Hambledon Vineyard Visit Part 1

I was lucky enough to visit Hambledon Vineyard on a very windy, and rainy, day in late October 2013. So, I don’t really have any great pictures of the vineyards and grapes etc. to share, but I do have some really interesting photographs of their brand new winery – currently, and I imagine for some time, the only 100% gravity fed winery in the UK. This sort of winery is unusual even in more traditional wine-making countries and I have only come across this twice on my travels – once at Quinta do Vallado in the Douro, Portugal and once at Tobelos Bodegas Y Vinedos in Rioja (admittedly not quite 100% gravity fed, but nearly!). What is clear from my visit is that the people behind Hambledon Vineyard are very serious indeed.
Buy Hambledon Vineyard wines at Fareham Wine Cellar.

About Hambledon Vineyard

The small village of Hambledon is located in Hampshire some 15 miles north of Portsmouth (approximately 6.5 miles from Fareham Wine Cellar, as the crow flies!). It has two claims to fame, one of which is the slightly debatable title of the “Cradle of Cricket” (Hambledon Cricket Club dates back to 1750). Hambledon’s other claim to fame is not contested – it is the location of the oldest commercial vineyard in England.

Hambledon Vineyard was established by wine-loving Francophile Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones. After researching the feasiblity of planting vines on the original, chalky, south-facing  slopes in front of his house, and after consultation with friends and connections at Champagne Pol Roger, the first vines were planted in 1952. A range of about half a dozen grape varieties were planted (mainly Germanic varieties including Seyval Blanc as I understand) on soils that are identical to the Kimmeridgian / Clay soils of Champagne and Burgundy. Soon the first English wines available to buy. Long-serving winemaker Bill Carcary joined the team in the mid-1960s and before long Hambledon Vineyard wines were flying the flag for English wines on the domestic market and were being sold in places as varied as the Houses of Parliament, UK embassies overseas and even on the QE2. The vineyard saw a good few decades of fame, success and expansion, however by the the time the vineyard had passed through successive owners by the 1990s, the vineyard was in a sad state of serious decline and there were only 4 acres of vine plantings left.

Hambledon Vineyard Renaissance

The second most important thing to happen at Hambledon, after it being established by by Salisbury-Jones in 1952, was the purchase by current owner Ian Kellett in 1999. Kellett, a former equity analyst and biochemist by training, arrived at the vineyard with the dream of owning his own winery and producing English wine. He soon realised that the still wines being produced were not particularly good. However, he persevered with Hambledon Vineyard, studied oenology at Plumpton College and undertook his own extensive research before concluding that the way forward for Hambledon Vineyard would be to concentrate on producing high quality English sparkling wine. By 2005 all of the old vines had been grubbed up and there was a 10 acre test planting of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varieties (the three main wine used in Champagne) using different clones and rootstocks to see which of the 27 combinations work best.

Hambledon Vineyard

Since 2005 Kellett has created Hambledon Vineyard Plc and has implemented an innovative fundraising via an EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) which sees the appointment of two leading independent directors, one of whom is John Armit –  who has had a long career in the UK wine trade and will be familiar most in the trade. Their successful fundraising has allowed them to build an extremely hi-tech, 100% gravity fed, £2.5 million winery and to expand their vineyard plantings to some 50 acres. The planting and design of the winery has all been under the direction Hervé Jestin, former Chef de Cave at Champagne Duval Leroy who remains as the main consultant.

Hambledon VineyardSpeaking to, now managing director, Kellett, it would seem that Hambledon Vineyard is still looking to expand in the future to around 200 acres of vineyards with a target for production of three quarters of a million bottles per year (750,000 bottles). This has been hampered and slowed down by the very poor 2012 vintage – most English vineyards didn’t even bother to pick in 2012. Of course, this is a lot of wine, too much for the UK domestic market, and it is no surprise that Hambledon Vineyard plans to target two-thirds of their sales to overseas markets such as China, India and larger, cosmopolitan cities such as New York and Paris. Perhaps  the cricketing connection as the “cradle of cricket” could see natural links forged with cricket playing countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Read more about the winery at Part 2.

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