so in 2010 this dream became a reality, when Greyfriars Vineyard as we know it today was born. The couple were soon joined by vineyard manager David Line and Winemaker/consultant Hans Schliefer and have seen a rapid expansion over the five years they have worked together so far. With over 40 acres of new vines planted in that time, multiple awards and a goal to produce 100,000 bottles annually by the end of the decade, it's great to see what started off as a hobby start to grow into a small scale commercial business.
Greyfriars believe that the terroir of the Surrey North Downs provides the perfect conditions for growing traditional Champagne grape varieties for English Sparkling Wine. With similar geological and soil conditions to the Champagne region, the site in Puttenham sits on a couple of hundred feet of Cretaceous chalk with a clay based topsoil. The main vineyard is situated on sloping hills surrounded by peaceful landscape; it’s one of the most pleasant vineyards I’ve visited to date.
The Wagstaff's decided to focus on the growing of traditional grapes for making high quality English Sparkling Wines. It's no surprise then that the same three grapes they started with remain the main focus of the vineyard, however that hasn't stopped them experimenting. This year has seen the release of a number of small-scale still wines including a Pinot Gris and, more rarely for England, a Sauvignon Blanc. This year they also made a limited (250 bottle) release of a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, believed to be the first of its kind in England. Michael explained that whilst English Sparkling wine remains Greyfriars' focus, that sometimes it's just nice to experiment. Further proof of that experimentation comes in the form of a Pinot Noir, which is a collaborative project with their German vine planter Volker Scheu. The grapes were grown in the Pfalz region of Germany before being transported back to Greyfriars for vinification.
The focus on sparkling wines yielded significant rewards upon the release of the Wagstaff's first wine; the 2011 Rose Reserve Brut. Despite being a small release of just 450 bottles, the wine quickly earned a critically acclaimed response. Last year it picked up Bronze medals in the Decanter World Wine & IWSC Awards, as well as a Silver medal in the English Sommelier Wine Awards. The Rose has been listed in Waitrose thanks to some hard work from Hilary and is slowly starting to break onto local restaurant wine lists. The 2011 Blanc de Blancs has picked up similar accolades from the same awarding bodies as the Rose.
Greyfriars also has a winery on site, where all of the grapes are processed, vinified and bottled (manually at the moment). I'm hoping for a return visit soon for a look around the winery. At the moment bottle storage is a bit of an issue and a converted barn is currently used, however there are immanent plans for the co structure of an underground wine cave. There are also plans for further investment in land to increase vineyard acreage and an investment in an automatic bottling line. With volumes on the Blanc de Blancs increasing from 600 bottles to 14,000 bottles over the last three years, this can't come soon enough.
Overall my visit to Greyfriars was a great and worthwhile trip. It’s nice to see such an ambitious approach from a local vineyard, and to have the chance to talk directly to the owners and the people that make it all happen was excellent. It’s certainly going to be interesting to watch this promising producer of English Sparkling Wine grow over the coming years. Continue reading below to see my impressions on the wines that I tried at the vineyard.
Greyfriars Blanc de Blancs 2012
Grapes: Chardonnay, Price: £21.00
A sneak preview of the new vintage of the Blanc de Blancs, this was my favourite of the six wines I tried.
A beautiful rich toasty nose of vanilla, yeasty bread and sweet brioche. This has such a a classic expression of sparkling Chardonnay that you just can't wait to dive in.
The palate is med with crisp acidity and tangy green apple flavours. Nice smooth creamy texture with baked apple and biscuit complexity.
What We Thought:
Greyfriars Rosé Reserve Brut 2013
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Price: £21.00
The latest vintage of their award winning Sparkling Rosé, and the first vintage that is made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes.
The Rose has a light and fruity nose of strawberry and lemon, subtle notes of vanilla coming from a partial old oak fermentation.
Summer berries on the palate, a nice mix of red fruit, citrus freshness and slight toasted notes. Very drinkable, but not as much depth as the excellent Blanc de Blancs.
What We Thought:
Greyfriars Sparkling Fumé 2012
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Price: £15.00
This is a really interesting one and is believed to be the first Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc to be grown and produced in the UK.
Interesting in concept, even more interesting in character, this Sauvignon has a distinctly vegetal character on the nose. Think green asparagus or minted peas, with a mixture of grassy notes, citrus and subtle oaking.
All those savoury vegetable notes also come through on the palate. It's got quite a crisp citrus bite with a bit more of a fruity gooseberry character coming through on the mid taste.
What We Thought:
Greyfriars Pinot Gris 2014
Grapes: Pinot Gris, Price: £13.50
My second English Pinot Gris to date, and I found this a very well judged and balanced example.
Fresh nose of citrus, nectarine stone fruit with a slight pear drop sweetness.
On the palate you will find medium to high acidity, with smooth honeyed fruit flavours and a tingling minerality. This was my favourite of the still wines from Greyfriars.
What We Thought:
Greyfriars Lansdowne Blanc
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Price: £12.50
An interesting curiosity, and the first English 100% Sauvignon Blanc I have tried so far.
Like the Sparkling Fumé, this still wine displayed strong vegetal like qualities on the nose, with a very green bouquet and slight citrus aromas.
I found the palate a little bit confused, it lacked the freshness and clarity of the Sparkling wine, and whilst there were slight hints of gooseberry and citrus I'm not sure the vegetal notes worked so well in a still wine.
What We Thought:
Greyfriars Velvet Volker 2012
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Price: £10.00
I'm going to return to this wine in a week or so as I brought back a bottle for a thorough tasting.