In the second of our English vineyard interviews we chat with CEO and head winemaker Charlie Holland at Gusbourne and find out what's been happening in the vineyard and how they started their English Wine journey.
Hi Charlie, welcome to the English Wine Collection’s Vineyard Focus. To start, could you provide some background on the team at Gusbourne.
Gusbourne was established in 2004 by Andrew Weeber, a former orthopaedic surgeon. As a frequent visitor to his daughter’s house in Appledore he was taken by the consistently good summer weather. The clement Kent weather combined with south facing slopes, that nod towards the Romney Marshes encouraged him to take the plunge and plant vines.
From the original team of three, Gusbourne now employs a team of 30 full-time staff. This covers a host of specialisms, from viticulture and winemaking, the team who manage The Nest, our visitor experience and our sales and marketing people.
What did you do before Gusbourne, where has the collective experience at the winery been obtained?
I had previously made wine both in England and in a number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere. I moved to Gusbourne in 2013, and it was great to join such a dedicated team. Jon Pollard our Vineyard Manager was specially recruited by Andrew Weeber to establish the estate. His deep knowledge of agriculture has been instrumental in laying the very best foundations for the estate.
What’s your day like at Gusbourne, is it filled with tasting English wine?
No two days are ever the same, of course it is important to taste both our own wines and those from other wineries. We are all learning from each other at what is an incredibly exciting time for the industry. But that’s just one element, my day can move from hosting international visitors, to buying new equipment for the coming vintage to preparing blends for bottling.
Why did you get involved in the world of wine, especially English wine?
I worked as a cellar hand in Australia, and I guess was bitten by the wine bug. It involves many disciplines and I like the combination of nature and science. English wine has been gaining considerable momentum in the last 10-15 years. It is incredibly dynamic, and there are some great individuals in the industry who collectively I believe will make a real difference. As an Englishman myself it also makes my very proud to be able to make a wine on English soil.
What is special about Gusbourne, why did you choose Gusbourne Vineyard for your English wine journey?
Gusbourne had a great track record of producing exceptional fruit, so I knew I would be working with a great product, but in particular I was drawn to Andrew Weeber’s vision to create world class wines from Kentish soil.
The ‘terroir’ of a vineyard is key to producing wines. What is special about the specific ‘terroir’ at Gusbourne’s Vineyard?
In Kent our soils are a mix of clay and sandy loam. We also find some marine deposits in the soil profile as our land originally formed the seabed. We are just six miles from the coast on low lying soil and enjoy good levels of sunshine and warm breezes in summer. The resulting wine style from these vineyards is relatively round and generous.
The majority of our vineyards are in Kent, with 60 hectares of plantings, so this forms the backbone of our wines, we are fortunate to also have 30 hectares in Sussex, which is predominantly planted on chalk. The style we see here is different with additional freshness and minerality in the wines. The Sussex fruit can act as the backbone of the wine, while Kent gives a broader style. They work very well in support of each other and it’s great to be able to blend these components to look to achieve a wine with real balance and poise.
Your Pinot Noir red is a very popular wine and like most English wines it is in high demand with short supply. Are there any plans to upscale and increase production?
It is great that our Pinot Noir has been so well received and it is a wine we are very proud of. However, we are also more at the mercy of Mother Nature, as we pick the grapes two to three weeks later than those used in our Brut Reserve and Rose and need the weather to hold to gain that additional ripening time, so we only make this wine when we feel the conditions are perfect.
Do you grow and source all your grapes in Gusbourne’s vineyard?
Yes, all of our grapes are estate grown. This gives us complete control to be able to guide the vines to produce at the right levels, through pruning, green harvesting and canopy management. We want to ensure that the quality of the fruit is the very best it can be and also manage the vine for future production. Like any plant, vines have great memories and they respond to great husbandry.
Are there any plans to produce a new Gusbourne wine any time soon?
We are always experimenting and developing the range - the quality of fruit we are seeing as our vines become increasingly established is fantastic and we have some exciting products in the pipeline.
Other than your own English wines, do you have a favourite ‘go to’ wine?
The world of wine is diverse and variety is the spice of life, but I am a huge fan of Chardonnay in all its forms; Puligny Montrachet is perhaps my ‘go to’ wine.
If you had to choose, would it be sparkling or Champagne?
I have incredible love and respect for Champagne, but I think they are quite different products and we should celebrate their differences. If I had to chose however, of course I would have to support English sparkling wine. We are writing our own history now and that’s something I feel privileged to be part of.
Wine can be paired with a many number of different foods. What would you suggest pairs perfectly with Gusbourne’s English wines, any surprise pairings?
Our Rose is perfect with a selection of English cured meats, and it will also shine with a classic Summer Pudding, a quintessential English dessert!
Recently there has been an increase in the popularity of English wines. Despite the increased exposure in the press and on-line, English wine is still relatively unknown and most consumers don’t know where to start. Where would you suggest is a good place to start with English wine?
Depending our where you live in the UK, find out the nearest vineyards to you and book in for a tour and tasting!
Gusbourne has recently joined forces with seven other leading Kent wine producers to promote The Wine Garden of England. The initiative is supported by Visit Kent, which is hosting a website providing great information about all the wineries involved and what they offer at their cellar doors. Visitors can then plan a weekend wine trail, and experience and taste with the producers themselves.
Plus English Wine Week takes place from 26th May until 3rd June with a host of great events across the country. Details can be found at www.englishwineproducers.co.uk
English wines are in high demand and short supply, they generally sell out within a year of release. Does Gusbourne have any plans to increase its production to facilitate the short fall in supply and demand? Any new plantings in the vineyard recently?
At Gusbourne we are focused on steady and controlled growth. As more wineries establish themselves there will inevitably be more competition in both domestic and international markets, and this moderates the market. We may choose to expand production in the future, but for now we are focused on producing the best wines we can with the vineyards we have.
English wines tend to be more expensive than the European and rest of the World alternatives. Australia and South Africa have a vast range of wines available competitively priced. Do you think the slightly higher priced English wines are justified or even comparable?
The business models for many other international producers can’t be compared to English wine, given their time in market and economies of scale they can work from, especially countries like Australia and South Africa.
In general traditional method sparkling wines are highly cost intensive and the cost of production in England is particularly high, which is reflected in their pricing. However, despite the higher cost, English sparkling wines can be seen as good value for money – it can be of exceptional quality.
Some of the French Champagne houses have purchased land in the South East of England. What do you think to this?
We are very encouraged by investment from France, and have developed a strong friendship with Domaine Evremond who have purchased 60 hectares in Kent. It demonstrates the serious belief in England’s ability to produce world class wines that can stand side alongside the best from Champagne.
Are there any changes due for the vineyard and winery for this year?
A key focus for this year is continuing development of The Nest here at Gusbourne. Wine tourism is a huge area of development for English wine and we hope to invite more people to Gusbourne in 2018.
We recently launched our Self-Guided Tour, which enables visitors to discover our vineyards in Kent at their leisure, with a map indicating key points of interest. This is not a bookable tour and if time permits guests can enjoy a selection of Gusbourne wines at The Nest after their tour.
Anything else you think we should know?
We’ll be taking part in a number of events this summer both locally and further afield, so do check our website for details and follow us on social media;
Thank you Charlie for being involved in our English Vineyard focus blog.