One of our key values will always be to offer fresh, local and seasonal produce to our customers and to work closely with British farmers and local producers. One of our valued local relationships is that with multi-award winning vineyard, Hattingley Valley, located just 20 minutes away (13 miles) in Alresford, Hampshire. We took some of The Red Lion team to Hattingley Valley winery for product training and tasting and to get a better understanding of why English Sparkling wine is so popular and on-trend, and why it’s knocking the likes of Champagne and prosecco off the top spot!
We were shown around by Gareth Maxwell, Sales & Export Manager who had such in-depth knowledge and passion for the wine industry, it was hard not to be wowed by the smooth operation of this local brand, which has huge international status, exporting 40% of its stock with America being one of its best markets, and is now the 4th largest winery in the UK.
Where did Hattingley Valley’s story begin
Hattingley Valley was established by ex-City lawyer, Simon Robinson, who had bought a family home in the leafy village of Lower Wield, which also came with 700 acres of arable farmland, in the 1990’s. His interest in wine started at university then rested until he was well established in his law career. Keen to retire and lead a quieter life in the countryside, Simon happened to hear a BBC Radio 4 programme that highlighted England as having ideal soils and climate to grow and make English Sparkling wine, similar in fact to that of the French region of Champagne, which got him thinking…
Chalk gives mineralogy, flavour and drainage to the vines. The climate on the south coast is likened to that of Champagne 40 years ago, which makes concentrated fruit, better in quality but in less supply. Hattingley Valley hand-harvest its grapes to maintain its premium quality and nothing is mass produced.
After having the soils on his farmland tested, and whilst researching how best to set up a winery, Simon met Emma Rice who had recently founded Custom Crush, a wine analysis laboratory and winemaking consultancy for the burgeoning domestic wine industry and he offered her the all-important role of being Hattingley’s Chief Winemaker. Simon’s dreams of growing wine grapes came to fruition in 2008, after planting his first vines, although it would be a further 5 years before the first batch of wine would be ready. Together Simon and Emma planned the modern, eco-friendly winery in Wield that was completed in 2010. Using the latest technology and equipment from continental Europe, it has sophisticated waste disposal facilities and was the first UK winery to adopt solar power.
The vineyard is situated on the chalky bedrock of East Hampshire, it is south-facing (which allows the grapes to ripen perfectly) overlooking the Watercress Line and, ten years later, is now home to over 15 hectares of select grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The business also manages another vineyard, 30 miles away, and houses a collection of grapes from Kent, Essex and Hampshire. Simon is an important figure in the wine industry and is the chairman of English Wine Producers.
Since launching its first release in August 2013, which won gold medals and has continued to do so every year since, their wines have been recognised in competitions across the globe and are set to be a huge part of the industry’s future.
Did you know…
The total area of Britain under vine has doubled in the past seven years: there are now over 5,000 acres of vineyard, farmed by 470 vine growers, with grapes vinified in 135 wineries (Financial Times, 2016)
The English Sparkling wine-making process
Our team were taken throughout the winery to see and understand each stage of the wine processing; from the pressing of the grapes (it takes 4 hours to press 4 tonnes of grapes) to the fermenting and test tube/ blending trials, in which the ‘mix’ of wine is decided. Hattingley own 200 oak barrels, which is 150 more barrels than most sparkling wineries in the UK. This is quite a unique selling point for the winery as it produces a soft and fine bubble. Bottling takes place in March (and so the team were busy at work when we visited).
Once bottled, they are taken offsite to store for between 18 months to 4 years for its second fermentation process. It is at this point that the CO2 dissipates into wine and creates the bubbles.
The vineyard invested in a disgorging line, which is how they remove all the dead yeast that gathers into the neck of the bottle. This high-tech machinery allows the team to work through 1,200 bottles per hour, per two members of staff. Further processing stages include adding older wine and more sugar (to improve the acidity), harmonising it with a shaking process and then leaving it for a further 6 months to mature, before returning to the winery for labelling. Such a lengthy but incredibly important process is a necessity in order for it to achieve the high-quality smooth and crisp taste that allows this English Sparkling wine to stand out from the crowd. Cava and Champagne are made in a very similar way, prosecco in comparison takes barely 3 months between harvest and process before finding its way onto shop shelves, which also explains the differential price difference!
Hattingley’s products are varied and include the Classic Reserve, Classic Cuvée, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Demi-Sec, Sparkling Red Pinot, Entice Dessert Wine and the Aqua Vitae.
England is the only other destination in the world that has a climate like that of Champagne and we, here, have the stronger future. In fact, Champagne houses have already started to invest and plant here, with Champagne Taittinger acquiring farmland in Kent back in 2015 and establishing a joint venture with its UK importers Hatch Mansfield, it announced the launch of Domaine Evremond and planting began in May 2017. They are the first Grande Marque Champagne to establish a vineyard in the UK to make premium English Sparkling wine. The first English Sparkling wine from Domaine Evremond should be released for drinking in 2023, after three years of ageing in bottle.
If you would like to learn more about Hattingley Valley, join us and spend the evening with Gareth Maxwell at our sister pub The Duke of Cambridge, for their Hattingley Valley Sparkling Wine Tasting Workshop. Tickets are on sale now at £35 per person and include the workshop, tastings and a two-course dinner prepared by Head Chef, Jonathan Long.
Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment.
If you’d like to try Hattingley Valley’s finest products, why not purchase a bottle the next time you dine here with us at The Red Lion… at just 160 calories per glass and an ideal accompaniment to smoked salmon, seafood and mussels, there’s always something worth celebrating! Book a table online up to 45 minutes prior to seating (subject to availability).