Henners has been one of those elusive names in English Wine that has been around for the best part of a decade and a half, yet is a producer whose wines have escaped my attention since I started working on Great British Wine. Much has changed over the last four years at Henners, with new ownership bringing about a new winery team, rapid expansion in the winery, and the unveiling of a much refreshed and modern branding approach. I recently caught up with Commercial Product Manager, Tom Whiteley, for a chat about the Henners journey so far, and a tasting of the wines.
Henners began when ex-Formula One engineer, Lawrence Warr, planted seven acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines in Herstmonceux, East Sussex. After a small harvest in 2009, and the first commercial harvest in 2011, quite early on Henners had signed with international wine business, Boutinot, as sole distributors of their wines. In these formative years, the focus on high-quality sparkling wines was appealing to Boutinot who didn’t have any English wines on their books. A good few years into a flourishing relationship saw Boutinot buy the business in 2017. Henners were only producing around 15,000 bottles a year until a bumper crop the following year in 2018, perhaps explaining the winery’s elusive nature.
Being based within a wine business with both New World and Old World expertise, with wineries in places like South Africa, France and Italy, Tom explained to me the benefits of having access to such an array of experience as a ‘Next World’ winemaker. There’s a vast pool of international winemaking knowledge within this global group, headed by head winemaker, Eric Monnin, at Domaine Boutinot. Eric oversees each of the winemaking hubs, assisting with the sharing of expertise, such as troubleshooting after encountering problems with French grape presses!
The business-savvy minds of Boutinot show through strongly with investment seeing the winery increase its capacity tenfold to 150,000 bottles a year, and plans to double that again this year. Perhaps most noticeable, though, is the modern, distinctive rebrand. The old Henners branding was very traditional, dare I say it ‘Champagne wannabe’ style labelling. The new approach is clean, fresh and distinctive, with lots of subtle touchbacks to nature and the vines’ environment: earth, sea and clay. Henners is one of the founding members of WineGB’s Sustainable Wines of Great Britain, and I think the branding helps to show that respect for nature that surrounds the industry.
Tom was quick to point out that Henners are proud of their clay and sandy loam terroir. Yes, much has been said about the chalk-rich soils of the south of England, but there are many very successful plantings on clay. Sure, it’s less romantic than striking chalky white cliffs, but the Henners team believes that the clay soils provide excellent heat retention. With England being a marginal climate, they will gladly take the extra degree of heat, and the additional crucial ripening days that this brings. Not resting on their laurels, or the clay, Henners also work with partner vineyards in Kent and Sussex which are on both clay and chalk soils. Tom explained that this gives the winemakers more scope by bringing the best of both worlds together.
Another driving force for ‘the new Henners’ has been head winemaker, Collette O’Leary. I first met Collette in the early GBW days during her time at Bluebell Vineyards, and it’s great to see that her career has gone from strength to strength. Bringing a wealth of winemaking as well as marketing experience, Collette had originally worked in PR before setting up a career change and enrolling at Plumpton College. Collette’s willingness to sit, understand and engage with consumers has been a huge asset to the business.
One of the initial key goals within the Henners team was the move to a Non-Vintage Brut. Building a library of reserve wines to enable a consistent Henners house style is, in Tom’s words, “the bread and butter which has got to do everything”. The current NV is superb, though it is one of the last of the wines conceived by the previous Henners team, predominantly based on the 2014 blend. The next NV release is based on the 2018 vintage, which sees a transition towards the new Henners house style.
The new Rosé NV is the first of the new generation of Henners wines to be released. Based on the 2018 vintage and 100% red grapes, it was made in the Saignée method with the colour coming through skin contact rather than red wine blending. This wine has a beautiful purity and delicate textures, and is an excellent sign of things to come from Henners. Overall, I walked away from this experience with a very positive impression of the future for this hugely promising English Sparkling proposition. It’s clear that the framework put in place here by Boutinot will provide the foundations for a prosperous future for Henners. Watch this space, and keep an eye out for a possible excursion into brandy (there is already a Henners Cloudy Gin) as well as a still Bacchus blend and barrel-aged Chardonnay from the very promising 2020 vintage later this year.
Additional photos with thanks to Henners
- By Appointment
Henners Brut NV
Grapes: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
With a move towards a non-vintage approach, which will result in subsequent vintages being based around a more diverse reserve wine blend, this current release is based on the 2014 vintage and is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier.
The NV’s nose is quite classic, reminiscent of the typically longer lees-aged style of Champagne, with biscuit complexity, preserved citrus and orchard fruit aromas.
The taste is a little more fruit-focussed than the nose suggests, with flavours of red apple and stone fruits, whilst retaining crisp streaks of green apple and lemon. There is a generous biscuit seasoning, contributing to a well-structured experience.
Henners Rosé NV
Grapes: Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir
The latest release from Henners is a Saignée method wine. It’s unusually a Pinot Meunier (65%) dominant blend, with the remaining 35% being Pinot Noir.
Delicate in colour, the Rosé NV has a brisk, clean nose of chalk and lemon, with pure cranberry and raspberry aromas and light biscuit tones.
To taste, there’s a brisk rush of tangy red berries and citrus energy, and there are also floral and savoury hints, adding structure to the relatively lean, clean red fruit profile.
I think this rosé would be particularly good with pastries – perhaps an excuse to pop open a bottle on a Sunday morning for breakfast?
Henners Vintage 2014
Grapes: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir
With the intention to make vintage wine only in the best years, this generously aged sparkling from 2014 sees things swing further in Chardonnay’s favour: 70% of the grape is blended with 30% Pinot Noir.
This vintage release is an interesting contrast to the NV which is based predominantly on the same vintage. The nose is slightly muted with pear and apple aromas, light savoury biscuit notes, and hints of crushed shells.
Although it’s a little shy on the nose, the palate proves to be pleasingly nuanced. The fruit is lean, with Chardonnay traits of green apple and lemon showing through, but this has a food-friendly savoury mid-taste, along with an enveloping baked apple pudding plushness that opens as the wine warms in the glass. Light salinity and sourdough yeasty complexities make this a great one to reach for with a seafood pairing.
Thanks for the info on Henners, they weren’t on my radar at all so I’ve now added them to my visit list as soon as we can get out again. They’ve done a good job in rebranding, they look much more “appealing and up market now”. I can think of a few others who need to do the same! Speaking of being up market, I’m starting to get a little frustrated with the pricing of some of our sparkling wines. I do understand the commercial issues, but people can’t afford wines at or around £40 regularly, this is a price for a special occasion wine and surely there’s a market for some fizz at around £10 a bottle, something to compete in the Prosecco market …… cheap and cheerful. Unless we do this there’s never going to be shelves full of English sparklers in supermarkets?
Thanks again for your comments Brian and apologies for my slow reply. Indeed, I think the new Henners branding is excellent and a big improvement. I know of several other significant producers that are working on rebrands at the moment too, which we will talk about in the coming months on the website.
Regarding price – I think we will increasingly see differentiation in price point, with producers either focussing on premium (for example Henners, Gusbourne, Nyetimber and Wiston), while there will be an emergence of more accessible, value offerings, potentially in Charmat on other non traditional methods (for example Angel and Four who produced a £9.99 sparkler for Aldi not long ago).
Sparkling Bacchus is another option, as Victor has commented below. Denbies is well priced, and also Chapel Down’s is regularly offered at around £14 in Waitrose when on offer.
Good news if more accessible wines/price points emerge
Unlikely that you’ll find anything English/Welsh worth drinking @ £10, however, in the meantime try Denbies Sparkling Bacchus @ around £15.
Victor, I realise in fact that there is NO chance of finding anything English at all, and that’s my point …….. is English sparkling wine only for the affluent few, a very narrow niche? Personally I have no problem buying a Nyetimber, or a Chapel Down, or a Gusbourne etc etc. But that wasn’t my point, it was about penetrating a different market.
Can’t wait to try their Bacchus.