Established over 50 years ago, Essex’s New Hall is one of England’s longest established commercial wineries. But the reality is that you are unlikely to have heard of them unless you are either local or an avid English wine follower. This is particularly surprising given New Hall’s size and influence over the industry.
New Hall, in Purleigh, near Chelmsford, has not seen frost damage in the vineyard for twelve years, and even produced a decent harvest during the atrocious 2012 vintage. They are a Bacchus powerhouse and supply grapes to many of the big names in English wine across the country. Essex, and East Anglia as a whole, is starting to look like prime still English wine territory. Essex has the lowest annual rainfall, the most sunshine days and a long east-facing coast.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Production Manager, Lucy Winward. With half a century of history, there is a lot to cover here. In the 1960s, then owner, Bill Greenwood, grew rhubarb, broccoli, peas and beans on the land. On researching the site’s past uses, it was discovered that in 1120, vines were planted on the south-facing slopes adjacent to All Saints Church in the village. The resulting wines were ultimately supplied and served to King John, and recorded as being consumed during the Magna Carta signing in 1215. On discovering this romantic past, Bill and his wife, Sheila, were inspired to take the first steps towards winemaking themselves.
The first plantings took place in 1969, Reichensteiner going in first, with Huxelrebe and Müller-Thurgau the following year. The first vintage of wine was made in 1971. This amounted to just 18 bottles, made by hand in Mrs Greenwood’s kitchen. The ’70s saw the vineyard’s first awards and the introduction of son, Piers Greenwood, who took the winemaking focus to a whole new level. He also discovered the Bacchus grape’s potential in 1976. This development went on to cement New Hall’s long term significance to the industry. It’s clear that New Hall and Essex’s adoption of Bacchus have played an enormous role in making it the grape of choice for most still English wine producers.
More recently, Piers retired in 2015, when the third generation of the family, led by brother-in-law, Chris, and his daughter, Becki Trembath, took over. This period has seen continued investment and expansion, seeing the winery grow to a capacity of 250,000 bottles per year, and extensive new plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and, of course, Bacchus. Lucy also talked about their new sub-brand of premium, limited edition wines. These feature a cleaner, more modern take on the traditionally minimalist New Hall branding, while celebrating the nature found in and around the vineyards.
Lucy explains that there are now nine different Bacchus fields at New Hall. She describes every single planting as being “mind-blowingly different”. She illustrated this by comparing the hedgerow and floral notes of the ’86 planting to the vibrant pineapple and tropical fruit flavours of the latest 2018 planting. I think after a certain level of detraction and ‘Bacchus bashing’ from many within the wine trade, the grape is really starting to enter its stride and is grabbing the attention of both wine critics and judges in competitions. I suggested that the combination of judicious harvest timing and careful yeast selection had driven the vast progress and diversity in English Bacchus. Lucy confirmed that those two components had been crucial, particularly the choice of the right yeast strains, which Head Winemaker, Steve, has been instrumental in trialling, but also the blending of components, both with different plots and vintages. The excellent Limited Edition Bacchus Fumé NV, which won a Gold Medal at the Independent English Wine Awards last year, is a perfect illustration of this approach.
On the subject of how to put Essex firmly on the map, Lucy explained that the problem (but also blessing) with the county is that most producers are small family-run businesses. Thus, the resources and manpower for a big marketing push are not quite there, though collectively the producers can be agile and reactive to opportunities. This looks set to change in the coming years, with increased planting of vines for larger estates, such as Danbury Ridge Estate, who I will be posting about later this month.
I also asked upon the impact of the pandemic on New Hall. Lucy explained that owing to New Hall being a relatively lean family business, they have been able to be proactive due to the decreased focus on tourism during lockdown periods. With new wholesaler and distribution partners established in the last year, New Hall has seized the opportunity to keep sales strong throughout 2020. A very supportive network of regular customers, and a strong uptake in direct sales through the website, have also worked wonders in supporting the business through these difficult times. Interestingly, Lucy told me that the biggest challenge presented by the pandemic last year was how to pick the grapes whilst observing social distancing measures. The picking workforce was ultimately doubled in 2020, resulting in a complete rethink of strategies and logistics.
So what does the future hold for New Hall and Essex? It’s clear to see the effort and progress that has been made in both the wines and the branding at New Hall in recent years. The key now is for Essex to get the message across about just why the county is so unique as a winemaking region. I feel that Essex as a whole is on the cusp of an epiphany, and thus, after over five decades of hard graft, the very best years of New Hall may have only just begun.
Additional photos with thanks to New Hall Vineyard
Limited Edition Bacchus Fumé NV
If there was a wine to demonstrate both the origins and the progress made at New Hall, it would be this Bacchus Fumé. It’s only their second release of this wine, the latest being a Non-Vintage blend of 2018 and 2019, which was lightly oaked during fermentation.
The nose is very appealing, with zesty lime and grapefruit, clean grassy, almost herbaceous notes and energetic tropical aromas.
The flavour profile is elegant, structured and crisp throughout. Tangy tropics and grapefruit liven up the taste buds, together with more rounded stone fruit flavours and grippy textures induced by time on lees and light oaking.
I found this really versatile as the acidity and subtle textures made it a delight with a plate of seafood, but also equally effective with spiced Asian cuisine.
Bacchus Reserve 2019
This is the bread and butter wine of New Hall Vineyard. Over four decades on from the introduction of the grape in England, and after tasting this excellent 2019 vintage, it’s no wonder it’s been so successful in Essex.
The nose is textbook English white territory, with hedgerow, floral aromatics and citrus zests interjected with vibrant tropics and peach hints. It’s so very inviting.
I was even more energised by the palate, which packs a punch with its tangy tropical fruit, lime and grapefruit intensity. It’s incredibly crisp and zingy, with a generous, almost rounded fleshy stone fruit richness adding weight and structure.
Limited Edition Chardonnay 2018
This was the first of five new releases I tasted from New Hall – it has been quite some years since I last tasted their Chardonnay and I must say this is quite a step forward.
The nose could almost be described as opulent, with its ripe aromas of peach, honeydew melon, pear and grapefruit zest.
The palate is energetic and bright, beginning with punchy citrus fruit and tangy tropics, before the generous sweet melon and peachy flavours set in. What I really liked was a lightly chalky texture on the finish.
Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir Précoce
Another new release in the Limited Edition range is this Pinot Noir 2018, made from the early ripening Précoce/Frühburgunder clone.
This Pinot is pale in complexion, with a light, clean nose of cherry, raspberry and cranberry, and a suggestion of savoury character and pepper.
To taste, again, the red fruit really speaks here. It’s very honest and pure, with ripe red cherry and raspberry flavours. I noted a pleasant softness to the mouthfeel with none of the greenness or stemmy notes I have found from some Précoce in the past. Due to its light body, this is one that is best served lightly chilled.
Grapes: Huxelrebe, Ortega & Siegerrebe
Another of the core range wines from New Hall, they describe this as a blend of early-ripening varieties.
This wine has certainly got a fragrant nose, with a mixture of lime zest, grapefruit and pear, with floral and white pepper notes.
With lower acidity than the Bacchus, this has a softer palate, focussing on ripe pear and tropical fruit flavours, and a hint of lychee. Very drinkable, helped by a clean, dry finish, this is again perfect for pairing with moderately spiced Asian dishes.
It’s super-accessible in price too, at £11.50.
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