Dermot Sugrue is one of the most respected sparkling winemakers in the UK. He was winemaker at Nyetimber from 2003-2006, and then moved to work for Wiston Estate. He also began making his own wines under the label Sugrue South Downs (previously Sugrue Pierre). This is now his full time project, and expanded earlier this year with some investment from Robin Hutson, owner of the Pig chain of restaurants with rooms, which has always been a big supporter of English sparkling wine.
I visited Dermot in late September 2023, just a few weeks before harvest. Sugrue recently (May 2023) purchased the Bee Tree Vineyard in Sussex, which came with a large insulated barn that is being converted into a winery. It also came with a tractor and spraying equipment, as well as the 1.35 hectare vineyard that’s clay over greensand, planted in 2015. ‘This is gold this place for us,’ says Dermot.
As well as the traditional Champagne varieties, this has some PIWIS: a row each of Cabernet Blanc, Cabernet Noir and Sauvignac. These are currently sold to friends, but Dermot is keen to partner with Plumpton to do some research on these alternative disease-resistant varieties.
We also visited the Mount Harry vineyard, which is nearby. This is a stunning 2.2 hectare site, southeast facing at 60-80 m. It was planted in 2006 by Tim Renton, well advised by Mike Roberts, and then after he died Dermot began leasing it in 2013. The vineyard is on chalk soils, and this year is looking really impressive, with strong canopies still at this late stage in the season with the oomph to finish ripening what looks like a sizeable crop. In 2021, a difficult year, Dermot got 7 tons from this site, and then last year 14 tons. This year it will be 20 tons, all going well, which is a healthy yield for the UK of almost 10 tons/hectare. You begin losing quality after about 12 tons/hectare, Dermot reckons.
He’s not used any herbicide this year, and the vineyard has full soil cover. Yet the vines are very happy. Normally, he’d do one application early in the year and then cultivate. Vines are planted at a density of 4000 per hectare, and most are on SO4, which isn’t supposed to work on chalk, but it does. There’s also some 41B rootstock here.
The big news this year is that Dermot has full control of the Coldharbour vineyard, a 7.5 hectare vineyard on Sussex chalk, planted in 2005. Dermot describes this as sensational. He’s been making a wine called Boz from this for a few years.
As well as sparkling wines, we also tried some barrel samples of a 2022 Pinot Noir from Essex, first crop from a site in a warm vintage. With clay soils there was quite a bit of water stress, and this was an amazing wine. When it’s released this will be sensational: it’s the best English Pinot I’ve tried.
Sugrue South Downs Cuvée Boz Coldharbour Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 2015
Stainless steel, no malolactic. 6 years on lees. Taut and linear with lovely bright citrus and apple fruit, showing great acidity. Very fine and bright. Appley and bright with a lovely citrus core. Lemony and intense with lovely precision. Juicy and vinous with keen acidity and some fine toasty hints. Savoury detail here. 93/100
Sugrue South Downs The Trouble With Dreams 2014
This is the main Sugrue wine, and it retails at £49: expensive, but worth it! Chardonnay dominant. Half 500 litre barrels, half stainless steel (this had malolactic). Disgorged 2019 with 6 g/l dosage. Complex with apples, pears and spice showing some hints of peach and spice with lovely savoury detail on the finish. Powerful and expressive with subtle toast and nuts. Fine. 94/100
Sugrue South Downs Zodo NV
Zodo is Trouble with Dreams released with zero dosage. This one is based on the 2017 vintage with tiny bits of 2009 and 2011 in the dosage (these were from bottles still on their lees, used to top up the wine at disgorgement). 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Half large barrels, half stainless steel, no barrels. Tricky frost-affected vintage, so no trouble with dreams that year, all went to Zodo. Lovely complexity and intensity, with linear citrus fruit and fine spices. Lovely intensity and precision with a tapering lemony finish. Very fine and linear with great precision. A remarkable wine of real precision. 95/100
Sugrue South Downs Rosé Ex Machina 2016
Fruit set small. Linear and taut with great precision showing subtle leafy hints with cherry and cranberry hints as well as keen acidity and fine spicy hints. So linear and fine with lovely purity. 94/100
Sugrue South Downs Cuvée Dr Brendan O’Regan 2016 (magnum)
Mostly Chardonnay, all in stainless steel. Complex, taut and mineral with lovely spicy framing and some toasty depth. Lovely white peach and pear fruit as some fine spices. Great precision and detail with some chalky depth and lovely acid line. Such precision and purity here with some fine spices on the finish. Amazing intensity here. Profound. 95/100
These two sparkling wines show two sides to the same base wine: one has a dosage of 6 g/l while the other is zero dosage. Tasted in 2021.
Sugrue The Trouble With Dreams #ZODO Zero Dosage 2014 South Downs, England
12% alcohol. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, half in old barrels, half in tank. This is lively and bright with keen lemony acidity, but it doesn’t miss the dosage at all. There’s some nutty, toasty richness, a bit of apple and pear, and linear citrus fruit. Has harmony and balance and a real delicacy. This is so lovely: has richness but also freshness. 93/100
Sugrue The Trouble With Dreams Cuvée Brut 2014 South Downs, England
12% alcohol. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, half in old barrels, half in tank. Dosage 6 g/l. This has real depth to it. There’s apple, pear and citrus, with some nut and toast notes, and great balance. There’s richness here with a nice density in the mouth. Complex and balanced with good concentration of flavour. This is an impressive wine in a rich style. 93/100
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