Hambledon Vineyard
Part 1 in a series of the rise of English Sparkling Wine

Website: www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk


Hambledon is a pretty place. A small village on the South Downs in Hampshire, it's the birthplace of that most English of games, cricket. Between 1750 and 1800 the key match in the cricket calendar was Hambledon versus England! Hambeldon is also the birthplace of the modern English wine industry. Just over 60 years ago, in 1952, Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, who’d been a subaltern in the trenches in World War 1, was sitting at home, looking out over his property with his stepson, who suggested he should try his hand at growing grape vines.


The sloping field with chalky soils in front of his property, Mill Down House, seemed promising for vines. So Salisbury-Jones took a sack load of the soil to Burgundy, to get it analysed. This went well, and he came back with some vines. He also consulted with his friends at the Champagne house Pol Roger, who gave him some advice. The vineyard was planted and in 1955 he launched the UK's first commercial wine. For a very long time, Hambledon was pretty much on its own, but during the late 1960s and 1970s many more vineyards began to spring up, most on a small hobby/retirement project scale. Things really began to take off in the 1990s, but the biggest growth has been in the last 15 years, as people have begun to realize the massive potential of sparkling rather than table wine in the UK.


In the mid-1990s winemaking stopped at Hambledon, just as English wines were beginning to become more mainstream. Then, in 1999 the property was purchased by Ian Kellett (above), an ambitious individual who’d made some money doing equity research on food and drink businesses in the City, and had then trained in viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College in Sussex. Kellett believed in the potential of the site with its favourable climate and chalky soils, and sunk around £10 million into renovating and replanting vineyards and building a state of the art gravity flow cellar, aided by Hervé Jestin, who was for 20 years the cellar master of Champagne Duval Leroy. 


I've visited twice, and I've been impressed by how serious Kellett is about making top quality sparkling wine. He has Champagne in his sights as direct competition. He cites Champagne Pol Roger, with its 1.2 million bottle production, as the model. ‘The plan is during my lifetime to build an international brand as big as Pol Roger,’ says Kellett.  This is interesting given Pol Roger’s role in helping establish Hambledon back in the 1950s. He points out that the UK is the most important market for Champagne in the world, and that a large part of the growth of Hambledon and other UK producers will come ‘out of Champagne’s hide.’


‘In 10 years there will be 10 million bottles of English sparkling wine going into cellars each year,’ says Kellett. Within 15 years, he thinks that there will be three or four producers each with an annual production of a million bottles each year.  ‘We will have at least three producers making 1 million bottles a year all from their own vineyards,’ says Kellett. ‘No one does this in Champagne.’ He says that the capital structure in Champagne, where vineyards are owned by growers and the vast majority of Champagne is made by houses that buy grapes in, is a serious weakness for quality. ‘It exposes a soft underbelly that can be exploited.’ Kellett emphasizes the economics. To establish a 1 million bottle Champagne estate which grows all its own fruit would cost around 130 million Euros with today’s vineyard prices. In the UK, it would cost between 15 and 20 million pounds.

The key to Kellett's vision is the soils and climate of his vineyard site. Many of the established sparkling wine producers in England are on green sandstone, which is very common in Kent and Sussex. Hampshire has more chalk, and both Hambledon and Meon Valley (a vineyard he recently acquired) have solid chalk soils. 'In 100 years, Hampshire will be England's vineyard because of the chalk,' he claims.

As well as studying soils, he has looked carefully at climate data for the last 35 years from Reims. In July and August Reims is 1.5 C warmer, but in September Hambledon is 1.2 C warmer. Interestingly, the Côtes des Blancs is mostly North-East facing – the coldest exposure. And this is where Chardonnay is grown. Kellett is convinced his site has massive potential for Chardonnay. In Champagne the Chardonnay grapes are getting more expensive.

'There's been a tendency with English fizz to plant more Pinot Noir than the geology might suggest,' he says. 'We have planted 75% Chardonnay.' The Pinots are planted where he thinks the site is best suited for them. One advantage of Meunier is that it buds later and is therefore more frost protected. Having said this, Hambledon has half the frost days of Reims.

After studying the geology and climate, Kellett began replanting the Hambledon vineyard in 2004/5, in a test run using 27 clone and rootstock combinations, with the plant material coming from the same supplier as in 1952.

Winemaking at Hambledon is conducted in French. As well as Hervé, who is present for all stages of winemaking, there's an on-site winemaker Antoine Arnault (from Reims), and also Didier Pierson from Meon Hill.

The winery is very impressive. It's fully gravity flow, over a number of levels, and there's a lift to take the grapes to the top floor where the crush pad is located. The presses are state of the art, and this is where quite a bit of quality can be gained in the winemaking process. 'We think we are getting a mouthfeel in our wines that is different,' says Kellett. 'It would be nice if we could demonstrate that this is because we are not pumping.'


From the start, Hambledon has been based around a non-vintage model. In 2008 and 2009 they sold grapes to Camel Valley and Ridgeview. In 2010 they kept the harvest but used it to start building up reserve wines. In 2014 the substantially increased size of the vineyard (2011 plantings) came on stream. As the volume has gone up, there's a need for creating more reserve wine. New oak is used for 2-3% of the base wines, and Seguin Moreau barrels steamed before toasting are used.


Production in 2014 was 130 000 litres, and in 2015 it will be 250 000. The current vineyard area is sufficient for 350 000 litres. The business plan was for 10 tons/hectare, and for more than half of the years so far this has been achieved. The two worst years were 2012 (practically no grapes; the worst year for 60 years according to weather records), and 2011 where it rained during flowering, resulting in lower yields (6-7 tons/hectare) but good quality. Didier Pierson at Meon Hill got 17.5 tons/hectare in 2010, using the Champenois trellising system – so this shows what can be achieved. There are 20 hectares planted and 35 more ready to plant.



Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV
Disgorged March 2014 after 20 months on lees, 8 g/l dosage. Very fine and fresh with pure lemony aromatics and subtle bread/toast notes. Lively and pure in the mouth with tight citrus fruit, some toastiness and a hint of herbiness. Lovely precision. 92/100 (10/14)

Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV
Disgorged in October 2014 after 28 months lees ageing, zero dosage. Very keen bright citrus fruit with some appley notes. Real finesse. Incredible purity on the palate and real freshness, with great length. 92/100 (10/14)

Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV
Based on 2010/11, zero dosage. Fine, expressive nose. Very lean and fruity with taut pear and apple fruit. Lovely acid structure with subtle herby notes. Very expressive with fine toasty notes. 92/100 (05/15)

Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV
First wine released. Dosage 8 g/litre. Lovely nose of fine toasty notes, pear and citrus fruit with a hint of apple. Very precise and taut with a hint of white peach and a keen citrus core. Amazing finesse with lovely acid structure. So fine. 92/100 (05/15)

Hambledon Première Cuvée NV
No dosage, 28 months on lees, disgorged October 2014. Very pure aromatics with fine lemons and herbs. Linear, taut palate with pure, structured lemony fruit. Currently quite backward and in need of more time. Amazing length: this will be fabulous. 92-94/100 (10/14)

Hambledon Première Cuvée NV
Based on 2010/11 with 8 g/litre dosage. Fine, toasty and pure with lovely freshness. Subtle herbs under the citrus and pear fruit with a bit of toastiness. So fine with some subtle appley notes. 93/100 (05/15)

See also:

A video introduction to English sparkling wine
Blog posts on English sparkling wine

Wines tasted 10/14 and 05/15  
Find these wines with


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