A gem above the Romney Marshes
Author: Stephanie Barlow
The beautiful Indian summer feels a distant memory now we are engulfed by chilly autumn mornings. Some of the Berry Bros. & Rudd team and I were lucky, however, to catch possibly one of last fine days of the year on our trip last week to Andrew Weeber’s Gusbourne Estate in Kent. There we were welcomed by CEO Ben Walgate and Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard, who took us for a trip around the vineyard, taking in all the wonderful sights from the famous Romney Marshes to the intriguing homemade linseed straw wind-breaks protecting their young vines. What more glamorous start to the morning than sitting on a hay bale in the back of a pickup truck, the fresh morning breeze blowing hay in your face and splatting mud up your sleeves? It was nonetheless great fun and highly informative.
Winemaker Charlie Holland showed us the imaginative styles and techniques Gusbourne are experimenting with on a tour of the winery. Visiting a week after their eight-day harvest was a unique opportunity to sample straight from the vat and barrel, both pre- and during fermentation; it was a thought-provoking experience which perfectly demonstrated the excellent acidity that Champagne varieties exhibit when grown on domestic soils. From early budburst and flowering, to a slightly damp August rescued by good sun in September, the team are quietly confident that 2014 is shaping up to be a strong vintage for English wine.
Over lunch Charlie and Ben guided us through some inspired pairings, treating us to some expertly-prepared local cuisine matched with both Gusbourne’s excellent sparkling wines and some truly intriguing still ones which captured my attention. A mixture of Burgundy and Champagne clones allows the team to produce sufficiently ripe grapes with meticulous selection for the different styles adding complexity to the wines. The 2010 Blanc de Blancs exhibited superb breadth of flavour and beautiful balance with a fine candied apple finish.
The 2013 Guinevere, a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, also caught my eye with its fresh citrus notes combined with creamy vanilla and balanced with crisp acidity – a worthy partner for the rich mushroom soup we started with. We were then treated to a local delicacy, Romney salt marsh lamb, with Dauphinoise potatoes. What finer pairing could there be than wine made from a vineyard overlooking the marshes themselves? The distinctive sweet flavour of the lamb was beautifully enhanced by the soft juicy red cherry and redcurrant characters of the 2012 and 2013 Pinot Noirs – simply divine.
With most of Britain’s salt marsh lamb exported to France to be served at their top Michelin-starred restaurants, we are most definitely missing a treat right on our doorstep. You don’t need to go to France to treat yourselves however when we have such outstanding quality produce of our own here in the United Kingdom, sumptuous fare with which you can indulge in these exquisite English sparkling wines, characterful Chardonnays and elegant Pinot Noirs.
Gusbourne’s wines are a credit to the hardworking team behind them, and it was a pleasure to spend such an interesting day in their company. I can’t wait to see how the 2014 wines turn out, and look forward to more terrific years to come from this award-winning producer.