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 2019, Pinot Noir Rosé 2020, Chardonnay Guinevere 2019 and Chardonnay 809 2019. 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.
2019 was a challenging year – and worth it. We picked later and in cooler conditions. After a long, hot summer – always a joy in the vineyard – the weather turned wet and we harvested later than the previous year. It was risky to pick so late, but that extra time on the vines delivered the grapes we wanted.
2020 gave us near perfect conditions. Warm spring and a dry summer gave us earlier flowering and a head start to the growing season. Great conditions for clean, ripe grapes and for developing complex flavour compounds.
Charlie’s 10-second tasting notes
Super fruity, excellent acidity, a bit spicy – very expressive. Lots of lifted fruit vibrancy – strawberries, raspberries and an almost cherry, cranberry character. Oak ageing gives it some baked pastry notes as well. In hot weather I’d serve it slightly chilled with a barbecue meal. Delicious.
Fresh, vibrant, fruit-forward – what rosé should be. Summer berries, a hint of citrus. Even some subtle floral notes. You can practically smell our Mill Hill vineyard in the glass, with all the elegance and structure that Pinot Noir brings to this vintage. Get in quick – our rosés always sell out before long.
Lovely citrusy acidity with the structure of a Chablis and the mouthfeel of a southern Burgundy. The 2019 is sophisticated, elegant, full-bodied, substantial in the mouth. Good length, plus depth and complexity from oak-ageing in lees. My favourite vintage to date.
This is a really interesting Chardonnay, made from the 809 ‘musque’ clone. On the nose you’ll get a Muscat aroma – somewhere between Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. But on the palate it has that signature Chardonnay acid delivering elegance, freshness and structure. It’s fresh and blossomy, almost tropical, with a pleasing roundness from the barrel ageing in new French oak.
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