hush heath balfour vineyard kent

I caught up with Adam Williams, Sales Manager at Hush Heath in Kent, to discuss the background of the winery, as well as how they are coping with the severe disruption to both the industry and life as we know it from COVID-19. Adam also gives us his view of how the public perceives English wine. Adam then finished by giving us a little insight into the 2014 Blanc de Blancs that I am tasting this evening for #TheBIGEnglishWineTasting

Adam Williams, Sales Director, Hush Heath Estate

Hush Heath is based near Staplehurst in Kent. We are a 400-acre estate made up of vineyards, orchards and ancient oak woodlands. In the middle of the estate is Hush Heath Manor, a Tudor Manor, built in 1503 where our producers and owners, Leslie and Richard Balfour-Lynn, live and we have our winery there. 

We built our winery in 2010 and then we expanded both the winery and visitors centre in 2018. We now have a stunning 200 person tasting room looking out over the whole estate. Our state of the art winery is also there. Bottling and disgorging is all done at the winery.

Hush Heath Winery KentHush heath's Expanded Winery

On the estate, we have 80 acres of vineyard. A couple of years ago we replanted more vineyards so these will be coming on stream shortly. We grow mainly the champagne varieties, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. We also have some Bacchus planted there, some Pinot Blanc, a little bit of Arbanne and Petit Mesnier, a tiny bit which we put in a couple of our wines. We released a wine that had the seven varieties of Champagne last year called This Septered Isle which had some fantastic press.

The vast majority is Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. 

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Everything has changed recently with COVID-19. How has Hush Heath Adapted?

It is an interesting time for all businesses and English wine in particular. As part of our business, we also own a group of pubs in London and in Kent called Hush Heath Hospitality. So obviously there is a lot of impact on that part of the business as well.

Technically we could have our cellar door open but we have closed it so there are no visitors. I mentioned how beautiful the estate is and we feel that it is important to get people down to visit and to be open and generous, to open bottles and welcome people. 

Obviously this is something we can’t do at the moment. We would typically welcome 20 thousand people to the estate and winery per year to enjoy the view, to enjoy the wines and have some food. We can’t do that at the moment which is a real shame for us as it was a big part of our business.

As a business, we are split quite nicely between off-trade, on trade and our cellar door. So with the cellar door being closed and all of the on-trade business being on hold for the moment, it is challenging. 

We do make wines for a lot of the supermarkets, for Tesco, M&S, Waitrose, Co-Op, Morrisons, and those businesses are carrying on as normal and we are able to supply them. So it is challenging but we are able to continue. 

We are able to produce within the guidelines. We still are able to bottle which is important because we have some fantastic new 2019 still wines coming out which are being bottled at the moment. So we are able to continue the production side which is important for us.

Overall consumer perception of English wines?

It’s changing so quickly and it such an important sector I think. I started working for Balfour Hush Heath about 3 years ago and even within those 3 years it is amazing how the perception of the wines is changing. If you look in the wine press, it is amazing how many people are talking about the wines.

I think you are starting to see each winery feeling confident about the style of their wines and their signature style. Wineries are still discovering new things. Our wines are changing and developing every year as our winemakers are discovering new clones for different wines and different winemaking techniques. There is a huge amount of excitement and development in English wine.

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Still wines

The obvious change has been the progression and the acceptance of the quality of the still wines. I think that is a real noticeable change in the past few years. We are really proud of our still wines. 

A lot of wineries don’t make still wines and a lot in the past may be made them as a by-product, or as an afterthought to the sparkling wines but there are lots of wineries such as ourselves, Simpsons, Gusbourne, who make fantastic wines.

We make it from Burgundy clones, from vineyard sites that are specifically for still wine.

It is still amazing how varied the knowledge and understanding of English wines is. There are still a lot of people I speak to who don’t even know that we make wines in this country. If they did then they still think they are poor quality. That is even in the on-trade. You will see some hotels and restaurants really embracing English wine and some that just think they can’t sell it.

So what is your message to consumers who are not convinced?

English wine is fitting in with a lot of what is on-trend at the moment in terms of the style of the wines. Lower alcohol, elegant wine is what people want. Also understanding who is behind these wines, how are they doing it? Where are they from? It is not just an English wine thing, it is a food thing.

Just try the wines

A lot of people picking up English wine are doing so because of those trends. The key thing is to just try the wines really. The only way we are going to get these people to understand and be confident is to try them.

As soon as they have tried them I think they understand. From our point of view, that is why we have this amazing visitor centre as well is to bring people down to the estate. Come and have a look at what we are doing. 

I think sometimes in peoples heads they think these are being made in a cow shed around the corner but these are state of the art facilities with huge investment. Once you see that you are able to make the connection between that and the quality of the wine. 

Harder in off-trade and supermarkets

It is harder in the off-trade and the supermarkets because there is no one there to encourage the person to take that bottle off the shelf, so we have to be out there with promotions and marketing to make sure people feel confident to buy the wine.

But as I said before, everything is happening so quickly. The amount of people drinking English wine is amazing.

Let’s talk about the Blanc de Blancs? 

hush heath adam williams interview 600
Adam Williams, Sales Manager at Hush Heath discussing the 2014 Blanc de Blancs 

The Blanc de Blancs really, more than any other wine in our portfolio, epitomises our signature style. It is a wine we have really only made two vintages of. We made a wine in 2010 and one in 2014. We have made some in 2018 which is currently ageing in the winery. We don’t make it every year, we only make it in years we think are really special.

This 2014 we released in 2017. We made about 8000 bottles, so a tiny quantity available at the cellar door only. We disgorge only 500 bottles at a time so each bottle will depend on how long it has been [on the lees]. 

It is amazing how it’s developed. For a wine that has had 4, 5 or even six years on the lees, it is still so fresh. It is still so young and it has a lot of life ahead of it. It is just starting to get that lovely autolytic character, a little bit of complexity while keeping that freshness.

A signature style of our wines is that they always have this ripe clean fruit flavour and I think that is so important. It is something that some English wineries have struggled with in the past, but our wines have got this really clean ripe fruit flavour which balances beautifully with that fresh English acidity. That is the key.

There is also what our winemaker calls a eucalyptus or dried herb note to it, which I think is very Balfour Hush Heath, on the end as well. It just balances really well with that fruit.

(Read my review of the Balfour Skye's Blanc De Blancs 2014)

[END]

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