Exton Park – The Relaunch

There’s a lot of English winemakers that have left a real impression on me in my nearly six years of writing for Great British Wine. But few are more memorable than Exton Park. Their wines are exciting, distinctive and expressive, and I still remember my first time standing in awe of the Hampshire landscape atop the vineyard, with its dramatic, rolling hills and precise rows of vines. If I had to criticise one thing, though, it would have been the branding. It felt firmly rooted in tradition, with lots of French words and visual reminders of classic Champagne labels. While elegant, it felt, to me at least, like a contradiction to the modern, forward-thinking and ground-breaking approach that Exton Park take. Today things take a bold, decisive leap forward.

I caught up with Managing Director, Kit Ellen, last month for a preview of ‘the new Exton Park’, or as Kit calls it, “the launch for Exton Park”. Indeed, as someone who has followed Exton for half a decade, it felt like so much has been achieved already, but those achievements were only the foundation for something truly special. Kit explained: “This is the coming of age moment for us. We’ve put the investment in the vineyard for many years, built the winery in 2011 and been expanding that and building our team up.” Kit went on to talk about Exton Park’s new three-story building, dubbed ‘Exton Hall’: “We felt like this was a really great time to shake the tree and redesign our brand to make sure we are capturing what we are doing in a really compelling way.”

Indeed, the new branding is both strikingly modern, yet understated and elegant. It immediately feels like a truer manifestation of Exton Park than the labels of old. Firstly, it’s packed full of textures and subtleties – from the embossed and debossed rows of vines to the new ‘brand icon’, a birds-eye view of the Exton Park estate that truly represents the single vineyard approach. “What we really wanted to capture was a contemporary edge, and to speak our distinctive character, and to bring the experience of being at Exton Park through the bottle”, Kit remarked. I would say they have resolutely done that whilst bringing things bang up-to-date by introducing the new brand colours of teal and copper. And just wait until you unwrap the foil and see the increasingly popular ‘peel and reveal’ approach. It’s not just a message that you’ll find behind that ultra-modern, short-necked teal foil, though!

This new brand represents new-found confidence by Exton Park – to me it’s more a doubling down than a revolution, at least from the winemaking point of view. Those who know Exton Park and have tasted their wines will know how proud they are of their single vineyard heritage. As Kit says, “the key difference to Exton Park is in the blend. At Exton Park, because we have this library of reserve wines that Corinne [Seely] has curated since 2011, at least 80% of our blend is actually reserve wine.” Kit goes on to explain that it’s a completely different approach to the conventional, in England at least, ‘Non-Vintage’ approach. It’s at that point that the final part of the rebrand puzzle came together for me. Exton Park’s 60-acre estate vineyard has an altitude range dropping from 175 down to 65 meters, with different microclimates, grape clones, vine age, and even pruning methods coming into the mix. All of those plots are harvested, vinified and aged in the winery separately.

With all this considered, all three core wines proudly display the moniker, ‘Reserve Blend’, or ‘RB’ for short, followed by the number of reserve wines that went into each blend. Tasting the three wines, all of which are entirely new blends compared to the former ‘old label’ Exton Park wines, again, this really feels like an expression that is Exton personified. All of these wines represent the most complex blends to date, with more reserve wines and a longer time on lees, ranging from four and a half years on the Brut, to three years on the Rosé.

Staying true to Exton Park tradition, all three wines are released without malolactic fermentation taking place. This is a brave move, meaning the wines have a leanness and precision that is consistent and distinctive across the range. I personally think this gives the Exton Park wines a key point of difference. They struck a chord with me on day one and upon my first ever encounter with an Exton Park wine. Each time I taste, I am drawn back to that mesmerising view of the impeccable vineyards at Exton. This is intelligent, terroir-driven English Sparkling Wine at its pinnacle.

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Exton Park RB28 Blanc de Noirs

Grapes: Pinot Noir
10.1g/l Dosage, 4 years on lees

Exton Park’s Blanc de Noirs, for anyone that has tried it before, almost flies in the face of convention compared to the often brooding, muscular character that Noirs can offer. Instead, it’s refined, restrained and ultimately, almost perfumed.

The RB28 is made entirely from Pinot Noir, and has bright and fresh aromas, with citrus, honeysuckle, apple and just a dash of cranberry.

The palate on this wine really sums up that Exton Park ‘house-style’. There’s a fusion of brisk, crisp acidity and crunchy orchard fruit, with suggestions of tangy redcurrant. The mid-taste is softer, with notes of ripe peach, melon and a seasoning of pastry notes.

The RB 28 has lean profile, further brightened with striking minerality, but it’s rounded by a silky soft mousse and ripe fruit suggestions.

Exton Park RB23 Rosé

Grapes: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier
9g/l Dosage, 3 years on lees

Over the years I’ve been tasting Exton Park wines, the rosé has been their most improved and arguable most distinctive wine. This rosé is made in the direct pressing method – without skin contact (Saignée Method) or red wine blending (Assemblage Method). Instead, the colour is extracted from the red grapes’ direct pressing to extract the colour from the skin.

On the nose there’s intoxicating cranberry, cherry, and pink grapefruit, with a generous sprinkling of cherry blossom and a slight suggestion of savoury pastry.

I found this release fascinating. I’m generally more of a fan of the deeper, more expressive rosé than the traditionally delicate style, but this wine – forgive the pun – cherry-picks the best qualities of both styles.

The wine greets your with that signature zest, crunch and tingling minerality that all of the Exton Park wines express so very brightly. But again, it’s that sense of journey, the brisk entry leading to the softer tones of ripe cherry, raspberry and peach that add structure and weight, without ever taking over from that precise, clean fruit and tingling minerality – spellbinding!

Exton Park RB32 Brut

Grapes: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
7g/l Dosage, 4.5 years on lees

The RB32 Brut is the only one of the wines in the initial range to feature Chardonnay (40%) in the blend, together with 60% Pinot Noir.

Of the three launch wines, this one was probably the boldest, most expressive. The nose was captivating: an intriguing fusion of floral hints, light citrus, crunchy orchard fruit and lightly honeyed tones, with gentle toasted notes.

To taste, the RB32 was also absolutely in its element. The signature Exton Park crunchy acidity and purity was there in spades, supported by soft waves of ripe apple, peach skin and even suggestions of melon.

There’s a real harmony in the profile – both striking and elegant, straddling a fine tightrope between suggestions of autolytic complexity, lean, crisp orchard fruits and those ever so subtle suggestions of honeyed stone fruit.

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