“The Scots have a word for this kind of weather,” grimaced the man behind the counter of the wine bar that I found myself in at the end of the day. “Dreich”.
And it really was the right word for it. The rain had been coming down, not heavily, but in a damply persistent way, with hardly a break. Visibility across the Hampshire hills had been minimal.
However, at Hambledon Vineyard earlier in the day, the mood was sunny despite the grey skies outside. As with almost all the vineyards of English wine producers that I have visited in the past few months, a superb 2018 harvest had delivered both quality and quantity. The assorted array of extra tanks outside the main winery which had had to be ordered in at short notice to cope with the volume were very visible evidence of this. The new cellar with visitor centre on top, sunk deep into the Hampshire chalk, was taking shape, its size highlighting the scale of the business and the ambition of Ian Kellett, the owner, and his team. A team from a large supermarket arrived while I was taking the tour, a sizeable contract possible if their inspection satisfied them that their production standards would be met.
My jovial guide Steve, an expat Zimbabwean, took me through Hambledon’s past before we tasted its present. On one level, it is a granddaddy of the modern English wine industry, its founder Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones being one of the triumvirate who started the revival in the 1950s. The reality, though, is that its current incarnation is very much younger; the vineyards had fallen out of use by the 1990s and its current owner began replanting in 2004. This was done with the three main Champagne varieties only, various clones and rootstock being experimented with initially before settling on favoured combinations as the vineyards expanded. That the terroir was worth this venture was clear. I could clearly see the shallowness of the topsoil layer where the diggers had excavated for the new cellar; underneath it lies a deep seam of workable chalk.
Complementing the natural conditions is the winery. Though crammed to the seams as a result of the bumper harvest and building works, it is clean and efficient. It is constructed in line with the vision of Hervé Jestin, the legendary Champenois winemaker, with gravity doing the work – no pumping under pressure here, the must and wines being treated as gently as possible to retain the clarity and precision of their expression.
Hambledon’s range is focused, with only three cuvees of English Sparkling Wine available at the moment. To call the Classic and Rose Cuvees their entry level offerings is to do them a massive disservice. The Prestige Cuvee is a considerable step up from their already elevated level, and is a genuine bargain in the world of traditional method sparkling wine. Please see the Hambledon vineyard page for details of the Hambledon wines we stock.
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