In 2004, Andrew Weeber created Gusbourne Estate. His goal? To make the estate a reference in the production of sparkling wines in England. The man of South African origin wanted to compete with the best champagne producers. He set his sights on a property in Kent in the south-east of England. That same year, Gusbourne planted vines of Burgundian clones of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The first vintage of Gusbourne Estate, the 2006, is released in 2010. The success is dazzling, the critics are unanimous on the quality of the wines. In 2013, the estate is the first and only English vineyard to be listed on the alternative investment market on the London Stock Exchange. In 2015, Gusbourne Estate was awarded the coveted title of English Wine Producer of the Year by the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC).
Is this recognition deserved? Are the wines so exceptional? As I was in London last April, I decided to visit the estate to make up my own mind. After almost two hours of driving, I arrived in Appledore, Kent, where the Gusbourne facilities are located. I was warmly welcomed by Laura Rhys, the sommelier and sales manager, Jon Pollard who looks after the vineyard and Charlie Holland, Gusbourne’s oenologist.
Gusbourne Estate has just over 40 hectares of vineyards in Kent, plus another 22 hectares in the West Sussex region (southwest England). The soils are predominantly sandy and chalky. 50% of the vineyard is planted with Chardonnay, 40% with Pinot Noir and the remaining 10% with Pinot Meunier. In 2016, the estate expects to produce between 100,000 and 120,000 bottles.
Gusbourne produces mainly sparkling wines (méthode champenoise), but also in a lesser proportion still wines. For the sparkling wines, the grapes are harvested by hand and carefully sorted before fermentation. The grapes are fermented in thermo-regulated stainless steel vats as well as in oak barrels. Gusbourne’s philosophy is to produce wines that draw maximum personality from the soil. Making sparkling wine is a relatively interventionist process. However, they try to be as hands-off as possible in order to make a product that reflects the terroir from which it comes.
I asked Charlie Holland, Gusbourne’s winemaker, to explain the English sparkling wine craze. Charlie studied enology at Plumpton College in England before training in Australia, Germany, New Zealand and the United States, and then taking over the destiny of the Gusbourne winery. “Being English, I wanted to learn how to make wine in warm, exotic places. And then I came back to England, because it is now one of the most exciting places to make wine, especially sparkling wine. The new recognition of the British wine industry is a great thing! Over the past 20 years, our winemakers have worked very hard to seek out the best terroirs, develop better winemaking practices and today it’s great to see the quality of our wines recognized!”
“In Kent, we have many microclimates. What makes the Gusbourne vineyard special is the proximity to the sea and therefore the maritime influence on the vine. Our Appledore vineyard is located only about 10 km from the coast. Our wines have a very high acidity. This is what makes them strong. It makes them fresh, vibrant, precise and they are also prone to age harmoniously” – Charlie Holland, Winemaker, Gusbourne.
Gusbourne Estate produces four sparkling wines and two still wines. I tasted the vast majority of their products. I was very impressed by the quality of the wines, especially the sparkling wines which have nothing to envy to top quality champagnes!
- Brut Reserve 2011: 42% chardonnay, 36% pinot noir, 22% pinot meunier. Dosage 8,5g/l. Matured on lees for 36 months and rested for 3 months in bottle before marketing. Brioche nose and lemony notes. In mouth, sapid and creamy.
- Rosé 2012: 46% pinot noir, 37% chardonnay, 17% pinot meunier. Dosage 9.6g/l. Matured on lees for 24 months and rested for 3 months in bottle before marketing. Salmon color. Nose on strawberry and rhubarb. Nice acidity with a slightly vegetal finish. Perfect with a fruit-based dessert.
- Blanc de blanc 2011: 100 % chardonnay. Dosage 8g/l. Matured on lees for 36 months and rested in bottle for 3 months before release. Golden yellow color. Nose of lemon, hazelnut and butter. In the mouth, superb minerality and citrus finish. Very salty too. Perfect with oysters or scallops! Tasted also a 2008 (only the 3rd vintage of the estate). Wonderful wine, even more elegant! A lacey wine! Remarkable! My favorite of the range.
- Blanc de noir: 100% pinot noir. Not tasted.
- Pinot noir 2014: 9 months of aging in French oak barrels (20% new, 30% 1 year of use, 50% 2 and 3 years of use). Light ruby red. Lovely raspberry and cherry nose. A nice thirst-quenching wine, light, fresh and perfect for a picnic.
- Chardonnay Guinevere 2013: 9 months of aging in French oak barrels (2 and 3 years of use). Greenish yellow color. Green apple and lemon on the nose. Good acidity, mineral, with a slightly vegetal finish.
Gusbourne plans to release two other vintages soon, a still rosé (a blend of 90% pinot noir and 10% chardonnay) as well as a rather promising chardonnay tête de cuvée, having tasted it in vat… This chardonnay will be bottled and kept for 5 years in the bottle before being sold!
Gusbourne Estate is not currently open to the public, but a visitor center including a store to provide tours and wine tasting is in the works. Thanks again Laura, Jon and Charlie for the warm welcome! I’ll be back… in summer 😉