Emma Rice of Hattingley Valley Wine on taking on the big names… and winning

PUBLISHED: 14:28 07 November 2014 | UPDATED: 14:28 07 November 2014

Josh Foster with Emma Rice. Photo by The Electric Eye

Josh Foster with Emma Rice. Photo by The Electric Eye

The Electric Eye

Who would have thought it? Just a few decades ago the English wine industry was, to put it unkindly, a bit of a joke. I remember glugging a couple of bottles of white with a bouquet of farmyard; perhaps an acquired taste.

The vineyards of Hattingley Valley WineThe vineyards of Hattingley Valley Wine

What a difference 20 years makes. Temperatures have crept up, we’ve acquired a lot more know-how, and there’s a cohort of bright young guns entering the industry and garnering enough accolades to create waves across the Channel.

Among them is winemaker Emma Rice. Young, blonde and petite, she is the Head Winemaker at Hattingley Valley who has just picked up UKVA’s (UK Vineyards Association) Winemaker of the Year Award.

That is in addition to Hattingley Valley’s very first release, 2011 Sparkling Rose, being rewarded with a Gold in the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards, followed by Gold Awards for the Classic Cuvee and Sparkling Rose, and Silver for their King’s Cuvee in UKVA’s Wine of the Year Competition. And just recently the Rose collected another Gold and the Classic Cuvee picked up Silver in the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2015.

Hattingley Valley appear to have bounded from nowhere to sparkling success in the pop of a cork, producing a fizz that can already be considered a serious challenge to Champagne. Indeed their vineyards are planted on south-facing downland near Alresford that is not dissimilar to the famous French terroir.

Hattingley’s Chairman, Simon Robinson, only started his adventure into the world of wine production back in 2008. As for Emma: it was a bottle of Krug 1979 which inspired her interest. As well as the extensive wine list at the White Horse, Chilgrove, where she once worked.

She took all her Wine & Spirit Education Trust qualifications to diploma level while working in the London trade before going on to study Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College (the UK’s centre of excellence in wine education.)

I caught up with Emma just after one of the busiest periods of the year – bottling.

“My first job out of college was harvest 2006 in the Napa Valley for Cuvaison Estate Wines; it was an internship which turned into a full-time position. After that I travelled to Tasmania for the 2008 vintage at Tamar Ridge to gain some experience working in a cooler climate making white and sparkling wine.”

She returned to the UK the following year to set up a wine analysis laboratory and consultancy business – just as the English wine industry was taking off.

Simon Robinson approached Emma to help him establish the Hattingley Valley Winery and the rest, as they might say, appears to be history in the making.

The vineyard currently comprises 85 acres planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the classic champagne varieties). The custom-built, eco-friendly winery was completed in 2010, equipped to the highest standard with the latest technology and equipment from continental Europe and is the first UK winery to adopt solar power.

Emma remembers: “The opportunity to make the highest quality sparkling wines so close to home was an opportunity no English winemaker could resist. The young dynamic team we have established at Hattingley has enabled us to make a real impact on the UK wine industry.”

Last year Emma moved to Alton to be even closer to the vineyard, and is thoroughly enjoying the pleasures of the Hampshire landscape.

English wine and the wine industry in general is undergoing a revolution. But what it is like to be a woman in what is traditionally a male-dominated business?

“There is no doubt that historically, winemaking has been a man’s world, however, this is becoming less and less the case. In fact there is a high proportion of women working at the top level of winemaking. Cellars can be fairly macho places to work, but with technological advances in equipment, muscle is less important than skill in winemaking.

“It has been suggested that women bring a softer approach to winemaking and have different palates to men with regard to tasting, but I really do feel that it is individual personalities rather than gender that has the biggest influence.

“This is now a dynamic and vibrant industry with many opportunities for young winemakers; here in the cellar at Hattingley we also have Jacob Leadley and Will Perkins, who are both keeping me on my toes and showing great promise and dedication. The future is bright for English wines. We are being highlighted more and more by the wine trade press as the place to look for high quality sparkling wine. We want to continue making award-winning wines that we are proud to call English and sell them not only to the domestic market, but take the message across the world. Hampshire is the newest frontier in vineyard establishment and is seeing huge growth in volume as well as quality.”

As for Emma’s achievement: “It’s all a bit much to take in to be honest. Success with our first release is validation of Simon’s vision and everything we’ve been doing here, but it is also quite daunting – I feel I must continue along this level.”

To find out more and order a case to try for yourself visit www.hattingleyvalley.co.uk


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