There’s no doubt 2022 was a magnificent year for English wine. “The vintage currently in Gusbourne’s cellars has the potential to be the best we’ve made. Better even than the ‘watershed’ 2018 vintage,” says Charlie Holland, our Chief Winemaker and CEO.
And it’s not just Gusbourne who benefitted from the generous harvest. There’s a sense of buoyancy and confidence in the industry as a whole. In September, Wine GB reported that hectares under vine in the UK has risen by 70% in the past five years – while almost 200 wineries were in operation across Great Britain.
The export market for English fine wine also saw impressive growth, with sparkling wine exports increasing by a third over the past 12 months. Norway, America, Sweden and Japan continue to be the top markets, with the appetite for English wine in Scandinavia notably booming.
So, the statistics are exciting. But even more exciting is the mood, the sense of momentum and the feeling that years – decades – of work, risk-taking and belief is coming to fruition. This, for Gusbourne at least, has been almost 20 years in the making. The launch of our prestige bottling Fifty One Degrees North in the autumn was a real signifier that our fine wine offering had come of age.
“We’re moving through the gears,” says Charlie. “Like English wine in general, we’re growing – and, despite the macro-economic climate – the appetite for top-quality products is there, which is good news for Gusbourne.
“People have regularly written off English wine: when I first got involved, people said we’d never make decent quality sparkling compared to Champagne. Or, that we’d overplanted and there’ll be a wine lake. Or that our still wines would never compete. But at every challenge – every hurdle – English wine has come out positively,” Charlie says.
As a new fine-wine region, we also stand to benefit from the increasingly fierce pricing seen in established regions such as Burgundy and Champagne. Here, only elite fine-wine buyers can access tiny allocations of the most desirable wines. Most fine-wine collectors must look beyond the hallowed names to find the rising stars in the fine-wine world.
“We’re already the most-traded English wine on Liv-Ex,” says Charlie. “There’s little doubt that the secondary market for English fine wine is emerging.” This is testament not just to the quality of the wines Gusbourne is producing, but also to their longevity. “Our earliest wines, from 2006, still have time in hand; they’re still developing. We don’t yet know their potential – how long the best vintages will last for – which is hugely exciting.”
Odds and evens: an emerging trend
“We’ve had this catalogue of really great harvests in even vintages – 2022, 2020, 2018 and 2016,” says Charlie. “Not just for sparkling wine, but also for still. Of course, you have to temper that with the challenges of climate change, but the possibility now is huge.”
So, does that mean that because we’re in an uneven vintage, he expects a difficult year? “Not necessarily. In fact, for sparkling you could argue that the cooler vintages result in some of our best wines. It’ll just give us a different expression.
“If we end up with a colder year it will be better suited to certain wine styles. For example, in 2021 we didn’t make a red wine because the conditions just weren’t suited to it, but the sparkling wines were lovely. And that’s the beauty of what we do with vintage wines.”
Highlights for 2023
Aside from the usual rhythms of the vineyard, winery and tasting room, 2023 has some special product releases and events to look forward to too. “A highlight for me is the Single Vineyard wines,” says Charlie. “We’re releasing the 2018 vintage – a stellar year – so it will be interesting to see how they’ve developed.”
The charm of these wines is that they are a real window into the effect of vintage variation. “There’s a common thread running through all the years,” he says, “but they’ll express themselves in different ways, which is really exciting to see.”
Charlie decides which single-vineyard sites will be used for these special wines at harvest. But, invariably, one stands head and shoulders above the rest. “Each year, the only brief is to select the most interesting parcels we’ve got, but every year we’ve made something from Down Field. It’s proving to be the most impressive single-vineyard site we’ve got.”
Up and coming
Elsewhere, one of Charlie’s favourite projects is our series of Winemaker’s Edition bottlings – wines which have been created by our young winemaking team. “We’ve got loads of cool stuff the winemakers have been working on this year,” Charlie enthuses.
“For example, Mary – one of our winemaking team – went and picked the left-behind, last-to-ripen grapes from 2022,” Charlie says. “It was perfectly good fruit, but it just wasn’t ready when we went through the vineyards at harvest. Without any brief at all, she’s made arguably the best red wine of the vintage. And that’s really exciting.
“I’ve been super impressed with all their wines so far. I love the creativity – it really inspires me.”
Wines to watch
Elsewhere, we’ll be introducing a Gusbourne first to the range – our debut sweet wine, Chardonnay RS180. Plus, we’ll be bringing out a fruit-forward, vibrant still rosé.
Aside from new wines, the most anticipated launch this spring is our memberships. “We want customers to feel part of what we do. We've got this amazing story; it’s real – something truly authentic in a world of synthetic marketing. We’re far more than just a shiny brand.
“We really want people to really understand what we're trying to do,” says Charlie. “So, our memberships are a way to give people access to more of our story and our wines. Sharing our passion for winemaking, the journey we’re on and the wines we’re now able to make which we couldn't before. There's so much to be excited about.”