Exploring English Wine
In celebration of English Wine Week, we had a chat with Gusbourne winemaker Charlie Holland to understand what all the fuss is about English wines…
Why should people care about English wines?
Because they really are fantastic, and have the potential to get even more fantastic! It’s rare to have a brand new region producing wines, but that’s exactly what we have here in Kent, and it’s very exciting because it’s leading to lots of creativity.
A lot of people talk about the chalk soils here being similar to Champagne, but that’s only part of the story. England has one of the longest growing seasons in Europe, and because it takes longer for the grapes to ripen, they also have more time to develop flavour and complexity.
What’s Gusbourne and how did it start?
Gusbourne is an historic estate based in the lovely village of Appledore, Kent – only 6 miles from Tenterden, and about 8 miles from Rye in East Sussex. Orthopaedic surgeon Andrew Weeber discovered it by accident when his daughter was living locally, and was inspired by its huge potential, and by the fruit-growing pedigree of the area. He began planting vines in 2004, with the vision of creating English Sparkling Wines that would stand up alongside the very finest offerings from around the world. I’m really delighted that the wines have been so popular and that we’ve been going from strength to strength since then.
Why did you become a winemaker?
I never thought I’d be a winemaker, but one harvest in Australia was enough to get me hooked! I always wanted to make wines that reflect the soils, the climate and the place where the grapes have been grown, and that’s what I’m trying to do at Gusbourne – making wines is a bit of art and a bit of science, more like craftsmanship, really. It’s a great feeling to sit down to dinner with my family and be able to drink a bottle of wine that I’ve actually made.
Why is Kent such a great place for making wines?
Well, Kent is the garden of England as the fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables prove, and we’re now calling it the wine garden of England too! Working with six other vineyards in Kent, we’ve now got lots of information out there about the diversity that makes it such a special place for winemaking, and all the different wineries that people can visit. We have lots of natural advantages, like more sunshine and warmth (compared to many other parts of the UK), and the soils we have are varied. All of this makes it possible to make many different wines that will give huge complexity and interest when blended together in one of our sparkling wines.
If you were recommending one of your wines to someone who has never tasted Gusbourne before, which one would it be?
It would have to be Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs, which is one of my favourites, especially when paired with Whitstable oysters or Rye Bay scallops. It’s made with our finest Chardonnay grapes and has won a fair few awards, so I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that!
What’s next on the horizon for Gusbourne?
Now that we have our tasting room open, we’re gearing up for a summer of welcoming more people to winery to have a walk around the vineyards, enjoy a picnic and a glass of wine with us, or come for an event or tour. We’re also now exporting to sixteen countries and it’s great to witness the enthusiasm for English wines that is developing across the world – I hope we’ll see even more of that.