“But why climb Everest?” George Mallory was asked back in 1924. “Because it is there,” was his piercing reply.
Often, the reason why we want to test boundaries and venture into uncharted waters comes down to this simple instinct – to take on a challenge. And, hopefully, to succeed.
Of course, we’re not scaling mountains in Gusbourne’s winery or vineyards – but we are continuously pushing the limits of what we know. Through trial – and occasionally error – we forge forward.
Our Winemakers’ Edition range is designed to showcase the ambition, curiosity and talent of our brilliant young team. Alastair Benham, who was named one of Harpers “30 under 30” earlier this year, and our Oenologist Mary Bridges, are the duo behind our latest release: Gusbourne Pinot Noir Blanc 2022.
Asked why they chose this project, Mary said: “It’s a relatively rare style of wine. We wanted to try something different – to keep pushing the boundaries of the wines we make.”
The team chose expressive Pinot Noir fruit from Down Field vineyard in Sussex for the project. “The fruit was ripe and in great condition for the 2022 vintage,” says Alastair. It was lightly pressed and aged in older oak to add texture and weight. The result is a pale gold, aromatic wine which is filled with flavours of juicy apricot and fresh English raspberries.
“We were keen to use Sussex fruit,” says Alastair. “It gives us a point of consistency – because we used Sussex fruit for our 2021 wine.
“Also, Down Field has a really expressive red fruit profile – this fruit is usually earmarked for our luxury bottlings, so we had to work alongside Charlie to persuade him to let us have the fruit we wanted.”
Alastair is quite right: increasingly, the fruit from Down Field is developing a special status at the winery as the most coveted. “The wines here always end up with these lovely lifted light red fruits,” says Alastair. “And it just seemed to us that it would really suit a still white wine.
“Usually, when you’re thinking about still whites, you're talking flavours such as apples, citrus fruits, orchard fruits. So, it’s nice to create a still white wine but with a totally different profile.”
Mary adds: “It’s a real point of difference in what we can do for still white wine. Stylistically, there’s no hint of Chardonnay about it.”
Creating a white wine from red grapes does, naturally, have its technical challenges. “You have to make sure there’s not too much skin contact, otherwise you’ll get colour in the wine,” says Mary. “And then, when it came to barrels and building weight and body into the wine, we were breaking new ground.
“There’s not even a lot of literature out there to read, so we were using our own intuition and constantly tasting to see how to evolve the wine. Does that work? Does that not work? It became obvious when the wine was ready for us to stop work.”
The wine was then rested in oak – neutral barrels which wouldn’t add too much to the flavour profile. “We wanted the wine to retain those lovely red-fruit characteristics,” says Mary. “If we left it too long in barrel it would have been dominated by oak. We wanted it to keep its freshness too.”
And so, having nurtured this wine over the past few months, how would the pair like to see it enjoyed? “I think this is a wine that should be drunk in the sunshine,” says Alastair. “It’s light and aromatic and fruit driven. It’s got the acidity to make it a real food wine – especially with easy summer flavours - shellfish, charcuterie or cheeses.”