I had the pleasure of visiting Gusbourne with some colleagues on Wednesday, September 20th, 2017. The train from London St. Pancras to Ashford International took around 40 minutes and from Ashford, it was only a short taxi ride to the estate.
Neil Irvine, our Account Manager, welcomed us to “The Nest”, the recently completed visitor centre, and we began our visit with a brief history and some information about Gusbourne.
Gusbourne is located on the Romney Marsh peninsula, approximately 6 miles from the coast and about 1 mile from the village of Appledore. The famous chalk basin is actually around 10 metres below ground and vines are cultivated on Wealden clay and sand. Gusbourne owns around 60 hectares of vineyard here together with a further 30 hectares in West Sussex.
Being located on the 51st parallel, Gusbourne vineyards experience a very marginal climate. The majority of wine grapes are grown between the 30th and 50th parallel of latitude in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Only the three Champagne varietals are planted and they cultivate around 45 clones, the majority of which are Burgundian. Chardonnay accounts for 60% of land under vine, Pinot Noir occupies 30% and the remaining 10% is planted to Pinot Meunier.
The first reference in history to Appledore is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. It is not until 1410 that the name Goosbourne appears when the estate took its name from the recently deceased, John de Goosbourne. The Goosbourne crest was three geese which are now found on every bottle of estate wine. Over time, the name changed to Gusbourne and the estate passed to Philip Chute, a wealthy businessman who spent his life there. He is now buried at Appledore Parish Church.
In 1662, English scientist and physician, Christopher Merrett, submitted a paper documenting the process of secondary fermentation. His realisation that by adding sugar and molasses after primary fermentation would induce a secondary fermentation is the defining feature of all traditional method sparkling wine. It is the exact same discovery that a certain French Monk, Dom Perignon, is accredited with some thirty years later, in 1697.
The current owner of Gusbourne is Andrew Weeber, an Orthopedic Surgeon from South Africa, whose daughter lived in Appledore. Andrew bought the estate in 2003 and planted vines from 2004 through to 2006 thus transforming former turnip fields into vineyards.
Gusbourne produces still and sparkling wine however, only 10% of all production is still. The 2016 harvest produced a total of around 250,000 bottles. Due to the marginal climate, and the inherent natural high acidity, all wines undergo 100% malolactic fermentation, the process by which the tart malic acid in grape juice is converted to softer lactic acid.
We were introduced to Vineyard Manager, Jon Pollard, who showed us around the vineyard where he was supervising the grape-pickers. There were around 72 of them, mainly from Romania and many of whom have small vineyard holdings of their own.
Jon told us that the estate had experienced an early start to the season this year as they received very little frost. This in turn has resulted in a longer than usual growing season. He estimates they are currently 2 weeks ahead of where they usually are at this time of year. From April to June, the estate enjoyed some very good weather, flowering occurred in mid-June and Jon anticipates an abundance of ripe fruit this year.
On the day we visited, Jon told us that he was expecting to bring in approximately 24 tons of Pinot Noir and 12 tons of Chardonnay. His team are extremely selective about fruit quality and any imperfect bunches are discarded. They also have to interrupt picking when it rains as the rainwater swells the grapes and can dilute the juice.
As with other vineyards, roses are planted at the end of each row to act as an early warning sign of mildew. At Gusbourne, red roses are planted by Pinot Noir vines, pink roses by Pinot Meunier and white roses by Chardonnay.
The Guyot pruning system is used whereby one or two fruiting arms are trained along a main wire. They tend to leave three canes on the vine; training two but retaining the third in case frost inhibits bud growth. If there are no problems with frost, they can remove the third cane.
Every four years, the vineyard receives approximately 50 tons per hectare of compost which provides slow release nutrients to the soil. A weed-free strip at the base of each vine is important to prevent competition for water and nutrients from thistles and nettles.
In terms of pests, the main offenders are Starlings, badgers and pheasants. Helium balloons are flown near powerlines to deter the birds but all pests are attracted to and will eat and/or destroy the sweet ripe fruit.
To prevent damage from frost, machines in the vineyard evacuate cold air. These are petrol-powered and programmed to start automatically when the temperature drops to a certain level.
After our walk around the vineyard, we returned to “The Nest”, where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch and tasting. After lunch, we visited the winery where we met winemaker, Charlie Holland, and had the opportunity to taste free run Pinot Noir juice directly from the tank and Chardonnay juice from the barrel which was just starting to ferment.
2013 Brut Reserve: This is the only wine produced which incorporates all 3 Champagne varietals. Somewhat unfairly described as ‘entry level, this delicate Brut receives a minimum of 28 months lees ageing. With aromas of white flowers, red apple and fresh raspberries, it has refreshing acidity, a delicate mousse, hints of brioche and a medium length.
2013 Rosé: This fabulous rosé is 100% Pinot Noir and it has the most beautiful onion skin colour. With plenty of fresh strawberries and redcurrants, it is extremely fruity and has hints of cream and some savoury characters developing. Following primary fermentation, a very small percentage of barrel-aged Pinot Noir is blended prior to secondary fermentation. I think this is an absolutely fabulous wine.
2013 Blanc de Blancs: This is light, elegant and pale gold. On the nose, we find cream, biscuits and baked apple and on the palate, citrus and stone fruit with just a touch of salinity. With a slighter fuller body than the previous wines, this is more of a food wine but excellent levels of acidity prevent it from being overly rich.
2010 Blanc de Blancs: 2010 was one of the warmest and driest vintages at Gusbourne. This beautiful wine has citrus, stone fruit and a touch of tropical fruit on the nose, with some mushroom and earthiness on the palate. It is still incredibly fresh, full bodied and has a very long finish.
2014 Guinevere: The first vintage of Guinevere was in 2008 and this, for me, was the standout wine of the day. 100% Chardonnay, barrel aged for 6 months in French oak, 20% of which was new, there is only one word – Wow! Big, bold, oaky and long, I firmly believe that this stunning wine could easily compete with the best French Burgundies. Packed with citrus and stone fruit, hints of vanilla and cream, moderate levels of acidity and a super long finish, this is an absolute stunner!
2015 Pinot Noir: 100% Pinot Noir and barrel aged for 6 months in French oak, this elegant still red has violets on the nose followed by dark cherry, wild strawberries and mushrooms on the palate. It is medium bodied with a medium (+) finish and extremely Burgundian in character.
2016 Pinot Noir: In comparison to the 2015, this is youthful, elegant and has a deeper colour and greater intensity of fruit. I think this has excellent potential and look forward to enjoying those savoury characteristics that will inevitably develop after a further period of bottle ageing.
I would like to extend my thanks to Neil, Jon and Charlie for their time and excellent hospitality today. The team were professional, organised and relaxed and the wines were amazing. They are clearly very passionate about what they do and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I would definitely recommend paying them a visit sometime soon.
Copyright of suerayuncorked.com - September 2017
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