HAMBLEDON VINEYARD INTERVIEW
In this English Vineyard focus we chat to Felix at Hambledon Vineyard and find out why this Frenchman has chosen to stay rooted in English wine culture.
Hi Felix, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus feature. It’s great to have you on board! Could you provide some background on yourself and the team at Hambledon. How did you get into wine and English wine in particular?
Hi Guy! Thanks! I am born in the Loire Valley in France near Tours in a family where good foods and great wines were in the center of every family reunion. My grandfather wine cellar was full of great red wines from the Loire Valley (Chinon and Bourgeuil) and he was a great fan of Gigondas as well. When he died we receive in heritage his wine collection and opened those bottles over the years in his memory. That how I follow in love with wine! I studied winemaking for two year in the Loire Valley and when I had enough knowledge I decided to travel the wine world for about 6 years. I worked in different winery in New-Zealand, Australia, California, Canada and Luxembourg. In 2012 I decided to go back to school in Switzerland to pass my Oenologist degree.
In 2015 when I received my diploma it’s was late September and harvest was already started in most country expect in England. I applied for a Harvest Job at Hambledon, I worked at the winery for a few months. When Antoine the previous resident Winemaker decided to go for other wine adventures, Ian Kellett over me the job. That was the beginning of my English wine adventure!
It’s great to work at Hambledon, we all come from different backgrounds and origins and we complete each other’s. We are from England, France, Bulgaria, and Sweden and during this Harvest we will welcome peoples from Spain, Switzerland and Champagne. Already nice wine tasting schedule!
What’s an average day like at Hambledon? If we came to visit your vineyard, what can we expect?
Every day at Hambledon are different and that why it’s great to come at different period of the year to see the evolution of the vineyard from pruning to harvesting and to feel the atmosphere in the winery. We are running tour all year and if you come to Hambledon we will show you what we are doing in the vineyard and the winery. We will show you the journey of a grapes from the vineyard into your glass!
What’s special about the terroir at Hambledon vineyard?
Chalk, Chalk, Chalk! Newhaven Chalk to be more precise. The chalk on which we grow our vines was formed on the seabed of the Paris basin some 65 million years ago. The same type of Chalk is found in the best Chardonnay areas of the Côtes des Blancs in Champagne. Chalk is the perfect subsoil for growing vines because it acts like a sponge, retaining water when needed but also providing great drainage when it rains.
We have as well the best vine orientation for an optimal maturity, south-east. We grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the three main grape variety in Champagne.
All the factors to grow the right quantity at the best quality are in line for us to produce great sparkling wines.
Tell us about your wines, what’s unique about each of them? Do you have a favourite?
At Hambledon we are doing non-vintage wine, it’s a way to control quality and consistency for customers. Every single grapes going to the Hambledon wines are grow on site by us. We released our Cuvée along the year
We have two ranges of Cuvée, The Classic Cuvée and the Première Cuvée range.
The first wine we released is the Hambledon Classic Cuvée Brut. It is quite a winner in blind tasting against wine from Champagne. We are very proud of it! If English Sparkling wine can beat Champagne that mean we are on the right track. The Classic is a blend with a Majority of Chardonnay and equal part of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Very elegant and fresh wine for aperitif.
The second wine we released is the Hambledon Première Cuvée as well a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots but with a much higher proportion of Chardonnay. This is a mature and complex wine with 42 months on lees minimum. Very elegant, it’s my favourite so far, its show so much potential. As a French man I definitely believe England it’s the place to be!
The last wine we realised is the customer favourite for summer. The Classic Cuvée rosé. Pure, fruity wine, perfect for sharing with friends around a Barbecue. The Hambledon rosé is a blend of Chardonnay and red Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay bring the structure and the complexity of the wine and the red Pinot bring the texture and the red fruit aromas. We use a very young red wine to keep a very fresh profile.
There seems to be a split between English vineyards producing either still or sparkling wines. Hambledon has focused on Sparkling wines, why is this?
We grow only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier and we grow them in order to make sparkling wine. We designed the winery as well to produce sparkling wine. For quality purpose we prefer to focus on one type of wine.
The majority of English vineyards sell out wines each year. Do you have any plans to increase production?
A few weeks ago we finished to plant around 60 hectares of wines. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. We have 85 hectares now. In 2021 we will have the potential to produce around 500,000 bottles by year. The first bottles of the new vineyard will be released in 2024.
With such a vast range of English wines now available do you think there is room for anymore vineyards and wineries? Does Hambledon have plans for any new wines?
Yes definitely, we will release a new wine probably late this year. I cannot say too much at the moment but the wine will be in the Première Cuvée range. With the new vineyard we will be able to have more grapes to play with and to we will be able to produce more Cuvée, maybe a Blanc de Blancs and a Blanc de Noirs, the future is full of great project for Hambledon!
What are the perfect pairings for your wines?
I would say Braised Turbot and garden vegetables with the Première Cuvée (Try Raymond Blanc Recipe, this is a must)
I like pairing the Classic Cuvée with a canapé made of smoked salmon, crème fraiche and sushi ginger. (On a cracker spread a little bit of crème fraiche add a piece of smoked salmon, on top with a piece of sushi ginger) It’s became a family classic now! But with the Classic Cuvée you have so much possibility. It is working very well with a cheese and Charcuterie board as well, the acidity of the wine balance so well with the fat of the cheese and meat.
The Classic Cuvée Rosé will be perfect with a barbecue. Try boerewors (South-African sausage) we have a few braai over the summer with some customers and the Classic Rosé is working so well. You need to try as well at Christmas with a Chocolate fondant.
What are Hambledon’s plans for the future?
We are building a brand new underground Cellar and visitor’s center on top. In a few months we should be able to welcome visitors in new facilities overlooking our Vineyards. With the new cellar on Chalk we will be able to store our wines under constant temperatures all year long. Wine tourism will be very important in the future. We must be ready.
We extended the winery early this year to welcome new tanks and barrels. More toys to play with! It’s existing to see a business growing and to be part of it
Anything else you think we should know?
If you want to know more about wine in general, Hambledon is also a WEST center. Katrina Smith our Tour and Education manager will be able to teach you Level 1 and Level 2. We are doing events all year long from Cheese/Chocolate and wine tasting, Bottles and bites night wine club (a very nice way to discover wine from other country with food pairing) to my favourite events where you come to Hambledon to disgorge our own bottle of Classic Cuvée at your favourite dosage (We taste with you a range of sparkling wine before and you will have the chance to try our Classic Cuvée with a different amount of dosage) Really great evening !
Thank you Felix for such a wonderful interview. To see the wines Felix has been discussing and to find out more click here.