When we planted our first vines at Gusbourne in 2004, our intent was to make fine English sparkling wines of outstanding quality, meticulously crafted from grapes grown in our own vineyards. When we started making our still wines, the same principles applied, with an even greater emphasis on selecting exceptional fruit for the purest expressions of our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
These wines are only crafted in years where the conditions allow. The grapes must be harvested when they’re at their optimum ripeness, only then do we decide to make our still wines. This year sees the release of four new Gusbourne single-vineyard still vintages: Pinot Noir 2020, Still Rosé 2021, Chardonnay Guinevere 2020 and Chardonnay 809 2020. Here, Head Winemaker Charlie Holland shares the story behind our still wines and what makes them so special.
Still wines are all about the vineyard. A lot of how the wines turn out is down to the husbandry in the vineyard. Sparkling wine – because it goes through the traditional method of fermentation in the bottle and lees ageing – is more forgiving and you can pick at a slightly lower level of ripeness if the weather dictates. But with still wine there’s no hiding behind processes. So if grapes come in under-ripe and you have to add sugar, de-acidify and fine to get rid of all the green elements, you’ll probably end up with something ‘correct’ in wine terms but without much character. We’re all about developing wines with expression and character.
All our still wines are single-vineyard expressions. It’s about controlling the quality and it’s why we only ever use our own grapes and drop them straight from our Kent vineyards to our on-site winery. If you rely on other growers’ grapes, you have no control over when they’re picked and delivered. We want grapes to be in perfect condition when they leave the vineyard – otherwise there’s no point in even starting. If that means we lose a bit of yield by delaying harvest by a week, it also means we gain quality. Having our own plots at Gusbourne means we can ensure the quality of every harvest.
England isn’t known for still wines. Our climate means grapes tend toward acidity and freshness rather than weight and roundness. So when we make a wine like our Chardonnay Guinevere it needs to be balanced. We have a long growing season in England – cold nights and days that rarely get too hot. That long, slow ripening period helps retain acidity for freshness and at the same time helps to develop structure, complexity and balance. It’s this freshness that makes the wines extremely drinkable and moreish and which also gives them great longevity.
Mother Nature can be a bad business partner. The unpredictability of weather conditions means we can have the most incredible growing season and then, just when you’re about to pick, the forecast changes. You can either get the fruit picked and into the winery, knowing you’ll get ripe grapes but the quality might not be as good as it would be after a few more days. Or you can be really brave, leave them a little longer, then pick the grapes at their most optimum condition. This makes some years much more challenging than others when it comes to making our still wines. When it’s not right, we decide not to make that year’s vintage.
10-second tasting notes
Elegant and bright on the palate, with plump red fruits, dark plum and black cherry alongside black pepper spice, smoky notes and an earthy minerality to give a wine with complexity, finesse and a persistent finish. In hot weather, serve it slightly chilled with a barbecue meal. Delicious.
Pale salmon in colour with a subtle nose showing soft red fruit and floral aromas, with wild strawberry, raspberry and orange blossom. Summer fruits and hints of orange zest come through on the palate.
Get in quick – our rosés always sell out before long.
Pale golden in the glass, with aromas of lemon, green apple and toasted nuts. Elegant and complex on the palate with citrus and tropical fruit notes of lemon, orange peel and pineapple.
This is a really interesting Chardonnay, made from the 809 ‘musque’ clone. An intense nose shows plenty of bright fruit character dominated by lemon, peach and tropical fruits. On the palate the wine is vibrant and brims with ripe fruit notes of green apple, orange zest, pineapple and white peach. The wine delicate yet perfumed, with orange blossom and white pepper notes, leading to a fresh, lively finish.
You may also like...
Sparkling Rosé: Winter’s hidden-gem wine
It might seem counter-intuitive to reach for a summer fruit driven rosé at this time of year – but, says Laura Rhys MS, it’s just the thing to partner February’s bold, earthy ingredients.
Discover English Sparkling: tips and advice from Laura Rhys, Master Sommelier
One of the many glorious things about wine is that you need know nothing about it to enjoy it. But if you’re inclined to explore a little further, then learning about wine is unbelievably rewarding. The more you discover, the more potential for pleasure there is in every glass.