Happy English Wine Week! This is a blog post I wrote as part of the Hambledon Spotlight offer we’re currently running - what better time to celebrate great English bubbly?
“To beat Champagne, we need to be better and cheaper” – Ian Kellett
L-R: Felix Gabillet, Ian Kellet and Tobias Tullberg
The quaint village of Hambledon, in the rolling hills of Hampshire, is the home of the modern game of cricket and what was once the most important cricket pitch in the country. However, much more deliciously, it is home to the country’s oldest commercial vineyard and it’s giving Champagne a run for its money!.
Hambledon Vineyard was first planted in 1952 and since the beginning has had a close relationship with the folks at Pol Roger, one of the most highly regarded Champagne houses in the world. Ian Kellett purchased the estate in 1999, believing that the vast potential of the site had not been truly recognised.
He was bold enough to replace the Germanic still-wine varieties with pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, which he felt would be perfectly suited to the chalk soils and rolling, south-facing hills of the vineyards. His ambition? To beat Champagne at their own game.
With Ian at the helm, Hambledon has gone from strength to strength. Hambledon Classic Cuvée received its first major recognition in 2015 when it beat a number of Champagnes, including the likes of Marguet, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot and even Pol Roger, to the top of the podium in a blind tasting competition judged by (amongst others) Jancis Robinson OBE MW, Dr Jamie Goode, Xavier Rousset MS, Mark Andrew MW and Fred Sirieix (now most famous as the Maître d’hôtel on Channel 4’s First Dates!).
In fact all three of Hambledon’s sparkling wines have achieved notable success, with the Classic Cuvée rosé stealing its share of the limelight at the 2017 International Wine Challenge awards and the Premier Cuvée beating off the likes of Krug Grand Cuvée and 2009 Dom Perignon in the “Judgement of London” tasting last year, hosted by Steven Spurrier.
So how has this dominance over Champagne been achieved? With the help of a French winemaking team! The head winemaker, Hervé Jestin is renowned as one of the most talented oenologists in Champagne, having been Chef de Caves at Duval Leroy for 20 years. He now oversees all aspects of the winemaking at Hambledon, working very closely with Ian, along with the help of Assistant Winemakers, Felix Gabillet and Tobias Tullberg.
When asked why he has opted to put together a team of French winemakers at an English winery, Ian isn’t too proud to admit that they’ve been doing it a lot better and for a lot longer than we have, so utilising that experience is a no-brainer.
The result, in the words of Jancis Robinson, is “French champagne-making expertise plus Hampshire chalk and English determination are responsible for this pristine, fresh, but far from skinny fizz.”
Ian Kellet and I at Hambledon earlier this year
Hambledon is not just quintessentially English, it is quintessentially excellent. This is a world-class sparkling wine which happens to be from the UK, allowing the drinker to indulge, whether as part of a celebration or simply a well-earned glass of something delicious, while flying the flag for English Sparkling Wine.
As well as it being one of a handful of wines recommended by our Head of Buying, Pierre Mansour, in his “What To Drink in 2018” article at the start of the year, our own Marcel Orford-Williams picked it as a “Buyers Favourite” in March. In fact at The Wine Society we believe in Hambledon so much that we have now made it the pouring fizz at all of our Stevenage-based dinners and tastings for members, which ensures that the events get off to the absolute best start.
I am proud and excited to say that thanks to supplier support, we are able to offer members an exclusive 6 for 5 price on Hambledon Classic Cuvée, for a limited time only. Don’t miss out!