Many English winemakers build their reputations on chalk foundations, but Gusbourne’s is different. Ours is an estate of two parts, one in Kent and one in Sussex. These distinct sites are separated by (approximately) 100 miles above ground – and (even more approximately) 100 million years beneath.
In Sussex, at Selhurst Park vineyard, we’re in Eric Ravilious country, surrounded by the chalk pathways and rolling downland which back onto the Goodwood Estate. But journey east, and you come to Kent’s Wealden clay.
Here, the profile of the coastline changes from towering cliffs to a gentle taper towards the Saxon Shoreway, the lowlands of Romney Marsh and, beyond that, the sea. These two discrete terroirs are key to Gusbourne’s winemaking and to understanding our wines.
Why? Because you can taste the difference between the two sites in the glass. “The clay in Kent builds more muscular wines, with roundness, fullness and body,” says Laura Rhys Master Sommelier, our Global Brand Ambassador. “In Sussex, a predominance of chalk builds elegance and poise.”
Charlie Holland and his winemaking team can bring together these complementary styles to create beautifully balanced blends. Or, perhaps more excitingly, to dial in on the differences between our sites, and showcase these in our fascinating still and sparkling single-vineyard bottlings.
OUR KENT CLAY
Clay soils are responsible for some of the world’s most extraordinary and expensive wines. Take Bordeaux’s Petrus, for example. Today, purchasing a six-bottle case from this – relatively new – star of Pomerol requires several thousand pounds and a first-name-terms relationship with your wine merchant.
But what makes Petrus so seductively delicious? Accepted wisdom points to the fact that (unlike its near neighbours) it’s located on clay. The point here is not that Kent and the Right Bank of Bordeaux share the same geology – far from it. But rather, there is something very special about clay’s ability to nurture vines which yield impressive, delicious and distinctive fruit.
“The clay holds plenty of moisture and also it's rich in nutrients,” says Jon Pollard, our Chief Vineyard Manager. “This means our winter rains are held in the soil, supplying the vines when there’s a dry spell.” Clay also comes into its own in cooler vintages too, thanks to its ability to retain heat.
“This is really beneficial in the marginal British climate and helps to explain the levels of ripeness we see in our vineyards in Kent,” says Laura. “Plus, our altitude, being between two metres and 40 metres above sea level means we are not losing too much heat,” says Jon. “We’re in a sweet spot.”
OUR SUSSEX CHALK AND FLINT
Back in 2015, famed Champagne producer Taittinger invested in Kentish vineyards, establishing their first holding in England. A wave of French investment followed as other houses staked their claim on this side of the pond.
This vote of confidence in English terroir was based, largely, on the incredible chalk soils of the south, which share much with their Champagne counterparts. Chalk lends itself to viticulture for a few reasons: it’s mineral-rich, giving alkaline soils with lots of nutrients for vine growth; it holds and reflects heat and it is incredibly well-drained which minimises risk of disease.
At 100 metres above sea level, just a stone’s throw from Goodwood racecourse, you’ll find our highest vineyard. Here, a deep vein of chalk sits just a few inches below the topsoil. This is where we reliably grow fruit that forms the core of our sparkling.
“This is traditional South Downs planting,” says Adam Foden, our Vineyard Manager. “Come harvest time, the Chardonnay in Sussex is the last to harvested. Park field, being our highest, flintiest plot, is generally harvested about 10 days after our Chardonnay in Kent.”
Head down the slopes though and you’ll find a sheltered hillock and a large rectangle of a vineyard, with lots of woodland on the western sides and hedgerows on the southern side. This is Down Field, home to a different soil – and arguably our most desirable fruit. “The soil here takes its time to warm up each spring,” says Adam. “And it is trickier to farm, and the vines don’t look like they thrive in the same way as elsewhere,” he says.
“But the fruit here tells a different story; this is the vineyard that all the winemakers want for their projects.”
IN SEARCH OF OUR MONOPOLE
Amongst our expanse of Wealden clay, Tunbridge Wells Sand and Sussex chalk we’ve identified a number of especially expressive parcels of vines.
There are so many variables at play as to why a particular vine has perfect synergy with a particular location – soil is certainly a part of this, but so too is aspect, altitude and microclimate. Add to this the seasonal variations that come with producing vintage-only wines and it’s a complex picture.
But with each year that passes, we get closer to our fruit and our wines, understanding a little more about the science – and the art – of making incredible wine from these special places. This is why we love bottling single-vineyard expressions: the purest way to enjoy a taste of our terroirs.
And, whether it’s Down Field in Sussex, Boot Hill in Kent – or somewhere else we’re yet to single-out – we know the potential of our incredible vineyards is only just beginning to be teased out.
You can experience our Single Vineyard wines for yourself at one of our special tasting events.