Friday, 23 November 2012

Kent Vineyards: Hush Heath Estate

We spent the last weekend of September in Kent, sampling some fantastic English wines. On our last morning we took a drive over to Hush Heath Estate where we met Victoria Ash (Winemaker) and Rupert Taylor (Sales Executive) who despite the rain took us on a brief tour of the estate and winery. Vicky has an impressive CV, having worked extensively in New Zealand (including a stint at Lindauer), and then moving back to the UK to work at Ridgeview Estate and now Hush Heath. Rupert too has an interesting background, initially as a Sommelier at top London restaurants including Locanda Locatelli and our new favourite Trinity

Hush Heath Estate has 450 acres of land. As well as grapes for their wine they are growing apples, although this years crop was bad due to the weather. In 2002 they opened the Oast House Meadow vineyard, from which they produced the first three vintages of Balfour Brut Rosé (2004, 2005 and 2006). Balfour Rosé is typically 50% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay. 

We asked them about how the poor weather this summer is likely to affect this year's vintage. In 2011 the grapes were harvested in September, but this year they had decided to delay the harvest until mid October, in order to give the grapes more time ripening on the vine - this carries an additional risk that if the temperature drops too low, the grapes will all drop and be ruined. They are hopeful of having enough grapes for a decent vintage this year and they aim for a better quality of fruit rather than preferred timing for the start of the wine making process. The UK's challenging climate makes for a better sparkling wine.

Until now the wines have been made at nearby Chapel Down winery. The latest wines are being made in the brand new winery on the Estate which can make up to 100,000 bottles (in 2009 they produced 14,000).

For their sparkling wine they do not use oak or malolactic fermentation in order to retain the purity of fruit. The rosé sparkling is made with a separate ferment of the red. They have thought about doing some still wines but all the harvest has to go into the sparkling this year. In 2010 they made 6000 bottles of a still chardonnay but it commands a premium price due to the difficulty in making/growing, and can be difficult to sell at £20 a bottle.


Rectified grape must is used for the dosage. The 2008 vintage was on the lies for 3 years but they disgorge according to demand. A long discussion is always had regarding the correct dosage levels for the Balfour. We tasted the 2008 and 2009 vintages of the Balfour Brut Rosé. The 2008 has a high acidity, and a lovely finish with the flavours of peaches and strawberries. The acidity has changed and reduced over time. The 2009 vintage was just about to be released but it was used for hospitality at the London 2012 Olympics. It was a much riper vintage so has more fruit character and a rounder finish with a darker colour. It was a more immediate, intense and amazing flavour. The 2009 was our preferred choice, although Rupert and Vicky both favour the 2008 vintage - which just shows how much is down to personal preference.

It is testament to the high quality of English wines that they are now able to stand up in competition against Champagne producers. Hush Heath are regularly winning awards with the Balfour Brut Rosé, even from their first year as the 2004 vintage won gold at the 2008 International Wine Challenge. The 2005 vintage won gold at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards, and more recently their 2008 vintage won gold in the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards (the 2009 vintage won silver).

We also got the opportunity to sample a new product they've been making - a range of still ciders. Jake's Orchard still cider has a refined fresh apple flavour, like a high quality juice. You barely notice the alcohol in the taste, and it's incredibly refreshing. It also comes in 3 flavoured varieties; elderflower, nettle and strawberry & blackcurrant. The packaging is very stylish, and it feels like a high end product, specifically designed to be paired with food. We took a sample of each of these away with us, which will be reviewed in a cider and food matching post coming soon.

1 comment:

Ernesto said...

Nice Vineyards. Now can a single person could destilate some wine brands?????