There are some vineyards that you just can't wait to visit. Gusbourne has been high up on my 'must-visit' list since I started writing about English Wine last year. With a hugely charismatic winemaker at the helm, a range of highly rated and award winning sparkling wines, one May afternoon I finally had the opportunity to make a visit accompanied by Robbie Priddle. Our afternoon begins with a tour of the beautifully expansive vineyard in Appledore with Master Sommelier Laura Rhys, who joined Gusbourne last year.
Originally dating back to 1410, it was not until 2004 that Andrew Weeber took over the Gusbourne Estate and planted the first vines. The goal was simple; to make sparkling wines of international quality. Further plantings were made in 2005, 06 and 07, with 22 hectares of established vines and a total of over 60 hectares of land under vine across Kent (40.1 hectares) and Sussex (20.9 hectares). Vine planting was focused on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, as you would expect. The vines are predominately Burgundy clones (used for both Sparkling and Still wine production), whilst some Champagne clones are also used for Sparkling wine production.
The land surrounding the winery in Kent is clay rich soil and is approximately 20 meters above sea level. The slopes are frequented by coastal winds, bringing dryness and certain maritime qualities to the vines, and ultimately the wines. The vineyards in Sussex just north of Chichester are chalk rich, giving Gusbourne a selection of soil types and microclimates to work with.
During harvest, grapes are all handpicked separately by type and clone, then pressed and vinified individually. The harvesting process takes approximately 7-10 days and resulted in 50 different base wines last year. Laura explains to us that within the next 3-4 years additional plantings will bring the total to 90 hectares of land under vine. Gusbourne aim to produce up to 200,000 bottles a year, with the focus remaining on sparkling wines, whilst smaller quantities of still wine will be produced only in exceptional years.
As we make our way back to the winery head winemaker Charlie Holland greets us. A Plumpton College graduate, Charlie spent 8 years on and off working at Ridgeview before joining Gusbourne in 2013. He did have a hand in Gusbourne wines prior to 2013, as Ridgeview had previously produced the sparkling wines under contract. The winery contains two large presses of 4.5 and 9 tonne capacity, where grapes are whole bunch pressed before being transferred to stainless steel tanks and partially (5-10%) into oak barrels. Up to 80 different components are created, almost all going through malolactic fermentation. A portion of wine is kept back as non-malo for acidity balance. Vintage wines remain the focus, as Charlie likes to appreciate the subtle differences that each vintage can offer.
We conclude our tour in a rather impressive tasting room – beautifully set out for a group of foreign visitors who had come to sample the English delights of Gusbourne. With the sun still shining, we head outside onto a large terrace that overlooks the expansive views of the Kent vineyard. Laura and Charlie were about to talk us through their current range of still and Sparkling wines. It was a fitting end to a long day in Kent – sipping on some of the most refined wines from the region in the presence of one of the countries most dynamic winemakers. The wines were all superb, and was also a rather fantastic surprise awaiting us at the end of the tasting...
All of the sparkling wines that we tasted are available to purchase by the bottle from the Gusbourne Shop. A big thanks to both Laura and Charlie for their excellent hospitality and wonderful English Wine insights.
Gusbourne Brut Reserve Twenty Eleven
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £32.99
Commencing our tasting this classic blend of 42% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir and 22% Pinot Meunier. With a minimum of 36 months on the lees and a dosage of 8.5g/l.
First signs are impressive, as the wine has a beautiful golden colour in the glass.
On the nose we’ve got rich brioche and freshly baked bread notes, along with lots of citrus and a delightful nuttiness.
The palate starts clean and precise; citrus led with bracing acidity before the wine softening flavours of orchard fruit and red berry hints.
Very precise with wonderful texture and great length.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs Twenty Eleven
Grapes: Chardonnay RRP: £39.99
Much like the Brut Reserve, this has spent a minimum of 36 months on its lees and has had a similar dosage of 8g/l.
As a big Blanc de Blancs fan, it’s no surprise that this wine is a hit with me, as it packs in all those lovely orchard fruit and toasted bread notes that one expects.
The palate is richer; more rounded than the Brut, but remains absolutely dry with bold acidity up front. There’s a wonderful stone fruit richness accompanying baked apple and lemon.
Sumptuous texture eased along by tiny bubbles and a splash of clean pure minerality. A real delight!
Gusbourne Rosé Twenty Twelve
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier RRP: £37.99
Gusbourne’s Rosé take on the classic three blend, with 46% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 17% Pinot Meunier. It has spent a minimum of 24 months on the lees and with a slightly higher dosage of 9.6g/l.
This wine was the biggest revelation for me, as not only was a rosé my favourite of the sparkling lineup, but it was one that was made from grapes harvested in the troublesome 2012 vintage.
The wine opens with a hugely expressive nose; citrus with distinctive red fruit aromas of freshly picked strawberry, along with light notes of biscuit and toast.
The palate begins with that signature striking acidity, but the overall mouthfeel and profile is just that bit softer. The red berry flavours are really pronounced, with a berry salad mix of ripe strawberry, raspberry and a lovely creamy texture.
As we prepared to move on to the still wines, Robbie commented on how brilliantly the three distinctly different wines retained a constant house identity. I had to agree with him, as whilst the rosé was the winner for me, all three sparklers were immensely compelling...
Gusbourne Guinevere Twenty Thirteen
Grapes: Chardonnay RRP: £21.99
Cool climate Chardonnay from Kent, England. 100% malolactic fermentation with 9 months in old French oak.
What a nose! Crisp vibrant lemon citrus with intense buttery toasted vanilla notes. Quite a distinct nutty character, I just know this is going to taste great.
Super fresh clean acidity matched flavours of lemon and tangy green orchard apples. The mid taste is all about that creamy buttery vanilla goodness, which continues into the aftertaste.
Then a slightly bitter lime sensation which lingers for over a minute, begging you to reach for the bottle for another sip!
Gusbourne Pinot Noir Twenty Fourteen
Grapes: Pinot Noir RRP: £21.99
This single varietal Pinot Noir was grown in the prestigious Boothill area of the vineyard.
The nose has absolutely classic Pinot Noir characteristics; raspberry, light cherry and strawberry underpinned by warming vanilla, hints of spice and subtle woody notes.
As you would expect from an English red, the wine has a fairly thin complexion, though a bright vivid red colour instantly grabs your attention. A slightly leggy glass hugging quality is also observable.
On the palate, bright youthful red fruit flavours of tangy raspberry and cherry with a lively acidity. There’s a really distinctive savoury edge to this wine – an earthy quality that I don’t think I’ve experienced in an English red before. Then there’s smooth vanilla and hints of spiced oak and pepper, before a textured subtle tannin finish.
Grapes: Pinot Noir RRP: TBC
What a surprise, this is an English Vermouth made from Pinot Noir base wine, macerated with 32 ingredients. It was produced in partnership with Artisan spirit producers Asterley Bros London.
The aromas from this wine are potent and diverse; dried citrus peel, raisined fruit, dried herbs and spice - it's almost incense-like.
Drank neat, this is dry and bitter but with huge depth and complexity. Deep matured raisin and toasted orange peel, then a burst of ripe red fruit, hints of cherry and sweetness before a flurry of knarled toasted whole spices, herbs and sandalwood. I’m finding myself reaching for words I’ve never used for something made from Pinot Noir before.
Drank over ice, this wonderfully complex drink comes alive – the cool chilling ice paired with that warming intensely spiced smouldering smoky character... A thing of beauty!