Those of you with a keen eye on English Wine social media will surely have seen posts about Susie Barrie’s and Peter Richards’s Big English Wine Adventure. Five years ago the husband and wife Masters of Wine embarked on a journey to release their own wines with the help of Hattingley Valley in Hampshire and Danbury Ridge in Essex. Today the three ‘Hope and Glory’ wines go on sale through both Hattingley Valley and The Wine Society, supporting the Marine Conservation Society. I caught up with Susie and Peter to talk about their journey into English winemaking.
John: Hello Susie and Peter! Many thanks for taking some time to answer some questions about your Big English Wine Adventure. I must say it’s been fascinating following the progress of this project over the last five years. To kick things off, what prompted you to embark on this mission to produce your own English wines?
“Looking back on the past five years it’s tempting to say ’a rush of blood to the head’! The truth is we wanted to help shine a light on the UK as a world-class wine- producing region, which it absolutely is. We also wanted to give regular wine drinkers, who may never have tasted English Wine, the confidence to try it. Knowing that this is a charity project is hopefully an added incentive for everyone to get involved.”
Things started off naturally in English Sparkling Wine, and with Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley. How have you found working with Hattingley and one of our most established and respected winemakers?
“Hattingley Valley was a natural choice for us because it’s an excellent producer, it’s on our doorstep, and it was part of Wine Festival Winchester from day one. They’re an incredibly collaborative, constructive team. The fact that Simon [Robinson] and his team agreed to work with us was a huge support right from the start, and without Emma Rice the sparkling wines in our line-up certainly wouldn’t taste anything like as fabulous as they do. Without Hattingley, this project just wouldn’t be happening.”
That’s fantastic, and you’ve been involved with everything from harvest to blending and dosage. Which part of the sparkling wine journey have you enjoyed the most?
“All of it! We’re not sure anyone would ever employ us as grape pickers (too much time spent chatting, filming, taking selfies!), but we had a lot of fun along the way. That first harvest in 2016 is probably the memory that stands out most, looking back – with the pickers and the Hattingley team, harvesting golden Chardonnay berries then racing back to press and taste. Very special. The blending sessions were particularly exciting to be a part of too. It was all a bit nerve-racking though, knowing we were making the final call on what went into each wine, and we weren’t going to know what they would taste like until they were bottled and ready to be sold. “
I know exactly what you mean about the picking, chatting, and taking selfies! So, what can we expect from the two sparkling wines that you are releasing, the Blanc de Blancs 2016 and a Meunier / Chardonnay Blend from 2017? Do you have each a favourite between the two?
“This is undoubtedly going to sound like we’re making it up, but for anyone who knows us, it’ll come as no surprise that we each have a different favourite wine. We’ll leave you to guess who prefers which! The Blanc de Blancs 2016 is so pure and invigorating, a classic BdB in its appley, brioche, complex and refined style (here’s a secret: Hattingley didn’t make any Blanc de Blancs in 2016, the quantities were so small, so we got the cream of the crop!) The Blend is rounder and more succulent, wonderfully perfumed (in the way that Meunier does) and dangerously moreish.”
From the beautiful precision of Hampshire sparkling, you were next led to Essex and to another of the most talked about and acclaimed English winemakers, Danbury Ridge. What are your thoughts on this exciting, emerging region?
“That it’s exactly that, very exciting – especially for England’s still wines. Essex has been producing terrific grapes for a long time, but it’s tended to fly under the radar because a lot of growers sold their grapes to other producers, frequently outside Essex. That’s changing with producers like Danbury Ridge, though, so it’s very much a region to watch. We were so excited after we first visited them that we couldn’t help asking them to get involved. And the quality of the Pinot Noir is…just mind-blowing.”
It’s quite an experience being in Danbury Ridge’s barrel room tasting Pinot Noir barrel samples. What qualities were you looking for when you were tasting and selecting Liam’s 2018 Pinot barrels?
“First and foremost we wanted to make a wine that was unmistakably Pinot Noir – which frankly isn’t difficult when you’re blending from barrels made by Liam. Balance and finesse is key in any great wine, but we also wanted to show that English Pinot Noir from a good site in a warm vintage can actually be concentrated, intense and subtly oaky, as well as fragrant and refreshing. Ultimately, we just want all our wines to give pleasure to whoever drinks them.”
It’s brilliant to see an Essex Pinot Noir as part of the line-up of wines you are releasing. Do you think we reached a pivotal moment in English red wine in 2018? And what can we expect from yours?
“We’ve probably already answered the second part of this question in our previous reply. As for a pivotal moment, with a climate as unpredictable as the UK’s, describing any moment (or year) as pivotal is probably as rash as planting a vineyard. But we do feel strongly that England is making world-class reds, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future, particularly Pinot Noir.”
The name Hope & Glory seems incredibly appropriate for this project – and was suggested by one of many competition entries. So why did this name stand out for you?
“It really just sums up everything that the project is about. Hope for the future of the UK Wine Industry, for the future of our planet (given our chosen charity is The Marine Conservation Society), and hope that people will actually buy the wines and like them. Glory… in recognition of all the wonderful wines the UK is capable of producing, the fact that so many people generously (gloriously!) said yes to helping us with the project, and then the overall sense of glory when we triumph over adversity (whether that adversity is to do with making wine in the UK, saving the planet, or just feeling better at the end of a tough day). Finally, the name just has that wonderfully patriotic ring to it.”
A big part of this project is to support a charity, which you announced earlier this month would be the Marine Conservation Society – again suggested by a competition entry. What prompted you to decide on this charity as a benefactor?
“Gosh a tough one to answer in many ways because we had literally dozens of suggestions that were all properly deserving and all doing such important work. We also hoped that this project was going to make a significant amount of money, so it had the potential genuinely to make a difference to whichever charity we chose.
Ultimately, we chose the Marine Conservation Society because we feel that climate change is the issue that threatens the future of our planet and humankind more than anything right now. Given the ocean covers 70% of that planet, that it’s responsible for half the oxygen we breathe, and that it sequesters a third of our carbon emissions, we seriously need to look after it better, and that’s exactly what The Marine Conservation Society is trying to do.”
The sparkling wine labels have a really distinctive look, with artwork by street artist Hendog. Can you tell us how this collaboration came about and what the labels represent?
“We first came across Hendog’s art totally by chance. We were on a local walk when we saw this breathtaking image of a little boy flying a (real!) kite painted on a brick wall behind a car park. The image then ‘went viral’ on several local WhatsApp groups as more and more people saw it, and we managed to track Hendog down via social media.
Hendog was incredible, even though at first we didn’t meet this person and didn’t know whether we were dealing with a man or woman. Anonymity as an ‘illegal’ street artist is essential. Anyway, Hendog listened to what we wanted to achieve and worked with us free of charge to create a pair of beautiful bespoke labels. The idea of the butterflies came from the fact that Hattingley Valley has always used butterfly imagery on their labels and the contemporary images of a carefree young woman and man doing fun things hopefully creates a sense of joy and happiness around the wines. There is a final hidden meaning in the labels…but we’ve been sworn to secrecy!”
Now that Hope & Glory has launched, what can we expect next from Susie’s and Peter’s adventures in English Wine?
“That sounds like a challenge! Be careful what you wish for Mr Mobbs…”