With the English Wine Industry never slowing down, it seems that there are a whole host of new wines from new producers to cover every month. But the established producers are not resting on their laurels – they continue to grow, evolve and excite in new ways. Now celebrating their fifteenth anniversary, this year is a big year for one of England’s most recognised and celebrated winemakers: Wiston Estate.
As you may notice from the visuals below, the Wiston brand has undergone something of a facelift. I use the term ‘facelift’ advisedly, as the labels have experienced a more cosmetic change than a radical shift. I’m sure if you had asked many beforehand if Wiston needed a brand refresh, most would have said “no” – the labels were distinctive, iconic and hugely recognisable. However, with the bottles in hand, and after letting the change set in, I feel the new look helps establish a visual segregation between the NV and Vintage wines, echoing their stylistic and price differences. The established colours of aquamarine and vibrant pink are still present, lifted by flourishes of gold (on the Vintage) and teal (on the Non-Vintage wines). And the Vintage wines still feature the same elaborate details that are based on the plasterwork of the Great Hall at Wiston House.
At the heart of the Wiston Estate story is the Goring family, led by Pip and Harry, who planted their first grapes in 2006 in the South Downs. With years of hard graft and challenges, the real deal clincher was the appointment of Dermot Sugrue as Head Winemaker, following a stint at Nyetimber. Dermot has since laid the foundations for much of modern English winemaking’s advancement. The Wiston winery, Dermot and their clients have almost certainly won more medals, more trophies and more acclaim than any other winery in England. I’ve covered the Wiston and Dermot Sugrue story in an article a good four years back.
This month sees the release of a rather special new vintage cuvée for Wiston, the Blanc de Noirs 2014. Last Thursday, I was privileged to attend a special ‘Wine and Dine’ event at Wiston House. The evening was the first opportunity to taste this most anticipated new vintage, as well as the first chance to try the food of Head Chef, Andrew Fellows, ahead of the launch of ‘Chalk’ restaurant later in the year.
The venue, Wiston House, is the centrepiece of the Wiston Estate – a true family affair that has been in the Goring family since 1743. Coincidentally, 1743 was also the year that Moët et Chandon was founded. Who would have thought back then that anyone would plant a vineyard in the heart of the Sussex countryside in 2006? The determination of Pip and her husband Harry, and the next generation of Kirsty and Richard, has been an inspirational and ethical driving force for the business. Read Hannah’s article Wiston Estate, A Family History, for a closer look into the Goring family story.
“We wanted to transform and restore this as a rural space that people, nature and enterprise can flourish in and live alongside each other.”
– Richard Goring
During an impassioned opening speech, Wiston CEO, Richard Goring, explained: “I think that one of the most exciting things about the journey that we’re on in this place is just what an incredible abundance of things that the land produces, whether that’s wine or even bread.” He continued: “We are really excited to be able to reconnect with the land, and enabling other people to reconnect with the land. We wanted to transform and restore this as a rural space that people, nature and enterprise can flourish in and live alongside each other.”
I sat with Richard during dinner, and what really resonated with me was Richard’s empathy towards the land and the community surrounding Wiston. Wiston is one of the founding members of the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain Trade Mark, and it’s clear from everything that any of the Gorings say that every single decision taken has the wellbeing of the land, the produce and the people at the absolute forefront.
The evening saw not only the launch of the hotly anticipated Blanc de Noirs 2014, but the first glimpse of a milestone for Wiston – their first still wine. The first wine we tasted with dinner, pairing the starter of cured duck breast and confit leg, celeriac and elderberries, was a delicate red Pinot Noir. This Pinot was just one barrel component (from the 2019 vintage) of what will eventually become a blend with the 2020 Pinot Noir to form one of a duo of inaugural Wiston still wine releases. This will coincide with the restaurant’s relaunch later in the year. While unfinished, and taken straight from the barrel, the wine promised bright, precise cranberry and cherry, together with a peppery spice and fragrant floral tones. It was a delight with the earthy flavours of the duck starter.
The star of the show for me was the Blanc de Noirs 2014 itself. This vintage brings Pinot Meunier to the party (35%) in addition to Pinot Noir (65%), both co-pressed and fermented in five and six-year-old Burgundy barrels for texture and micro-oxygenation rather than oak flavour. The wine was rested on lees for nine months, with malolactic fermentation blocked to preserve the natural malic energy and balance of this generous vintage. The resulting wine was bottled for secondary fermentation in July 2016 and disgorged in June this year with a dosage of 6g/l.
On pouring, the golden tone of the Blanc de Noirs radiated out of the glass with aromas of peach, sweet red apple, orange skin and crisp almond pastry. The first word that came to my mind when sipping was ‘luxurious’. Whilst the brisk, lively acidity that Dermot’s wines are famed for was ever-present, the sheer breadth and expansiveness of the palate was a joy to behold. The result is ripe fruit from a near-perfect vintage that Dermot describes as “wonderful, [bringing] longevity to the wine”. Indeed, the wine is drinking superbly now. Still, history has proven that those patient enough to squirrel away their Wiston wines for a good few years are rewarded with an even more engaging experience.
The decadent Blanc de Noirs 2014 was also paired with my favourite dish from the dinner which was poached halibut with cauliflower, sea greens and a konbu beurre blanc. The creaminess of the sauce and salty notes of the sea greens perfectly complemented the similar qualities in the wine, whilst the umami konbu (seaweed) flavours worked to accentuate its complexities. Further building on the idea of the wine’s age-worthiness, the evening ended on a damson, lemon brioche and almond dessert paired with a rare and unreleased Wiston Blanc de Noirs 2009. If the new 2014 vintage was luxurious, then the ’09 was decadent, wowing the room with its sumptuous and rich mature fruit flavours, and deeply integrated waves of creamy, nutty and savoury complexities.
Before this most memorable of wine launches, there was already no doubt in my mind that Wiston’s wines were rooted firmly in the premier league of English Wine. But this event gave a new sense of being and place to the wines for me. What makes Wiston so endearing is the opportunity to connect with this celebrated family and winemaker in such a personal way, to hear their journeys so far and visions for the future. And the prospect of a restaurant that, in Kirsty’s words will “provide honest and delicious food that celebrates the produce of this land”, will further give the wines and the land context.
On naming the restaurant, Kirsty passionately exclaimed after dinner: “Going out onto these chalk grasslands, I just find them so mind-blowingly beautiful.” She continued: “To me, ‘Chalk’ felt like the only name that we could call this restaurant.” Ultimately, this restaurant, along with the new sustainable winery and visitor facilities currently being constructed, will create a platform and destination for many more palates to discover these most fervent of wines, and help achieve the Goring family’s dream to reconnect people and land.
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