Simpsons’ Vineyard interview
With a superb range of English wines, Simpsons are focusing on the production of English still wines. Drawing on their knowledge from producing wine at their France estate they have a dedicated approach to produce only the finest English wine.
Welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. To start, could you introduce the team at Simpsons’ who works with you in the winery and vineyard ?
The team at Simpsons' consists of :
Charles & Ruth Simpson – Founders/Owners/Directors
Darryl Kemp – Estate Manager
Timothy Parrott – Assistant Vineyard Manager
Leigh Sparrow – Head Winemaker
Stacey Raath – Winery Operations Manager
Helen Power – Marketing & Communications Manager
Henry Rymill – Sales & Events Manager
Silvia Cackova – Sales & Events Executive
Ellie Luff – National Sales, Export and Logistics Executive
Mary Lehner – Office Manager
Paul Johns – Warehouse Manager
A lot of the people in the English wine trade have had very different careers before English wine. How did you end up in the English wine industry?
We have now been growing grapes and making wine for almost 20 years, first in France and then additionally in England, so it has been the main part of our career. Prior to that Charles worked in the Pharmaceutical industry and Ruth in the Humanitarian sector.
Our decision to cast aside our respective international careers in order to establish and run a high-quality, boutique, wine business in rural France was driven by a desire to work together and to create a family business of our own. It involved a large degree of risk and a huge amount of determination to realise this mutual dream.
You own a vineyard in France producing wines too, has this been beneficial in helping with your English vineyard?
We make still red, white and rosé wines, plus a range of 3 Method Traditional Sparklings, an Orange wine and a late harvest Roussanne!
In 2002, our passion for wine and desire to invest in an, ‘emerging’ wine-producing area, rather than an area that was already well established, led us to the exciting and highly diverse French wine-producing region of Languedoc Roussillon. The dream had always been to produce quality wine and the property we found, Domaine de Sainte Rose, provided us with the perfect raw materials.
We have now been making award-winning wines at Sainte Rose for nineteen years! From our 40-hectare vineyard we have created an eclectic range of wines that have won international acclaim and are sold around the world. In 2012, attracted by the quality of the terroir and the opportunity to become part of what is one of the most dynamic wine producing regions of the world, we brought our expertise and savoir-faire back to the UK, establishing Simpsons Wine Estate with an aspiration to produce the finest quality English wines.
When was the vineyard first planted, what vines did you originally plant and in what proportions?
The Roman Road Vineyard was planted in 2014, followed by Railway Hill over 2016 and 2017. We always wanted to focus on the three well known Champagne varieties, with which we are having huge success, creating both still and sparkling wines. We are more focused on clonal selection within these three grape varieties, especially with the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, in order to maximise and enhance our successful still wine production.
It is already acknowledged that the terroir of the Chalk Downs is not just similar, but identical to both Champagne and Burgundy, being part of the same Parisian basin geology. You know all the arguments that support the UK's ability to create sparkling wines that challenge Champagne, but for the same reason (bearing in mind the following two factors), the same applies to still wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Choice of clones is key to quality still wine to production in the UK. A lot of the early established vineyards were using Germanic varieties for still wine production or Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones that were better suited to the production of sparkling base wines. We made the decision to select some Burgundian still wine clones as well as Champagne clones for all three of our vineyard plantations, in the first instance so that we had an interesting blend of clones for our sparkling base wines, but latterly with the hopes that in good years that we might be able to experiment with some still Chardonnay production. We are obviously incredibly pleased that we did as with five harvests under our belt, we believe that we can successfully create world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir using these Burgundian clones on an annual basis. These clones tend to be lower yielding and therefore achieve better concentration of flavours.
Are there plans for expansion, new vineyards and grape varieties?
There is potential for some growth if suitable land in the immediate vicinity of the winery becomes available, however we set out to establish ourselves as a boutique producer and want to focus on maintaining exceptional quality rather than growing too much in size. That said, there seems to be an insatiable demand for both our still and sparkling wines from all our existing markets, locally, nationally and internationally, so in order to explore new markets, we may need to grow a little.
Interestingly you have a key focus on English still wines, talk me through your wines and why you chose to focus on stills?
Initially we had no intention of making still wine in England, (being too used to the 320 days of sunshine at our French property Domaine de Sainte Rose, in the Languedoc), however given our 19 years of experience making still wine in France, the fact that we have two very warm vineyard sites (relatively, for England!), that are situated on excellent chalk soils and have planted some Burgundian still wine clones, we had all the raw materials at our disposal so couldn’t resist trying! Our still wines were actually introduced into the market before we had any significant sparkling wine volume and have been extremely well received, both nationally and internationally. This was highlighted in the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards when our Roman Road Chardonnay 2018, was awarded a Platinum Medal and the highest accolade of “Best in Show” (a title only bestowed on the top 50 wines entered into what is the largest and most influential, international wine competition). In 2020, still wine made up two thirds of our total production and demand is still outstripping what we are able to supply!
SIMPSONS' CHALKLANDS CLASSIC CUVÉE
Our Classic Method Classic Cuvée is the epitome of English elegance and expertise and is created from exclusively estate grown grapes from vineyards situated on the iconic, chalk slopes of the North Downs of Kent. With a minimum of 20 months of lees ageing, Chalklands is pure gold in colour with a complex mineral nose. It has bright citrus flavours, linear precision and impressive length.
The first release of this elegant and luxurious English Sparkling Wine was awarded a Gold Medal and a “Best in Class” title at the 2019 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships. The 2018 vintage is equally as exquisite and should prove just as popular.
SIMPSONS' RABBIT HOLE PINOT NOIR
Exuding a true sense of place, the Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir is created from estate grown, low yielding Burgundian clone 115 and 777, hand-picked from vineyards situated on the iconic, chalk slopes of the North Downs of Kent.
Created from fruit specifically selected for its varietal purity and concentration, the Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir is generous and intensely layered, with silky tannins and superb balance.
SIMPSONS' ROMAN ROAD CHARDONNAY
Exuding a true sense of place, this single vineyard Chardonnay is created from exclusively estate grown Burgundian clone 548, and displays the distinctive minerality that you would expect from fruit grown on the iconic chalk slopes of the North Downs of Kent. The Roman Road Chardonnay is beautifully poised and harmonious, with exceptional complexity and texture, which is complemented with subtle oak, from partial barrel ageing.
DERRINGSTONE PINOT MEUNIER
This intriguing and truly unique ‘blanc de noirs’ is created from exclusively estate grown Pinot Meunier grapes, hand-picked from vineyards situated on the iconic, chalk slopes of the North Downs of Kent. Carefully vinified as a white wine, the Derringstone Pinot Meunier is a luxuriously textured, gastronomic wine with truly distinctive flavours and mouthfeel.
What other wines do you enjoy drinking, do you have a favourite wine region other than England?
We very much feel that wine must match the mood or situation and balance is the key to our palates. There are days when all we crave is a crisp, dry Gruner Veltliner, but other days when we need a rich, ripe southern French GSM for a shot of sunshine! We’re big fans of Burgundy both red and white, but also of Galician Albariño.
If we came to visit the vineyard what can we expect to find?
As a founding member of The Wine Garden of England collective, comprising of seven pioneering wineries in Kent, Simpsons’ Wine Estate is committed to creating a world-class wine tourism trail across the county. The summer months provide the ideal opportunity for our glorious vineyards to host visitors, including a vineyard tour with a glass of sparkling wine as the sun goes down, followed by a perfectly paired platter brimming with the best in local produce.
The Glass House Tasting Room provides an elegant and intimate space for celebrations and from here you can view our world-class winery. Simpsons’ Wine Estate boasts the unique attraction of a helter-skelter slide from the tasting room to the winery. We like our events to finish with an unforgettable flourish down the “Fruit Chute” slide!
What are the future plans for Simpsons’?
Our two main focuses for Simpsons in 2021 are sustainability and exciting new product releases.
We are now part of the WineGB Sustainability Scheme and through our membership of Walpole, have subscribed to their Sustainability Manifesto. At our French Estate we have achieved Haute Valeur Environnmentale accreditation and during 2021 also hope to attain ‘Bee Friendly’ status, so we intend to feed this experience into our activities in England.
We then have three brand new products that will be released during the second half of the year. Firstly, in September our White Cliffs Blanc de Blancs from the 2017 vintage. This will be our first ever English Blanc de Blancs, but it will become a permanent feature in our Classic Method range.
And secondly, in November, we will be releasing magnums of a limited edition still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both created from the exceptional 2020 vintage. This special edition mini range is called the Q-Class and we will be providing more information on this via our social media channels as the year progresses.