Making award-winning wines takes teamwork in both vineyard and winery. For us, that task is made easier by having highly trained, hugely knowledgeable and imaginative young wine professionals as part of our winemaking team, with Chief Winemaker Charlie Holland at the helm.
Alastair “AJ” Benham , Production Winemaker
Like everyone’s career in Gusbourne’s winemaking team, AJ’s has spanned far-flung continents. He brings knowledge and experience back from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and from Stone Hill in Missouri, one of America’s oldest and most awarded wineries.
What brought AJ to Gusbourne in 2018? ”I really wanted to be part of the excitement. The English sparkling wine industry was burgeoning, and although you might not immediately twin Kent with Missouri, many of the environmental challenges for winemakers there are the same. I had lessons learned to bring back to the UK.”
As is our tradition at Gusbourne, AJ has gained skills in each element of the business within his progression. From winery assistant to winemaker, he’s now production lead for the secondary winemaking team, the part of the process where, after years of careful maturation, our wines are disgorged, labelled and prepared to be sent out to customers. A techie at heart, he waxes lyrical about his new disgorgement equipment and labelling line, recently installed to meet increasing demand.
What stands out about the Gusbourne approach to winemaking for AJ? “The attention to detail here is phenomenal, driven by real passion for the product. I genuinely think we grow the best wine grapes in the UK. And for that we have to thank our founder, Andrew Weeber, who chose this land back in 2004 and Jon Pollard, who planted the first vines in its historic soil.” AJ is particularly drawn by Gusbourne’s advancing still wine programme. “Our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are absolutely top class.”
Laurence Cocking, Assistant Production Winemaker
Laurence’s 2021 MSc thesis at Plumpton College, Minerality – A Concept of Terroir and Perception, gives you a pretty good picture of where his interests lie. Having the theory to back up the practice is where Laurence is at.
Practice began for him as a full-time cellar hand at Gusbourne in January 2014. Later that year, he was picking up the skills required for harvest. “I remember my first day of harvest in our Boot Hill vineyard. My hands were like old shoes at the end of the day, but I was hooked.” Next year, he was indoors picking up the skills of the cellar.
After spells in Marlborough, New Zealand and the hills of Provence, France, Gusbourne welcomed Laurence back in 2018. Since then he’s progressed to managing a team that monitors the development of wines ageing on lees and cork through to the hand-polishing of every finished bottle.
“What I really love about Gusbourne,” he says, ”is the attention to detail in everything we do. It’s about balancing the regional expression of the grapes we grow in the clay soils of Kent and the chalk soils of Sussex.” Nice when your thesis becomes a living part of your everyday.
Tom Jones, Associate Winemaker
Tom is a proud Kiwi who, like many of his compatriots, loves his homeland and travelling in equal measure. He moved from North Island’s New Plymouth to South Island’s Lincoln, to graduate in viticulture and oenology. While those English place names prefigured his ultimate destination, Tom had other locations to go first.
Following winery stints at Villa Maria in New Zealand and in Paso Robles, California, he was in Australia when an invitation to a private comparative tasting of champagnes and English Sparkling Wines gave Tom his first taste of Gusbourne. “I was blown away by the quality. I knew English Sparkling was set to become a frontrunner, and for me Gusbourne really stood out.” He emailed Chief Winemaker Charlie Holland. And a month or two later, in November 2017, began as Winery Assistant for us here in Appledore.
“It was the best learning experience for a young winemaker,” he remembers. “I’d always loved the holistic, the ethical aspect of winemaking, and that’s certainly what I’ve found here at Gusbourne. The marriage between the vineyard and the winery. An approach that’s both methodical and passionate. I’m pretty much at home.”
Mary Bridges, Assistant Winemaker
Mary’s path to the stainless steel tanks and oak barrels of Gusbourne’s winery took a distinctly academic route. In 2016 she gained the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma, followed by a first-class BSc Hons in Viticulture and Oenology from Plumpton College. “I wanted to know what I was talking about when I was talking about wine. I craved the learning.”
A summer internship in Perpignan, France drew Mary to crave the hands-on experience too. Returning to Plumpton to finish her studies, she came to work as a Cellar Assistant at Gusbourne. She’s now firmly part of the primary winemaking team. Alongside Associate Winemaker Tom Jones, she oversees a team of three in the cellar. Mary also brings her many years of formal learning into her new role of managing Gusbourne’s lab (“I’m the white coat”), collating and analysing test data on our wines for Head Winemaker Charlie Holland. “It’s where the science meets the artistic side.”
Originally from the wild, windswept Moray Coast of Scotland, Mary could hardly be farther from home but loves the contrast that the rolling hills of Kent provide. Until perhaps, one day, that dream of a sunny vineyard of her own…
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