Why Hampshire is becoming the English Champagne region

The vines at Jenkyn Place in Bentley, near Farnham

The vines at Jenkyn Place in Bentley, near Farnham - Credit: Archant

After a great grape harvest in 2018 Hampshire is fast becoming the English Champagne region

There's no escaping it; English wine is on-trend. After the prolonged intensity of sun last summer, the 2018 harvest has led to a perfect explosion of sales. English wines have traditionally never had a problem with providing crisp acidity; in generous vintages such as 2018, they can match that with delicious ripe fruit flavours, resulting in a wonderful and delicate harmony of tastes.

The stars aligned for English wine producers during 2018. It's likely to be the best vintage that this country's trade has seen to date, with near-perfect conditions for excellent quality and high yield. The growing season started with 'the Beast from the East', which delayed bud burst, protecting vineyards from early frost damage. A long sizzling summer followed, with some of the hottest conditions seen since the summer of 1976. By harvest time there had barely been any rain, which enabled the English grapes to fully ripen to plump juicy perfection before picking.

As such, there has never been a better time to purchase an English wine; either to mature as a piece of liquidised history, or to pop open straight away. Drinking wine according to season is a real pleasure; wine can be earth and sunshine, frost and harvest, solace and celebration.

The elegant sparkling wines of our county are a wonderful expression of one of their finest terroirs: the chalky South Downs soil of Hampshire. The county's soil is a specific part of its wine-producing success, due to the inherent attributes of chalk. The vine roots penetrate the chalk and absorb the minerals that produce the wine's natural flavours. Chalk rarely becomes saturated, preventing the vine roots from becoming damp. The way that chalk drains means that the vine has to fight for the water, the vine creates a strong capillary action. The results are vines that are fitter and healthier.

As well as sharing a comparable soil profile, the temperatures seen in this corner of south-east England are extremely similar to that of Champagne. The UK still has more cloud cover and less sunshine than other major European wine-producing nations. Because of this it can continue to offer 'naturally light' wines with less alcohol, in addition to other styles.

The holy trinity of sparkling wine grapes are the most common in our region - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These are the mainstay for world-class fizzers that now represent 66 per cent of wine produced in this country. Much of Hampshire's wine production is focused on sparkling wine. English sparkling wine is made in the same traditional method as Champagne, meaning it is left to age in the bottle, typically for about three years.

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Sparkling wine accounts for 68 per cent of all English wine produced and has gained global recognition for its quality.

Hampshire producers' careful choice of vineyard sites, grape varieties and wine styles allow them to compete successfully with top wine producers from around the world. Wines from our chalky pleasant land have won global awards and recognition. Hattingley Valley has recently partnered with British Airways, creating an exclusive wine for BA's centenary celebrations. The Blanc de Noirs is a Pinot Noir dominant blend that BA has said: "will work perfectly at altitude".

The history of wine-growing in Hampshire stretches back to 1952, when Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, a keen Francophile and wine enthusiast, decided to plant a vineyard. Taking the advice of the renowned Champagne house Pol Roger, he planted different grape varieties and released the first commercial range of English wines. This became Hambledon Vineyard, which is still producing fantastic sparkling premier and classic cuvée.

The other vineyards in Hampshire to watch are: Exton Park Vineyard, Hattingley Valley, Cottonworth, Jenkyn Place, Danebury Vineyard, Raimes English Sparkling and Black Chalk. These vineyards are part of what is known as the Vineyards of Hampshire, sharing resources and holding events to promote the collective efforts of the group. From tasting events to social activities - such as the Hampshire Vineyard Olympics and the Vineyards of Hampshire Gala Dinner - give this group an excuse to get together to open a mass of English sparkling wine bottles and they will!

There is no doubt that the changing climate and the possibilities laid down by Sir Guy's pioneering spirit have enabled Hampshire to become a key player on the English wine stage. Enjoy immersing yourself in the tastes of the terroir, and who knows, you may find your new favourite amongst all the bottles on offer. What is important to emphasise when trying out new wines is that the experience should be as fun as possible; after all, that's what wine should be - pleasurable.


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