In winemaking, progress isn’t always made by moving forwards. Sometimes we need to circle back to older ways of doing things – embracing tradition and challenging convention.

Our latest release is the absolute embodiment of this idea. It’s a first for Gusbourne – and for English wine as a whole – our debut agrafe bottling.

Agrafe, which means “staple” in French, is a way of closing a sparkling wine so it’s aged on cork from the get-go. It’s an incredibly labour-intensive process: every step – from bottling to disgorgement – must be done by hand. So, why do it?

To find out, we sat down with AJ Benham, our Head of Wine Operations.

Why use the agrafe method?
“Usually, when we first bottle our sparkling wine, it’s closed with a crown cap – a bit like a beer bottle,” says AJ. “When you swap this for a cork and agrafe staple, you see the benefit of cork ageing in much younger wines. There’s more oxygen interaction with the wine, plus you get the flavours and aromatic compounds which come from cork ageing earlier in the process.”

It's a different type of ageing. “It leads to more mouthfeel and complexity,” says AJ. “You get all those mushroomy, woody, toasty characters which come from wine contact with cork. At the same time, you’re not losing the freshness and acidity. It gets those lovely savoury notes earlier in its life.”

A nod to Champagne
The agrafe method of ageing wine had fallen out of favour in Champagne, but esteemed producer Ruinart reintroduced it with cuveé 2010 Dom Ruinart. Cellar Master, Frédéric Panaïotis, was delighted with the increased complexity the agrafe method offered - and now it's now the only closure used for Dom Ruinart. 

So, when cork producer Amorim approached us in 2018 to trial agrafe closures, AJ jumped at the opportunity. “We’ve been able to work with Amorim to compare the Agrafe with our usual ageing method. It’s fascinating to see how it evolves.”

Selecting the blend

AJ and the team decided on a classic Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

“For the first vintage, we wanted a wine which was built to retain freshness longer and which would suit the savoury characters which ageing on cork delivers,” he says. “Effectively, you’re doubling the amount of time the wine spends on cork, so you need a wine which will lend itself to those flavours.”

The wine was bottled in early summer 2020. “By the time it was disgorged it had had three years on lees – and all that time on cork,” says AJ. “Even from quite early on, it had those lovely mushroom characteristics, but freshness and acidity as well. It’s a really harmonious blend.”

Our Extra Brut Agrafe 2019, hand bottled and hand disgorged, is undoubtedly one of the most artisan bottlings we’ve created to date. A true labour of love. 

To find out more about how to open your agrafe bottling, click here

Gusbourne Extra Brut Agrafe 2019 is available to purchase now in a very limited quantity; due to the special production process, quantities are extremely limited.