Mill Hill East vineyard is home to five hectares of red grapes. Most are Pinot Noir, but there are two significant hectares of Pinot Meunier. In recent harvests, our winemaking team have found this Meunier to be especially expressive – worthy, in fact, of a single-vineyard bottling. Here, we head into the vineyard to discover this special terroir.

It’s early spring. The drizzle has been falling relentlessly and, as the squelch underfoot signifies, even the ground has had enough of it. Undaunted, Mary and Laura have offered to swap the warmth of the winemakers’ office to take a walk in the brisk chill of Mill Hill East vineyard.

Our new single-vineyard release – a Pinot Meunier – comes from two hectares of fruit grown here. Fruit which Mary, our Head Winemaker, and Laura, Master Sommelier, love because of its characteristic richness and its lush, fruit-forward profile.

It’s still unusual to find a wine made just from Pinot Meunier; more often it plays a supporting role as part of a sparkling blend. But its popularity is on the rise – especially in English wine. Perhaps it’s because Pinot Meuniers evolve relatively quickly, which makes them incredibly appealing even in their youth.

But what is it about the conditions – the soil, the aspect, the slope, and so on – which make our Mill Hill East site so well suited to growing Meunier?

The vineyard is home to two Meunier clones, 865 and 924. These are grown in the most westerly rows of this rectangular vineyard, running north to south with the slope. The vines here produce petite bunches of small berries – fruit with poise, balance and acidity.

Mill Hill East mapAs you walk into the top corner of the vineyard, the first thing that strikes you is that you’re standing on plateau; it’s fringed by a line of old, gnarled trees on one side and newly planted Italian Alder on the other. Underfoot, it’s wet and the vines have been pruned hard. Evidence, perhaps, of why Jon Pollard – our vineyard manager – can be quoted as calling this site “a bit of a pain”. Drainage on this plateau is tricky and the vines hate having wet feet.

“It causes lower vigour in the vines in this area compared with those in the rest of the vineyard on the slope,” he says. In the summer, when there’s a dry spell, the clay here becomes as hard as iron making it impossible for vines to expand their root system.

Looking across to the west, towards Mill Hill Middle vineyard, a man-made hillock crests the ridge. This is an ancient barrow, or burial mound, not – as you might assume from the vineyard’s name – the site of the old windmill. There’s a bench sited on top of the barrow. It’s a picturesque resting spot for those walking long-distance footpath, the Saxon Shore Way, which bisects the estate to follow the old Roman coastline.

Further west, beyond Mill Hill Middle vineyard, lies Appledore heath. Somewhere in this low-lying land, local historians speculate that an old inlet and port would have existed the 12th century. Mill Hill East’s soils might just be a clue to this marine past: around a metre below the Wealden clay, you’ll find sweeps of Tunbridge Wells sand.

Standing up by the top boundary, you can see why Jon has planted a line of Italian Alder; it’s designed to take the sting out of the wind so that the vines can keep photosynthesising, even on blustery days.

From here, the land plunges away from you, sliding down from the Appledore escarpment until it reaches Bottom Camp vineyard. Down at sea level, the Royal Military Canal cuts its defensive swathe through the countryside, leaving nothing by an impossibly flat expanse of marsh stretching out to the coast.  

The further down the slope you walk, the more vigorous the vines become. The soils here drain more freely; the wind is notably less aggressive. This is where the Pinot Meunier really gets into its stride.  “It’s these pockets of super-ripe fruit that we look for,” says Mary. “They offer something especially appealing for a single-varietal bottling, you get really expressive fruit.”

Even on a dreich day, you can see why the vines like it here. Compared with the buffeting wind and rain-soaked soils at the top of the hill, it feels sheltered and calm. We can talk without needing to shout over the wind. The ditches are running like rivers, carrying the recent rainfall away.

We loop around, walking our way back up the slope. A beacon, erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, marks the boundary of the Gusbourne estate and historic Horne’s place.  

And we’ve come full circle. In such a short space of time, and within just five hectares, the variety we’ve walked through is incredible. Not just the soil – the go-to variable when we talk about terroir – but in the changing slope of the vineyard, the pockets of shelter, the trees old and new, the ditches that drain and the puddles that don’t. And, of course, underpinning it all the history of this place. The stories which lie beneath the vineyard floor, with the vines’ roots tapping their secrets.

Our special single-vineyard release is available for Gusbourne members to purchase. You can find out more about Gusbourne Pinot Meunier Single Vineyard Mill Hill East 2022 here.