Hattingley Valley - Hampshire vineyard launches its first still rosé wine
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 May 2020
As Hattingley Valley prepares to release its first still rosé wine, we take a tour around its Lower Wield winery
As the coronavirus lockdown got closer the 17 staff at Hattingley Valley’s winery near Alresford were preparing to get their hands dirty.
Rebecca Fisher, whose day job is usually as the vineyard’s partnerships and events manager, was preparing to do some bud rubbing out on the field, which she confesses is hard on the back. Like most on the team though she has practical experience of working in a winery. “It’s like a family teamwork ethos. As part of staff development people are sent overseas to experience other harvests. It’s useful for learning and trying new things.”
And it has paid dividends. The vineyard’s delicious dessert wine Entice – which has been produced from Bacchus grapes in 2014, 2016 and 2018 – was the brainchild of one such staff member who saw a similar dessert wine being created in New Zealand.
Hattingley Valley’s story dates back to 2000, when farmer Simon Robinson heard a radio programme about the rise of winemaking in the UK. He planted his first vines eight years later, having made careful studies of the land he had available. It was these studies which led to the discovery of Hattingley Valley’s distinctive symbol, the rare silver-washed fritillary butterfly which still lives in hedgerows planted around the vineyard. Simon employed graduates of Plumpton College’s wine courses – including head winemaker Emma Rice – and converted old chicken sheds into a winery. After an initial experiment in chemin blanc grapes, the vineyard now grows traditional Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The 40 acres of south-facing vineyards in Medstead sit on free-draining chalk, which encourages the vine’s roots to search out for water. This action creates a better vine, while the chalk also adds an acidity to the grapes, making them perfect for sparkling wines. The vines are ventilated by the cool wind from the Solent, stopping them from becoming damp. “We have the same soil as in the Champagne region,” says Chris Delves who has been leading tours around the winery since February 2019. “Our average temperature is about 1.5°C cooler than that part of the world, but it is what the Champagne region was 30 or 40 years ago. Climate change is having a positive effect on the south – we are now able to produce some still wines as Kent’s grapes now have more richness and ripeness in their fruit.” This April Hattingley Valley is releasing Still, its first non-sparkling rosé, which was made from grapes grown in Berkshire and Kent.
The vineyard experienced optimum growing conditions in 2018, when a cold winter was followed up by a wonderful summer. The following year there were frosts in April which meant candles had to be set up throughout the vineyard to protect the vines overnight.
A knock-on effect from the big harvest in 2018 was that the winery ran out of tanks, and had to import some extra French cubes. The winery’s tanks range in size from 1,000 litre to 22,500 litre. They are where the juice from the pressed grapes receives its first fermentation of up to eight or nine months after being innoculated with yeast – although a certain percentage is placed in traditional wooden barrels for the same process. There are 200 oak burgundy barrels stored at a low temperature whose contents are blended with the tanked wine at between five to 25 per cent according to taste before it is bottled. The winery also produces a 100 per cent barrel-fermented prestige cuvée – Kings, which launched with a 2014 vintage that cost £80 a bottle.
The second fermentation is in the bottle – with wines being left between 18 months and five years. It is a truly remarkable sight to see the racks of bottles, capped with beer bottle-style tops, waiting to go through the procedure of the yeast being removed and the corks and foils being added. There’s another two-month wait before the labels are added and the bottles are shipped to destinations including Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado in the UK, while a third of the bottles end up abroad. The biggest markets are in the US, Japan and Australia. “Last year we produced 500,000 bottles and we’re looking to do the same this year, says Rebecca, pointing out that a lot of the processes are carried out by hand. “Each bottle is touched many times.”
The winery has been careful to make its operations as sustainable as possible. The roof is lined with solar panels, the bottles are made of 80 per cent recycled glass, the plant has a Bio-Bubble water treatment facility meaning waste-water can be pumped back and reused, and the leftover grape pressings are used as cattle feed. Plus the team is constantly developing new ideas, such as its 40 per cent proof Aqua Vitae which is made up of distilled Chardonnay grapes.
All of this can be seen first-hand when the winery’s tour programme begins once more. Public tours of up to 16 people are held around the winery every Friday, and take in the vineyard on Saturdays. And there are private and corporate options available throughout the year. Last year the winery hosted 111 tours. All end with a wine-tasting session featuring Hattingley Valley’s best-loved bottles, with special tour-only offers available.
Last year Hattingley Valley decided to embrace its origins and geography. Each redesigned label now has a Union Jack design as well as a Hampshire rose and the silver-washed fritillary butterfly. As each case says, they are Unapologetically British.
With more than 100 awards to their credit since 2014 Hattingley Valley is undoubtedly something Hampshire should be immensely proud of.
Find out more about Hattingley Valley and book tours at hattingleyvalley.com