Hush Heath Vineyard
Hi Zoe, welcome to the English wine Collection’s English Vineyard focus! Could you provide some background on the team, who works at Hush Heath and what are their roles, have they always been in the wine trade?
Hi, thanks for having me! Hush Heath is a boutique, family-owned winery, so we’re quite a small team. Richard Balfour-Lynn and his wife, Leslie, are our producers, and they’ve lived on the Estate in Kent (in the beautiful Hush Heath Manor) since the 1980s. Richard was heavily involved in property development and was the force behind a number of major hotel brands, so Hush Heath was really just his hobby when it first began in 2002. Things have changed a great deal since then, though! Leslie has designed high-end residential in Central London as well as hotels and pubs with rooms, so today she carries out all the interior designs for the Winery and Hush Heath pubs.
The vineyards and apple orchards have been managed by the same local family, the Turners (Cath, Stefan, Billy & Laura), since 2002. In the Winery, two generations of the Elias family (Owen & Fergus) take charge of proceedings, along with Victoria Ash, who joined us in 2010 following roles at Mission Estate and Sacred Hill in New Zealand. Owen Elias, our Consultant Winemaker, has been making wine at Hush Heath since the first vintage in 2004, and has been awarded UK Winemaker of the Year six times.
There’s so many wines out there from many different countries. Why did you get involved in English wine?
If you ever meet Richard, you’ll learn two things quite quickly: he’s an incredibly passionate man and very competitive! So, ultimately his decision to plant vines at his home in Kent, rather than abroad, stemmed from the desire to produce a world-class sparkling wine capable of beating the French at their own game!
We are now in the height of summer and things must be picking up in the vineyard and winery. What’s an average day like at Hush Heath?
There’s no such thing as an average day right now! We’re about to unveil our fantastic new state-of-the-art Winery & Cellar Door (after a year of construction works), so it’s all hands on deck, kitting the place out with new furniture, preparing the shop, stocking the bar, etc.
In the vineyards – it’s a very early start! During this swelteringly hot weather, Cath and her team have been starting work at 4:30am to avoid the hottest part of the day. Currently they are out there leaf stripping and ‘tucking in’ the vines, to ensure the grapes are well exposed.
In the Winery – on top of the usual labelling and disgorging work, the team is busy installing all the new tanks and equipment ready for our first harvest in the new building.
Could you talk us through your wines? Which of your wines really stands out that your proud of and why?
Our wine range currently consists of three traditional method sparkling wines and four still wines:
Balfour Brut Rosé 2014 – our multi-award-winning flagship wine. I would have to say this is the one we are most proud of, since it was the very first wine we produced (back in 2004) and has been hugely successful over the years (it was the first English sparkling wine to be served on British Airways First Class and is also poured on Luxury British Pullman Trains throughout the UK). It epitomises the Hush Heath style: clean, crisp, with incredible fruit concentration and a persistent, refreshing finish. The 2014 vintage was exceptional, with high sugars and perfect acidity. A classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier, with min. 30 months on the lees. Kentish red fruits galore.
Balfour Skye Blanc de Blancs 2014 – Gold medal winner at the IWC. 100% hand-picked Chardonnay from our Old 8 Acre Vineyard, made only in the very finest years. Exhibits citrus fruits, apple, dried herbs and a touch of autolysis. Min. 30 months on the lees.
Balfour Leslie’s Reserve NV – our ‘house style’; fresh, with vibrant acidity and hints of red apple, brioche and citrus. Finishes with a touch of sweetness – incredibly moreish!
Skye’s English White 2017 – a delicious unoaked Pinot Blanc/Chardonnay blend. Crisp & concentrated, with citrus, wild herbs and stone fruits dominating the palate.
Nannette’s English Rose 2017 – beautifully pale salmon pink in colour and quite Provençal in style. A blend of Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier/Chardonnay. The palate is dry but bursting with ripe orchard and red berry fruits.
Liberty’s English Bacchus 2017 – Our very first vintage of Bacchus and Hush Heath’s answer to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc! Intensely aromatic, with nettle, hay and gooseberry all carried through on a long, refreshing finish. Very limited.
Hush Heath Manor Pinot Noir 2017 – released this month, but, again, unfortunately very limited. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, some of which has been aged 6-8 months in French & American oak barrels. Deliciously ripe, displaying typical cool climate Pinot Noir characters of cherry and red berry, combined with sweet spice and a hint of vanilla.
All of our wines are named after members of the Balfour-Lynn family/home (+ dog!).
English Wines have a wonderful expression of ‘terroir’, what would you say is key to the specific terroir at Hush Heath and how does this effect your English wines?
Our wines are very much appreciated for their clarity and purity of fruit. On Hush Heath our vineyard sites enjoy slightly higher average temperatures than elsewhere in the region, thanks largely to our surrounding 200 acres of ancient oak woodlands which shelter the vines from the worst of the elements. Thus, the quality/healthiness of our fruit is notably high, and the fact that we have been able to produce an award-winning, ripe & concentrated red wine for the past 3 vintages is a testament to the favourable conditions here. What I also think is special about the Hush Heath wines is that they truly taste of where they come from. We are in the heart of Kentish apple-growing countryside, and virtually every wine we produce displays a distinctive orchard fruit character.
Many of the English vineyards are under 5 hectares and so the production levels are low. Does Hush Heath have any plans to expand its vineyard to grow more English grapes and to produce more English wine?
We have done exactly that this year! In May/June we planted a further 20 acres on our 400-acre Estate, which has taken us up to a total of 80 acres under vine. We grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Bacchus and Pinot Blanc. These new plantings, combined with the major expansion of our Winery (to be completed in the coming weeks, i.e. August 2018), will enable us, in due course, to produce up to 500,000 bottles annually.
If all your English wines had run out, what would be your go to choice of wine and why?
Krug Grande Cuvée! If you can’t drink the finest English Sparkling, you’d have to settle for the finest Champagne, right?!
Have you found there are ‘perfect pairings’ for your wines? What would you recommend?
Our Blanc de Blancs is such an elegant, vibrant, citrussy wine that we think it goes beautifully with oysters. For something slightly less indulgent, I’d pair Leslie’s Reserve with good old English fish & chips. Owen’s personal favourite is Balfour Brut Rosé with scallops & Kentish chorizo. If you can get your hands on a bottle of our Hush Heath Manor Pinot Noir, it’s a brilliant match with pheasant, grouse, partridge, pigeon or roast Romney Marsh lamb.
Many consumers are still unsure where to start with English Wine, what would your advice be to a new comer of English wine?
My advice would be to visit some English wineries and get tasting. There are so many Cellar Doors open for tours & tastings now – it really is the best way to discover the ever-growing range of styles produced.
Anything else you think we should know?
On Sat 22nd & Sun 23rd September (2018) we are hosting our Hush Heath Open Weekend and you are all invited! It’ll be a weekend of festivities as we showcase our brand-new Winery & Cellar Door facilities at Hush Heath Estate in Staplehurst, Kent. There’ll be free samples of all the Hush Heath wines, free local cheeses, free Winery tours, free masterclasses with our winemakers, plus some fantastic live music! We’d love to see you there. Full details can be found on www.hushheath.com .
Now there's an offer we can't refuse! Thank you Zoe for such a wonderful English vineyard interview.
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