Scottie Gregory visits the Grange Estate on the Hampshire Downs to meet the team and taste their Grange Classic and The Grange Pink Sparkling
I persuaded my friend, Andrew to drive me to The Grange, from the south-west corner of Hampshire to Itchen Stoke five miles east of Winchester. Not that I believed he needed much persuading as he wanted to try the award-winning sparkling wines that The Grange produces, as much as I did.
I have always associated The Grange with opera and have attended several magnificent productions there. Little did I know that in a different part of the estate, some excellent wines were being produced.
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A multi-generational view
Two hundred years ago, The Grange Estate was purchased by the many times great grandfather of the current owners but it only returned to the family when the late John Ashburton, the father of the Barings siblings reacquired it in 1964 and more recently they developed a vineyard.
We were greeted by the charming Marketing Manager, Claire Hunt and the equally charming Zam Baring, the youngest of the four siblings who planted 52 thousand vines at Burges Field in 2011. They set out to produce the best English Sparkling wines which I believed they have achieved, but more of that later.
Stripped bare (post-harvest)
We walked around the Burges Field Vineyard, accompanied by Fletcher, the dog, who protested every time we stopped. There we saw the remains of the vines (Pinots Noir and Meunier and Chardonnay) post- Harvest.
Working in a marginal climate
Zam told me that the growing season and had had its ups and downs, but last year was even worse when frosts in mid-May meant that they lost 40% of the chardonnay grapes. The Pinot Meunier fared better as it was slow to start and flowered late so avoided the frosts. The loss of the vines was in some way compensated by excellent quality.
After harvest they run sheep in the vineyard for a couple of months for their dung and for tidying up the grass between vines as sheep are great lawn mowers. This is repeated for two months before bud break and as Zam said, they would leave the sheep in all year if they could find some that would not eat vine leaves. (I nearly suggested the sheep on Lihou Island, just offshore in Guernsey, that have been trained to eat seaweed.)
A bed of pure white chalk…
The vineyard is blessed with its soil. On the surface is a thin layer of gravelly clay which sits on a bed of pure white chalk hundreds of metres deep which acts as a sponge, storing water during the winter rains to enable the vines to grow during the summer months. It also imparts a steely minerality to taste of the Chardonnay – a minerality that gives wines their fine structure and should let them age. Shades of the soil in Champagne!
I always say that you need passion, enthusiasm and perseverance to grow vines in this country and Zam has those qualities in abundance and coupled with great communication skills. If you could bottle all of those, I would order a case.
Currently the grapes are sent to the multi award winning Hattingley Valley to be turned into wine under the direction of Emma Rice (awarded UK Winemaker of the Year in 2014 and 2016) but when I asked Zam if there are any plans to produce their own wines, he told me that was the plan for next year and that a new winery will be built further up the lane opposite Burges Field, under the direction of Harry Pickering, their newly appointed Wine Maker. They had over a hundred applicants, from eleven different countries but Harry was just down the road at Gusbourne in East Sussex! Harry will oversee the development of wines to the next level, including some still wines.
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Let’s taste it - The Grange Classic
And now to the tasting of The Classic and The Grange Pink. The suspense was well rewarded. The Classic first. What a delight! Made from 50% Chardonnay,34% Pinot Meunier,16%Pinot Noir, with 6.9% residual sugar,13% reserve wine and 40% malolactic fermentation.
On the nose, brioche, apple and citrus as is the case with most English Sparkling wines, but not Granny Smith or other green apples, but the delightful Russet apple (my favourite apple) so I am prejudiced. On the palate delicious hints of Russet apple. as well as a slight hint of white melon, balanced by citrus to give good acidity. Great minerality is displayed too. What is particularly impressive is the very fine mousse and the longevity on the palate. It just went on and on but finished on a fresh note.
This would be perfect with smoked salmon on Christmas Day. It would also be delightful with lobster mousse or scallops. It would compliment Italian butter lemon chicken. I also favour white sparkling wine with either Goat’s or Sheep ‘s cheese, or even a mild, creamy, blue cheese such as Bleu d’Affinois. Personally, I shall be drinking this on Christmas morning while we are unwrapping presents and throughout the day.
The Grange Pink Sparkling
On to The Grange Pink. Wow! This is made from 52% Pinot Noir and 48% Pinot Meunier with 8.3% residual sugar and 40% malolactic fermentation. Again, a really fine mousse that lasts. On the nose redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries, white blossom, with a creaminess and a faint phenolic hint that reminds me of dry sherry. On the palate it is raspberry and strawberry panna cotta without the sugar. Just raspberries, strawberries and cream, but at the same time being extraordinarily refreshing, with great fruit/acid balance. Its length on the palate is remarkable as it lasted for a good minute and a half. The minerality also shines through to give a saline touch at the end.
The Grange Pink, I could drink all day. But if you must drink it with food, I would suggest raw langoustines wrapped in pancetta and baked in the oven. Also, you could try smoked trout bruschetta with well-seasoned San Marzano tomatoes.
The Grange Classic and The Grange Pink are the most delicious English Sparkling wines that I have tasted to date and I did the rounds of the Wine GB exhibition in 2019, so that I tasted a fair few!
With Zam and Clare’s enthusiasm and the arrival of Harry Pickering, their new Winemaker, I think that the Grange will go from strength to strength and I shall be interested to revisit once the new Winery has been built.
by Scottie Gregory
The following are the awards received by The Grange Classic
GOLD, Wine GB Awards 2021
SILVER, The Decanter Awards 2021
SILVER, International Wine Challenge 2021
GOLD, Wine GB Awards 2020
SILVER, The Decanter Awards 2020
SILVER, International Wine Challenge 2020
The following are the awards received by The Grange Pink Sparkling
GOLD, International Wine Challenge, 2021
SILVER, Wine GB 2021
SILVER, Decanter 2021
PLATINUM, Decanter Awards 2020 (One of only three given to sparkling rosés)
GOLD, Sommelier Wine Award, 2020
SILVER, International Wine Challenge, 2020
SILVER, Sommelier Wine Award, 2019
SILVER, International Wine Challenge, 2019
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