On a warm Autumn day, Deputy Editor Sabi Phagura, headed over to the Gusbourne Estate in Kent to see how the renowned British winemaker uses a picture-perfect slice of England to produce wines to satisfy the most discerning palates around the world.
There was a time when British wine was relegated to the dusty corner of a supermarket or niche farm shops. They didn’t get much of a look next to popular classics from France, Italy or South Africa. But today, British wine has come a long way in recent years, winning numerous high-profile awards and trophy wins on an international level. This well-deserved acclaim is due in no small part to the incredible efforts of wine producers such as Gusbourne.
The original Gusbourne Estate in Appledore, Kent, dates all the way back to 1410. In those days, the de Goosebourne family crest comprised of three geese and can be found in the local parish church in Appledore. Nowadays, every bottle of wine crafted at Gusbourne carries a contemporary goose crest in honour of the company’s heritage.
In 2004, Andrew Weeber took over the estate with a clear vision and a single goal: to create English sparkling wines that would stand up alongside the very finest offerings from across the globe. The first vines were planted that year.
Most people would understandably presume that a vineyard would be located in the middle of nowhere. However, I was quite surprised at just how easy the Gusbourne Estate was to get to. It is a short taxi ride from Ashford International Airport, and for those planning a visit from London, there are trains every 15 minutes from St Pancras International directly to the airport.
There’s a good reason why Kent is called the Garden of England – the unwinding countryside stretches for miles with much of the county edged by the sea all the way round to the English Channel. It’s difficult to imagine a better place for a wine estate to be in the country.
It’s always good to get out into the English countryside, and it was a relief to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city for the relaxed estate tour. It would also be an opportunity to stretch my legs as the Gusbourne Estate in Kent extends across 60 hectares.
As we weaved around the Gusbourne vineyards, our guide talked us through the grape varieties and informed us that the company plants three classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. He said the clones produce lower yields than other classic clones, but the resultant fruit is riper and has significantly more flavour, making these grapes ideal for the production of fine sparkling wine.
He added the distinct terroir and exceptionally mild microclimates of the surroundings here add their own depth and complexity to the wines. It was the combination of site, soil and hard work in the vines that helped reflect what is inside every bottle.
For the winemakers, here as well as others across the UK, it’s all been a work in progress in the last decade or so. As the temperature has risen, the grapes have thrived, and vineyards have flourished. The estate’s debut vintages (when there are enough quality grapes from a single year to make a batch of wine) of Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2006 and Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2006 were released to critical acclaim in 2010.
As a result, the vineyard quickly earned a reputation as a producer of outstanding quality wines, with accolades from some of the industry’s most exacting critics.
The winemaking process here draws techniques from the best age-old traditions with modern technology. Sitting comfortably between old and new world winemaking, the winemakers claim they can bring exacting quality standards to the process. This approach allows the fruit and the natural elements involved in winemaking means there’s minimal intervention.
And they are in no rush to bottle the goods. In the vineyards, the grapes are hand-picked by a dedicated vineyard team who sort all of the bunches in the vineyards, with only the highest quality grapes making it into the winery.
Here, they are gently pressed in whole bunches to yield the best juice, which is then fermented in thermoregulated stainless-steel tanks and a selection of oak barrels. A strictly regimented juice selection process allows the makers to carefully choose the individual lots of base wines while maintaining the characteristic style of the range.
Armed with all that knowledge, you’d want to taste the wine for yourself, right? Well, guests can expect to be treated to lavish wine tasting in the sleek picturesque tasting room The Nest overlooking the vines at the end of the tour.
Our master sommelier Laura, who happens to be only one of three female sommeliers in the UK and one of 30 worldwide, led us on a taste and smell sensory journey. She talked us through the various wines, what foods they paired well with and the best way they needed to be stored.
The wines on our doorstep really are having a moment with supermarkets keen to stock English wine. Waitrose alone reportedly stocks more than 100. English wines may not have previously figured on most people’s radar, but it’s fast demanding attention even of the most discerning of wine connoisseurs.
Gusbourne – Where and How?
Located just a short taxi journey from Ashford International with trains departing every 15 minutes from St Pancras International, Gusbourne can be found in Kenardington Road, Appledore, Ashford, Kent, TN26 2BE. For more information, visit www.gusbourne.com.
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