Langham Wine Estate is one of the most dynamic players on the English Sparkling Wine market. They never rest on their laurels. The Dorset vineyard, situated near Dorchester, have recently planted a 55-acre expansion and I was excited to attend their late May celebration of this development. I was able to see some of their latest vines and try a wide range of their wines, released and, as yet, unreleased.
The event was a chance to catch up with talented young winemaker, Tommy Grimshaw, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the IEWA 2022 judging. He’s recently made the Harpers Wine and Spirits Under 30 Drinks Business list, an impressive achievement and a triumph for Langham Estate. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a large group of press and loyal trade customers; the day certainly started with a buzz in the air. We started our tour heading through the vineyards and I was delighted to meet with Justin Langham, Director and Owner, who shared with us his passion and inspiration for the winery. He named the latest two vineyards Betty and John in tribute to his late parents, admitting that “they were my greatest supporters”. His father planted a small vineyard in the 1980s. “It didn’t produce well, and the deer ate it”, Justin joked. Nonetheless, it gave him his first taste for winemaking.
These days care of the vineyard is more meticulous thanks to the dedicated team. I had the opportunity to meet the Vineyard Manager, Oliver Whitfield, who, after six and a half years at Exton Park, moved to Langham in June 2018. “Providing the winemaker with grapes I would like to receive, I feel I can make a huge difference to the end result”, he shared with me. He has since passed the tractor keys to new Vineyard Manager, James McLean. Olly certainly has had his wish fulfilled, given the considerable extension which includes 1550 Pinot Gris plantings, adding another string to their bow. Other new plantings include Pinot Précoce (an early ripening variation of Pinot Noir), Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “There is demand for still wines, with the summer of 2018 showing the potential for producing a still Chardonnay, despite the challenges of getting the perfect ripeness”, confessed Justin, although Langham are still firmly on the map as producers of world-class sparkling wine.
Following our tour we headed back to the winery, a converted barn full of character, for a rare showcasing and vertical tasting of some of the renowned Langham Blanc de Blancs sparkling wines, from their first vintage (2011) to the present with a sneak peak of unreleased wines. With lunch provided courtesy of the Langham Vineyard Kitchen, excitement amongst guests was building. After a gracious introduction to previous winemakers’ creations by Tommy, the current winemaker, we started off with a view to the past with the first release 2011 Blanc de Blancs. It is typically English in style, with plenty of orchard fruit and racy acidity, helping it drink well currently. The
2014 Blanc de Blancs, from a different winemaker again, was notably from more established vines. The salinity of the wine is marked, with a savoury, chalky finish, reminiscent of a Côte des Bar southern Champagne. It led well onto our third sample, the 2015, which helped Langham win the Best Sparkling Wine Producer at the 2020 IWSC competition. And it’s no wonder – possessing an excellent mid-palate weight and zippy acidity, the 2015 certainly has a ‘grown-up’ feel with a subtle mineral edge and real fruit vibrancy.
Tommy’s philosophy is a terroir driven, low intervention one which he believes is the key to world-class winemaking. This clearly reflects in the evolution of style, as the Langham 2017 Blanc de Blancs shows a systemic shift in direction; the orchard fruit has been replaced with stone fruit character and a wet stone profile. No filtration is used, with indigenous yeast only. All French oak barrels are between 3-25 years, creating this rich, clean fruit forward style with no added sulfur dioxide. All 3000 bottles made are now sold out now, having been in heavy demand from restaurants thanks to its advantageous gastronomic pairing potential. The 2018 is in a similar style, wild, alive and dancing on the edge of your glass. There’s a saline wet stone theme that underpins all the wines, with nutty savoury notes and lemon peel. It’s an innovative, edgy wine that reflects the young dynamic character of Langham and its vibrant team. I’d confidently pair the 2018 with seared scallops in a buttery tarragon sauce.
We ended the tasting on an exclusive unveiling of the unreleased ‘Perpetual Cuvée’, made with the best of the 2017/18/19 vintages. Left on the lees for two years and with years of building layers, it’s a special wine with oak character yet fruit purity. Tommy explained that the secret behind great wines is the low dosage: “It’s like seasoning a stew; rich, complex and layered wines don’t need loads of seasoning.” Sustainability is at the heart of Langham winemaking, and so it was decided to do away with neck labels and change to foil. “60% of carbon footprint is from the bottle, so not eco-friendly”, added Tommy.
The event wouldn’t have been complete without a word from Justin, a lover of wine and visitor to many vineyards around the world. He discovered his penchant for wine from a young age, during family holidays to South Africa. Owning 6 separate farms across Dorset, he took gradual steps into English Wine. “A vineyard ticked the boxes from a business and personal point of view…when we first planted in 2009 people thought I was crazy. It was during the early stages of development in the country, but I kept my vision in spite of the naysayers”, Justin remarked. It’s incredible to see where a dream and some persistence have taken the enterprise. Investments into new winemaking equipment have seen capacity grow. “England is now considered an exciting place to make wines, helped gradually by global warming, [and] success builds, though we’re still at the early stages of what’s to come in this country”, he added.
We finished our tour at the tasting room, an open and inviting space where customers can drop in and buy wines from the cellar door, or sign up for a guided tour and tasting. It was an opportunity to taste some of the famed Langham still wines including a dry 2020 Chardonnay and Madeleine Angevine assemblage. Its freshness struck me as perfect for summer BBQ weather. None of the guests left empty handed, a great sign of the quality of the wines! With its energetic, young team and outstanding achievements so far, Langham is certainly an exciting place to be talking about and be seen drinking at. The local Dorchester poet, the famed Thomas Hardy, once said “some people want their luck buttered”. Clearly Langham Wines can look forward to a future ‘in clover’.
Photos with thanks to Ed Dallimore @59Vines
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