Date Visited: Thursday 26th April 2016
Location: Marlow, Buckinghamshire
The Laithwaite family are a household name in the wine industry, with Tony Laithwaite founding the booming Laithwaite’s retail and delivery service almost fifty years ago. They are also no strangers to English Wine, as Tony’s wife, Barbara, founded Wyfold Vineyard in the Chilterns in 2003. Their Wyfold Brut has since gone on to win a series of awards and accreditations in international wine challenges. And that brings us to the next generation in the family: to Henry Laithwaite, founder and owner of Harrow & Hope in Marlow – the location of my latest English Wine adventure.
Henry and his wife, Kaye, initially moved to France in 2008 to grow and make red wine in Bordeaux. Whilst many would call that ‘living the dream’, the couple decided to return to England as they wanted to start a family. And with the advances in English Sparkling Wine, and mother Barbara’s own success, the only remaining challenge was to find the right location for a vineyard. Standing in the vineyard in Marlow it’s clear that they have happened across an absolutely perfect location. Not only is the landscape stunning, it is naturally sheltered from the elements and the vines are sitting on chalk-rich Chiltern soils with red clay and flint. In the distance across the hills, dark and brooding stormy clouds are forming – a downpour is on the way but there is just enough time to take in the last few minutes of sun and the stunning views.
The first vines were planted in 2010, with 3.6 hectares in total comprising of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. A further 2.6 hectares were planted in 2012 and the vineyard now has a split of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. Henry’s approach to viticulture eschews the use of herbicides, and he insists on the use of organic nutrition. As all the grapes that go into the wines are estate-grown, the clarity of expression of their unique English terroir is key, so the preservation of the natural qualities of the soil remains a top priority.
The first commercial harvest was in 2013, a harvest from which they officially release their first wines on the very day that I’m posting this article (21st May 2016). It’s quite a coincidence that on the day of my visit to the vineyard, it was announced that the Harrow & Hope Brut Rosé was awarded a Gold Medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards, with the Brut Reserve also picking up a Silver Medal. At the highest point of the vineyard, next to the winery, is a lovely traditional wooden supported canopy. With the vineyard about to open to the public for this first time, Harrow & Hope will use this area to host outdoor events. Picture this: a late summer barbecue with a glass of delicious sparkling rosé in one hand as you watch the sun setting over the vineyard...
With those dark looming storm clouds looking more and more threatening, we make are way back to the winery. Here, rows of stainless steel tanks of varying sizes and types are lined up. The focus on smaller, segregated tanks allows Henry to ferment separately by variety and clone – this gives more control in the final blending process, and allows full exploitation of the subtle differences between each block. All of the sparkling wines will go through full malolactic fermentation, and a proportion of each wine will be aged in oak barrels depending on the intended expression, from 30% oak in the Rosé to 60% oak in the Blanc de Blancs. The building of reserve wines was a key goal from the start, with reserves from each harvest now being stored in the winery in Solera barrels. It’s going to be fascinating to see how future blends develop as those reserve wines age!
Going back to the grapes, it was a stylistic choice of Henry's to focus on a Pinot-dominant style. This is evident in the Pinot-dominant blends, the Rosé being made from single varietal Pinot Noir only and a forthcoming release of a Vintage Blanc de Noirs due in early 2017. This is a different approach from many other winemakers, who have focussed on Chardonnay-led blends and Blanc de Blancs as their flagship products. However, a Blanc de Blancs is still on the horizon and will be released at the end of 2016.
It was a real privilege to visit Henry at this stage of his journey; his passion for the project was inspiring. With the official release of his first wines just weeks away (at the time of visiting), seven years of passion and labour were about to be revealed to the world. It’s very appropriate then, that the words ‘Hard Work & Good Fortune’ are embellished on the necks of each bottle of Harrow & Hope. It appears that all that hard work is about to result in a very rewarding launch for Henry and his wife.
Harrow & Hope Brut Rosé 2013
Grapes: Pinot Noir
I was very excited to try this wine after it was granted a Gold Medal in the Sparkling Rosé category of this year’s Sommelier Wine Awards.
This rosé is s single varietal Pinot Noir, with full malolactic ferment, 30% fermented in French oak and 9.6g/litre dosage.
The wine has a beautiful pale pink colour and noticeably persistent bubbles. The nose opens up with a very clean and fresh air. There are notes of citrus and strawberry with a subtle hint of floral and slight pastry aromas.
The palate is superbly balanced with initially crisp, clean, fresh citrus, and a big burst of strawberry and red berry flavours. A refined mousse ushers in a very smooth mid-taste, subtly eased in by the partial oak ageing whilst retaining focus on the red fruit flavours.
This is a delightful first rosé for Harrow & Hope, fully deserving of that Gold Medal.
Harrow & Hope Brut Reserve NV
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier
This lively English sparkler begins with a vibrant nose of green apple with slightly herbaceous or almost floral qualities. Underneath is a lovely autolytic complexity with yeasty notes of freshly baked bread and brioche.
On the palate this wine remains very expressive; there’s a lively and refreshing citrus character supporting those crisp green apple flavours.
Overall, this is a very clean and precise Brut; the bubbles are really very persistent and the finish is gently seasoned with a lingering dry minerality – very elegant!
Both the Brut Rosé and Brut Reserve are now available to order in cases of 6 from
the Harrow & Hope website.