Penn Croft and Itasca Wines: an interesting Hampshire contract winery (Thorrington Mill, Wraxhall, Missing Gate) also making their own wines

Ben Smith is the winemaker at Itasca Wines, a 600 ton winery in north Hampshire. Here he makes some of Itasca’s own wines, under the Penn Croft label, but most of this capacity is for contract winemaking clients. Previously, Smith was winemaker at Oxney Estate in East Sussex from 2015 to 2019.

Proprietor Simon Porter has been farming at Penn Croft for 20 years, and in 2019 planted a vineyard. He’s sincere about farming regeneratively, and this will be one to watch. For now, the Penn Croft wines are being made from bought-in grapes. Read more about the farming at

Here I tasted a few Penn Croft wines, but also some wines from their contract winemaking clients. I was really impressed by what Smith has managed to achieve from a vintage (2021) that many were considering a disaster because of frost and mildew, and relatively low temperatures (which is always an issue in these northerly latitudes where the warmest vintages are still the best, even with global warming). These are my notes.

Penn Croft Bacchus 2021 Essex, England
Fruit grown in Essex. 25% barrel ferment in fourth-fill neutral oak, with 10% malolactic fermentation. Highly aromatic with table grape, lemons, spice and even a touch of elderflower. Very fruity and primary. The palate is bright and fruit-forward with good acid and some subtle green notes, and some zesty, juicy character. Bracing but not harsh, and very fruity, but showing a bit of complexity, too. 90/100

Penn Croft Bacchus 2020 Essex, England
12% alcohol. Lively, fruity and bright on the nose with some bright pear and table grape terpenic notes, leading to a fruity palate with crisp acidity as well as some elderflower and citrus. It’s really nicely balanced, with fruit to the fore and a sense of transparency. 89/100

Penn Croft Pinot Blanc 2020 Essex, England
13% alcohol. Grapes from Missing Gate Vineyard in the Crouch Valley. Fermented in used barrels, this has a slightly honeyed, nutty edge to the fruit with just a touch of oak evident. Appealing palate with pear and citrus fruit with some white peach, and then an undercurrent of subtle nutty notes, with a spicy frill on the finish. Stylish with quite some volume for an English wine, but it retains freshness. 90/100

Wines made at Itasca for clients:

Wraxall Bacchus 2021 Somerset, England
12.5% alcohol. Planted in 1974, Wraxhall Vineyard is one of the oldest in the southwest. 20% of this wine was fermented in neutral oak. This is bright and lively with a fine green hint adding interest to the elderflower and lime fruit, with zesty acidity. It’s really delicate and fine: the innate freshness and high acidity has been really well handled so that the wine has a beautiful sense of balance, offering Bacchus at its aromatic best. I think a good taster would nail this immediately as Bacchus in a bling tasting. 90/100

Wraxall Early Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 Somerset, England
12.5% alcohol.  Pinot Noir Precoce (Frühburgunder) whole bunch pressed on slow cycle, 100% tank fermented, aged on lees in tank. Pale pink in colour this has haunting aromatics of pear, cherry and strawberries and cream, with some leafy overtones. Very fruity in the mouth with a nice juicy, tapering finish where eventually the acid wins out over the rounded, creamy fruit. 88/100

Thorrington Mill Bacchus 2021 Essex, England
12% alcohol. This is from a vineyard in the Essex marshes, and the mill is the only remaining tide mill in the country. Vines planted in 2018 by Mark and Polly Baines, so this is debut vintage. This is 10% barrel fermented in neutral oak. Really fruity and aromatic with a sweet pear and elderflower note with some juiciness. Lovely rounded palate showing sweet grapey citrus fruit with some nice acidity, but with every element pulling together. Benchmark Bacchus. 89/100

Thorrington Mill Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 Essex, England
12% alcohol. 5% barrel ferment in neutral oak and 5% MLF. From vines planted in 2018, this is really interesting. There’s a peppery edge to the fresh, green-framed cherry and pear fruit with a nice citrus finish. It’s dry, enticing and appealing. Balanced and delicate with some complexity under the primary fruit. A real surprise. 91/100

Missing Gate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Essex, England
Fermented in fourth-fill 228 litre and a single 500 litre puncheon, with 40% MLF. This has quite a bit of volume to it. It’s green and zesty with some elderflower, a touch of tomato leaf and brisk lemony fruit. Fruity and intense with nice balance: the rounded fruit counters the lively acidity really well. An impressive, complex, layered Sauvignon. 90/100

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