When Chief Winemaker Charlie Holland joined Gusbourne in 2013, after learning his trade in wineries round the world, two things were at the front of his mind. First, what every winemaker is looking for – a blank canvas on which to create a wine with fresh identity. Gusbourne was still a young business, and here was a chance to build a new and exciting brand.
Second, this wasn't a standard winemaking opportunity – every grape used at Gusbourne was, and still is, grown in our own vineyards, allowing ultimate control over the wines produced. And that fruit, according to Charlie, was "consistently the best you could buy in the UK. Jon [Pollard, Gusbourne’s Chief Vineyard Manager] was producing amazingly healthy fruit, in perfect condition and hugely expressive."
But let's go back to the sunny days of 2000 and McLaren Vale, South Australia. That's where Charlie was travelling after finishing a degree in Marketing in London. He ended up as a cellar-hand in Tatachilla Winery, working around the clock shifts during harvest. The passion and obsessive care he witnessed there was infectious. A new career path beckoned.
Back in the UK, he began a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College and ended with a First. Then a handful of years of hands-on work that started honing his skills in the Languedoc, Napa, Rheingau and New Zealand, before shoring up in 2009 as winemaker for Ridgeview in East Sussex.
What's great about Gusbourne?
What brought Charlie to Gusbourne, in addition to the highest quality own-grown fruit and the freedom to stamp his own template on the brand, was the company's desire to break boundaries. "Gusbourne's owner, Andrew Weeber, said to me on day one ‘To be the best you need to experiment and not be afraid of failure - if you’re not screwing up 1,000 litres occasionally, you’re not doing your job properly.’ That's true commitment to experimentation and to creating a real identity. We are always pursuing only the best quality. Not being asked to cut corners based on what's easy or cheap is a winemaker's dream."
Never resting on laurels is one of Charlie's ground rules. "I'm a perfectionist – if a 1% difference can make something better, then make it happen," he says. "Winemakers should always be looking for constant improvement in their wines. Lean on the science, get constructive feedback and improve."
But presumably enjoying the finished product is also part of the job. So what are Charlie's favourite Gusbourne wines? Blanc de Blancs 2014 has aged really well, he says, which is a joy for such a hot year, and the 2016 version has delicious roundness. But we sense there's real personal pride in the way he talks about Blanc de Noirs 2016: "It's a brooding, fuller, intellectual wine."
And in private, when the working day is done, a favourite glass or two of what other kind of wine helps a relaxing evening along at home? These days, Charlie is drawn to lighter reds like a well-made Barbera or Beaujolais. And if anyone knows what ‘well-made’ looks, smells and tastes like, it’s Charlie Holland.
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