Hush Heath Estate is an estate in Kent, England, whose origins date back to 1503 with the construction of Hush Heath Manor by the Balfour-Lynn’s family. The manor house, which still exists today, overlooks 120 hectares of land, including a vineyard, an orchard and a magnificent old oak forest.
In 2002, vines were planted and in 2004, the first vintage of sparkling wine was produced. In 2010, Hush Heath invested in state-of-the-art facilities to produce the highest quality wine and cider. The goal is to produce wines that can compete with and surpass the best Champagne houses. The stainless steel tanks used for fermentation are imported from Champagne, the bottling line from Italy and the barrels from Bourgogne.
I recently visited the estate while in London. The property is about an hour and a half drive from the center of the British capital. At Hush Heath, they believe that the key to making good wine and cider is the quality of the grapes and apples. That’s why the estate pays meticulous attention to the cultivation of its fruit. The estate only processes fruit from the estate. All apples and grapes are harvested by hand.
Hush Heath now has 15 hectares of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, primarily for sparkling wine production. A few additional grape varieties have been planted experimentally, including pinot blanc and arbois. The vines grow on limestone soils similar to Champagne, which give acidity and minerality to the wines.
The climate is the main challenge to grow grapes of optimal quality. If the vineyard benefits from a rather favorable microclimate, climatic incidents such as frost or violent rains are far from rare, especially in spring during the delicate period of budburst (development of the buds). The domain has its own weather station that sends weather information every 15 minutes. A few nights a year, if a frost alert is issued, everyone gets active and each vine is warmed up with candles! Especially the chardonnay vines which are the most sensitive to frost.
Hush Heath has been growing apples for a very long time. The Kent apple varieties, such as cox, bramley and edgemont russet, were destined for sale in the best London markets. The 8 hectare orchard is mainly used for the production of cider. Only a small part of the apples is transformed into juice.
A growing reputation
Balfour Rosé, Hush Heath’s signature wine, is offered on the British Airways first class wine list and the famous Orient Express train! It was also one of the wines served at the London Olympics.
Hush Heath produces 4 sparkling wines, one rosé, one white and one red:
- Balfour brut rosé: 22,000 bottles per year. 52% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir and 8% pinot meunier. Notes of strawberry and peach. Vibrant acidity, great elegance. 35.99 GBP
Balfour Leslie’s Reserve: 10,000 bottles per year. 55% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay, and 8% pinot meunier. Very dry, with notes of brioche and red apple. Ideal for an aperitif. 24.99 GBP
- Balfour Blanc de Blancs: Only 100 cases produced for this first 100% Chardonnay vintage. Not tasted. 39 GBP
- Balfour 1503 Sparkling Pinot Noir: a 100% pinot noir, traditional method. Untasted. 29.99 GBP
Nannette’s Rosé: 75% pinot noir and pinot meunier, 25% chardonnay. Untasted. 15 GBP
- Skye’s Chardonnay: low temperature fermentation in stainless steel tanks, then aged on lees. “The English answer to Chablis” according to Hush Heath. Lemon notes, good acidity. Not bad, but for the moment we continue to drink Chablis, especially at this price 😉 16,5 GBP
- Manor Pinot Noir: lightly aged in new American oak barrels, but you can’t feel the wood aging at all. Notes of cherry, raspberry and leather. Floral on the palate. Picnic wine, but not cheap either. 23 GBP
The estate also produces three ciders and an apple juice. The ciders are fermented in the same stainless steel tanks as the wines, and undergo a second fermentation like the sparkling wines. Strawberry and blackcurrant juice is added before bottling for the first cider, and nettle macerations for the second. The ciders are simply exceptional. Selection of the best quality apples, hand harvesting and sorting, advanced techniques for fermentation. Nothing is left to chance. Unfortunately, excellence has a price! 13,50 GBP per bottle of cider!
Of course, I can’t recommend a visit to the estate enough. A few tours are organized each week or on request. On a sunny day, take the opportunity to have a picnic on the spot, the place is superb and invites to relax. You can also take a walk in the beautiful oak forest of the domain.