Birthdays, Blending & Medals for Digby Fine English

Digby has gone for gold, and ran away with it this year in both the national and international awards. Founders Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries certainly have a huge amount to be proud of. It all comes at a time when excitement about English Sparkling Wine is reaching fever pitch, cementing Digby’s placement as one of the English wine names to watch. This week saw Digby hold a party at the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery in Southwark to celebrate the fourth Birthday since the release of their first wines, their combined achievements, and the launch of a very special Rosé 2009 Vintage Magnum.

Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong. I’ve been aware of Digby Fine English for a long time now, I first met Trevor in Selfridges several years ago and long before Great British Wine had been conceived. I was wrong because I had assumed that Digby was primarily a spectacular work of marketing and branding. I’ll happily say it now; the wines are bloody fantastic! In fact, Digby’s success has been down to Trevor and Co-Founder and partner Jason Humphries exacting eye for detail and vision to create a wine that is more quintessentially English than any other. Being England’s first negociant, the first step was to develop relationships with high quality growers across numerous counties and soil types. Selection of the right sites is key, and Digby reward growers who bring forward exceptional fruit with a quality-based payment scheme. The contracting of Wiston Estate's Demot Sugrue, one of the country's most respected winemakers, was also a brilliant move - but one must not overlook Trevor's involvement in the assemblage of each Digby wine.

Prior to the official Birthday proceedings, a small group were invited to join Trevor for an intimate 'Blending Salon'. Trevor was in his element, demonstrating his worth as master blender and likened to a mad scientist, armed an array of tall glass flasks used to demonstrate the assembly of a classic Digby vintage blend.

The demonstration began with a selection of three Chardonnays from three different terroirs. Firstly, a Chardonnay from Hampshire grown on greensand, packed full of energy and masculinity with driving linear acidity. Next up was a Chardonnay from sandstone soils in Dorset, this was moodier with a textured, grippy mouthfeel. The final example was from West Sussex and grown on sandstone soils again, but it was an oaked wine with fuller flavours of stone fruit and spice. Trevor then blended to respective proportions of 60%, 30% and 10%, forming a wine that now had structure and combined quantities from the three individual Chardonnays.

Things started to get even more interesting when a blend of Pinot Noir and Meunier was introduced. On its own this slightly bronzed wine has striking notes of cherry blossom and redcurrant, with warmer ripe red fruit flavours. Blended two parts Chardonnay to one part Pinot, the resulting wine was greater than the sum of its parts. All that energy and poise of the Chardonnay - the green apple and citrus still shining through, but now with the added depth and timbre from the Pinot.

The final trick up Trevor’s sleeve was a look at a red wine made from Pinot Noir. On its own, this wine as an aggressive and boisterous component, packed full of moody savoury and earthy character. But then a brilliantly improvised blending of a small amount of the red Pinot Noir with the previous Chardonnay & Pinot blend resulted in a wine likened to that of Digby’s famous Leander Pink. Overall, this blending session was an eye-opening and brilliant demonstration of what happens in the winery, and all this all before the effect of lees ageing and time under cork comes in to play!

With the blending demonstration completed, it was then time to begin the party proper. A larger crowd had assembled, with many familiar faces from across the English wine and extended communities. With the Digby wines flowing in plentiful supply, we were treating to tastings of the sublime 2010 Vintage Brut, the “two shirt buttons undone” Non Vintage Brut, Leander Pink NV Brut Rosé and, most exciting of all, the 2009 Vintage Rosé Brut magnum. Trevor and Jason took the opportunity to deliver a great speech, thanking all involved for putting Digby firmly on the map. Trevor made a particularly passionate comment about Digby’s goal to create an English wine brand that the country could be truly proud of. The company is built on traditional English quality principles and inspired by the 17th Century philosopher Sir Kenelm Digby who, amongst other things, is credited for being the father of the modern wine bottle.

Rosé magnum #1 of #500 was then ceremoniously opened and poured for all to get their first taste – including Trevor and Jason, who had relied on Dermot’s assurance that the wine would be fantastic. And they weren’t wrong to put this trust in their prized winemaker, as the wine was absolutely gorgeous. Beautifully preserved red fruit flavours integrated with sublime maturity and soft creamy textures, whilst that trademark energy and acidity continued to command attention.

During the night we also learnt more about Digby’s long-standing relationship with Leander Club. The rowing club was founded in 1818 and has won more Olympic medals than any other single sport club in the world. Paul Budd OBE, General Manager of the club thanked Digby for their support, with each bottle of the Leander Pink sold supporting the Academy training the next generation of talent. Indeed, there are many parallels between Digby and the Leander Club’s constant strive for excellence. Trevor mentioned to me how a Silver medal is considered a loss to the club – nothing but gold will suffice! How appropriate then that I few hours later I would be watching Trevor collect three Gold Medals (as well as a trophy) at the UK Wine Awards presentation ceremony…

More information on Digby Fine English can be found at their website


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