Wiston have won many awards for their superb English wines. We thought it was about time we caught up this English vineyard to find out what's been happening and what their plans are for the future.
Hi Kirsty, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. To start, could you provide some background on yourself and the team at Wiston.
So I’m married to Richard Goring who manages the whole of Wiston Estate. The Estate has been owned and managed by his family since 1743. It is about 6000 acres and straddles the chalky slopes of the South Downs just north of Worthing, between Findon & Steyning. Over the centuries the Gorings have generally farmed Sussex beef, sheep and arable crops and it was not until my South African mother-in-law, Pip, arrived in 1972, that the idea of planting a vineyard was born.
Pip had grown up in Cape Town and having been surrounded by vineyards from an early age she was curious to see what wine grown in her new homeland would taste like. Her passion grew as she discovered that the chalk geology of their south facing slopes was almost identical to Champagne. In true English fashion my father-in-law, Harry, thought it best to consider the options, which they did for 34 years!
What did you do before starting your English wine journey, where has the experience at the vineyard winery come from?
After reading history at Oxford I went on a 3 month residential cookery course in South West Ireland called Balleymaloe. The course included a wine module which I absolutely loved and when I subsequently set up a cooking business in London I really enjoyed the food & wine pairing element of the job. It’s wonderful for me that our Wiston sparkling wines are now featured on the Balleymaloe course.
I also worked with Higgidy pies for a while doing both product development and PR.
Our (husband Richard and I) only experience of actually working on vineyards came from a year we spent in British Columbia, Canada, working on various organic farms, many on small Islands off Vancouver Island. It was this trip that actually prompted us to move down to the estate in 2006 rather than back to London as we had planned. Fortuitously for us it was the year things started to get very exciting here on the estate. As finally in the spring of 2006 Pip’s long held dream became a reality. A 16 acre vineyard plot was selected and planted with the traditional varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
What drew you to the English wine industry?
The infectious passion of my mother-in-law, Pip, and Dermot, our winemaker here at Wiston.
Dermot (Sugrue) had been making award winning English wines at Nyetimber for some years before meeting Harry and Pip and became increasingly excited about what was possible on this new Downland chalk vineyard. In 2008 he joined the Estate full time and set up a winery within an existing old industrial building on the south-western edge of the Estate. One of the key draws of this building for Dermot was that it had a first floor. As a result the beautiful coquard basket press which he sourced in champagne (& which is unique to the UK) sits up above our tank hall, meaning that as pressing is taking place the juice can gravity feed into the tanks below. It is at the moment of pressing, that grape juice is so vulnerable to being affected & therefore really benefits from not needing to be pumped. Once it has been fermented, and thus turned into wine, it becomes more robust.
We’re nearly in picking time and after the summer we’ve had the vines must be looking wonderful. What’s an average day like at the vineyard and winery?
This has certainly been a fantastic year. We picked our first Pinot Noir yesterday, 27th September, (2 different burgundy clones) and it seems to be that amazing, and somewhat rare combination, of quality & quantity this year – hooray!
During harvest pickers will start in the vineyard at 8am and will pick all day. All the grapes were at the winery yesterday by 4pm. The coquard press only takes 4 tonnes at a time and takes 4-5 hours from start to finish of a press. It is hard work as every 45 minutes or so you have to break up the ‘cake’ that forms with pitch forks. So it’s certainly not the most efficient bit of kit but it does the job incredibly gently and Dermot had worked with one in champagne so knew that the results are great. We only use the coquard for our Vintage wines as we now have some other more mechanical presses that are easier to operate.
Why did you choose Wiston for your English wine journey?
Because I fell in love with my husband!
In England we have a unique ‘terroir’ for producing exceptional wines. What would you say are the key ingredients to the ‘terroir’ at Wiston vineyard? How does this influence the vines?
Chalk is most certainly our key here at Wiston. The chardonnay in particular just loves it and arguably it gives this grape variety even greater finesse when it is grown on chalk. It would seem that it imparts a minerality to the final taste profile. Allows fantastic ripeness but always in a wonderfully savoury way.
The main focus for Wiston’s Sparkling wines is on the ‘purity of expression’, tell us more about what this means for you and how your Sparkling wines achieve this?
This was always incredibly important to Pip - that the wines made from the Wiston vineyard reflected as closely as possible the juice that was pressed from the grapes without a heavy-handed style of wine making. Dermot always completely got that and I would describe his style as paired back, like a wine without too much make-up on! He will always use the minimal amount of dosage (grape sugar) so that the wine is perfectly balanced but never overpowered by any sweetness. This allows all the nuanced characteristics of that particular vintage to shine through.
We probably leave the grapes on the vines longer than some – often not picking all of the chardonnay until the very end of October – which means the grapes have time to be physiologically perfectly ripe. This is ultimately what will result in an interesting wine and one that you don’t have to mess around with too much along the way.
Does Wiston grow all it’s grapes on site, how big is the vineyard?
All of the grapes for our Vintage wines come exclusively from our original 16 acre vineyard. However we buy in Pinot Meunier grapes for our non-vintage wines from a carefully managed vineyard in Kent.
We planted another 15 acres of vines in the spring of 2017 which are doing incredibly well and may even be ready for picking in 2019.
A quote from Terry Theise is displayed at the start of a video on your website.‘Soul is more important than anything. And soul is expressed as a trinity of family, soil and artisanality’ – talk to us about what this means for you and why you have chosen to open with this quote?
Family has always been at the heart of this estate and Pip is determined that those working here feel part of that. Vision and vibe comes before business for Pip and most people who visit the Estate comment on the connection they feel with the people they meet whether that be team or the family.
The chalk soil, as we’ve talked about, is obviously crucial to the quality of the wine.
The word artisan speaks of scale to me. The fact that our size is relatively tiny compared to many English vineyards means that we have the privilege and ability to be incredibly precise with each wine, treating each and every cuvée as totally unique, seeing each as an opportunity to reflect the terroir (& climate that year) in the very best way.
Watching Dermot blend the wines before bottling reminds me of an oil painter blending various hues of different colours, from tanks & barrels. At this scale you can be both creative and careful.
Wiston’s focus is solely on producing English Sparkling wines, tells us why you have chosen to do this? Have you considered producing any English Still wines?
We feel that the climate and soil that we have is best suited to sparkling. If you think of where the majority of fantastic still wines come from it tends to be in slightly warmer climates. Our climate seems to be similar to champagne 50 years ago. Enough warmth to ripen the grapes while cool enough to maintain the acidity you need in a great sparkling wine. A long growing season is something we are blessed with at this point. Many champagne houses have had to pick as early as August in the last couple of years as otherwise the sugars would have gone too high due to heatwaves. The downside of this is that those grapes may not have had a long enough growing season to fully ripen.
Other than your own English sparkling wines, what wines do you enjoy drinking, why is it you enjoy them?
Taste wise I love a big rich Grand Cru Burgundy, or a very dry unoaked chardonnay. For me being able to visit where a wine is grown and made really enhances the experience of then drinking it.
I particularly enjoyed a wine tasting trip we did recently down the Helemanada valley in South Africa. The highlight were the wines we tried from the well established vineyard of Bouchard Finlayson and the more recent Creation vineyard where they had the most fantastic food & wine tasting menu. As a result, I was inspired to start to run some Food & Wine Pairing events here at the vineyard which have been great fun.
Champagne, Prosecco and Sparkling wines are all determined by their location. Do you feel they should be deemed as separate wines or are thy comparable?
They will fall into a very similar celebratory drinks category in most peoples heads. Obviously Prosecco is made differently in the pressurised tank method rather than the double fermentation that both champagne and sparkling wine goes through. This in large part explains the price difference.
The other main difference I would say is that sparkling wine with it’s higher acidity is much easier to pair with food. It has a wonderfully incisive taste that can cut through and enhance even the richest dishes.
Pairing food with wine can enhance the flavours and characteristics in the wine. What are the key pairings for your Sparkling wines?
My favourite, & most luxurious, pairing would have to be our Blanc de Blancs 2010 with seared Scallops in a buttery sauce. It’s first fermentation was half in tank and half in barrel. Dermot stopped it from going through malolactic fermentation so it has exciting fresh acidity but also some broader richer more pastry flavours from a long time ageing on its lees.
Our Brut NV is incredibly versatile. It’s a zesty zingy wine which is a wonderful palette enlivener. It also has a great fruitiness to it which comes in large part from the high percentage of Pinot Meunier – a very fruit forward grape variety that is often only used in very small amounts. I think it goes with almost anything from a bag of crisps to a BBQ!
Our Rosé NV is also versatile and recently I’ve paired it with various puddings including an indulgent dark chocolate brownie which works brilliantly.
Despite the increased exposure of English wine the majority of the world is still unsure where to start. What would be your advice to a new comer of English wine?
If you are looking for something dry, fresh tasting but with the excitement of bubbles then English sparkling is for you. With the levels of acidity many of these wines will age very well too.
Certainly don’t put them down when you start to eat, as we’ve said they are brilliant for pairing with all sorts of things.
Anything else you think we should know?
Last year Wiston Estate Cuvée 2013 won Best UK Sparkling Wine at Decanter World Wine Awards and the English Wine Trophy at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. This year Wiston was declared Winery of the Year at the Wine GB awards (the official body that represents all UK vineyards & wineries).
We are undertaking a huge development project at the winery starting in January next year so it will become somewhere in the long run that you can drop into at any time. At the moment you have to book on one of our tours to come and see us. The tours are great fun as you get to have a little safari over the Downs as we travel between the winery and the vineyard.