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Friday read: Hampshire wines making their mark

Published:  24 March, 2023

Ahead of next week’s Vineyards of Hampshire trade tasting, Justin Keay dives into how the wider English wine industry has changed, with regions outside Kent and Sussex growing all the while.

Keeping up with the fast-changing world of English – and Welsh – wine is now almost a full-time job: there are now 500 vineyards, although only around 200 are large enough to accept visitors. This week, industry body GB Wine ran a Wines of Great Britain stand at Prowein showing still and sparkling wines made by nine producers, the largest ever number. It was telling that eight were from Hampshire, Kent and Sussex, which was last year given PDO status (the ninth, Lyme Bay Winery, is based in Devon, but gets much of its fruit from Essex).

The broader story here is that amidst the wine industry’s growth, southern regions continue to dominate, notably Sussex (comprising East and West Sussex with 46 producers), Kent (29) and Hampshire (28) but also to a smaller degree Surrey (16). And if the rest of the wine world is anything to go by, where there’s growth, there is an accompanying need for differentiation, so producers and regions can lay out their USPs and highlight what makes their wine better/different from those produced elsewhere. In England this can be complicated. Some bigger producers like West Sussex based Nyetimber have vineyards well away from their main winery (Nyetimber has 11 across West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent) and of course, terroir and climate don’t recognise political or administrative boundaries, particularly in such a small country.

But Sussex receiving PDO status has set the ball rolling. Organisations promoting wine from Kent (Wine Garden of England) and Hampshire (Vineyards of Hampshire) have become increasingly active in pulling together local producers and launching local initiatives.

Vineyards of Hampshire (VOH), which holds its biggest ever annual trade tasting at 67 Pall Mall on 29 March, is a case in point. It now comprises 10 producers, with Quob Park Estate and Louis Pommery England (LPE), part of Louis Pommery Vranken, recently joined. All are making their own splash, suggesting business is thriving.

LPE just released its latest NV wine comprising base vintage 2018 with wines from earlier vintages, which will be the official sparkling wine at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Next year it will release wine made from its own Pinglestone Vineyard just outside Winchester and plans to open a new winery.

Hampshire’s The Grange, which recently opened a new winery, is also looking for new export markets for its wines, including its recently released sparkling White from Black 2018, a distinctive fruit-packed wine comprised mainly of Pinot Noir and Meunier, which has received high praise from critics.

Meanwhile Black Chalk, one of the producers attending Prowein, last week launched no fewer than four new wines made at its new winery just outside Andover; the Black Chalk Classic 2020, the Wild Rose 2020, plus a still white and a still rosé.

Chief winemaker Jacob Leadley says the reason VOH is such a strong grouping is because its producers often follow highly distinctive paths.

“We are committed to making vintage wines whilst Exton Park is committed to its NV approach. What unites us is a commitment to quality and of course the chalk soil for which Hampshire is rightly famous,” he said.

Sarah Johnson of VOH insists there is no rivalry between the English regions but admits there are clear regional differences.

“We hope the trade and consumer will understand that VOH members grow their vines on chalky Hampshire soils and that the emphasis is always on producing sustainable high-quality wines,” she says, adding that VOH which has more members pending, will be doing more to boost regional recognition.

“This year, we will be creating a new brand identity that reflects the unique quality of Hampshire wines and running consumer campaigns to grow awareness of Hampshire,” she says.

This year is expected to see the opening of the first Hampshire vineyard hotel whilst investments by producers in new restaurants and visitor centres continue apace. There is also discussion about setting up a Hampshire wine hub in Winchester.

Where Hampshire goes, Kent and Sussex – and maybe also Surrey – seem sure to follow. The great regionalisation of English wine may be in its early days, but it’s clearly game on.