Kent, the golden child county of English wine, if it were in Burgundy, perhaps you would call it L’enfant d’or. Which upon trying their wines, you might believe is where you are. Gusbourne consists of sixty hectares of vines and alongside its tasting room “The Nest” are all snuggled in the heart of Kent, 6 miles from the coast and recognisable by their goose adorned crest.
They were founded by Andrew Weeber in 2004, who if you aren’t familiar with, had quite the career change from an orthopaedic surgeon. Winemaking is overseen by CEO Charlie Holland and his talented team. Jon Pollard is the custodian of the vines. Together they’ve created something extraordinary from the champagne varieties, and Burgundy clones that are grown here. We got to see first hand just what goes into making a Gusbourne delicacy, whilst they were just days away from harvest.
We spent the morning of our visit having a wander around Boot Hill with Dan Grainger (Manager of The Nest). All three champagne varieties of grape are grown on Boot Hill, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Andrew is keen on vintage champagne; he founded the vineyard on the principles of that, the team are self-described “enlightened traditionalists”. Gusbourne is an estate only producer and only make single vintage wines. The wines are a snapshot in time and a reflection of the year, each vintage shows the unique signatures of the climatic conditions.
But what about the wines themselves?
Quality is paramount at Gusbourne, and they have invested in some of the leading technology to get there, from frost protection to precision pressers. All the vines are hand-harvested, with no machinery allowed on this delicate clay soil base. We were guided through a tasting in The Nest by none other than Laura Rhys (MS) one of only three female Master sommeliers in the UK. We could have spent hours with her discussing all things wine and her illustrious career.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Brut Reserve, 2016
The aim was to create a wine with a softly rounded fruit character, with elements of citrus, apple and some nuttiness. There is a lasting freshness and acidity that represents an expression of the vineyard. The grapes used are from all vineyard sites, and these can change year on year. The same vineyards can express their personality slightly differently each year, that means every vintage will have exclusive characteristics. The sparkling wines for the Brut Reserve are aged for around three years on the lees, (sometimes slightly more), to build character, complexity and weight into the wine. They have created an exceptional wine with elegance and sophistication.
English Sparkling Rosé 2016
The sparkling rosé uses the red grape varietals predominantly alongside a little chardonnay. They also blend in a tiny proportion of still red Pinot Noir, to highlight the very vibrant red fruit character, it has gorgeous undertones of rhubarb and tastes like the perfect English summer day. The sparkling rosé is aged for a shorter time than the Brut Reserve or Blanc de Blancs, as the rosé must be more fruit-focused, rather than show a biscuity toast character.
Blanc de Blancs 2014
Made from 100% Chardonnay, the Blanc de Blancs captures the very best of this varietal from the vineyards. When blending begins, the winemaking team are looking for exquisite base wines. The Blanc De Blancs have characteristics of pure citrus and salinity. Individual blocks within the vineyards here at Gusbourne show unique features where the Chardonnay picks up minerality and some saltiness. 2014 was a reasonably warm vintage, because of this the fruit is ripe with honeyed citrus fruit and tropical roasted pineapple notes. As the wine is starting to age, it’s picking up notes of buttered toast and roasted hazelnuts. This wine is linear, mineral, elegant with lovely complexity. It would pair amazingly with oysters or a lemon sole.
Blanc de Noirs 2016
It is only the second year Gusbourne has produced a Blanc de Noirs. A Blanc de Noirs is all about opulence and richness, with their intense character provided by Pinot Noir. It contains fine-tuned notes of dried candied fruits and violet flower. On tasting the base wines in 2016, the winemakers at Gusbourne were compelled to make a Blanc de Noirs. It focuses on red fruit character with weight and richness to it. It has a long, refreshing and persistent finish.
Gusbourne’s still wines are made in small quantities; they are a rare find. They are made only from particular vineyard blocks and use Burgundian clones. Vine blocks have been set aside because of the ripeness levels they can achieve specifically to make the still wines. A strict green harvest is carried out each vintage, which is essential for the vines energy to be directed into a reduced number of bunches, increasing ripeness levels and the flavour profile.
The still Chardonnay “Guinevere” is barrel fermented in old oak and some new oak, then left on the lees for a few months before bottling. The weight, richness and fruit coming through are what makes this wine incredible.
The still Pinot Noir “Boot Hill” is completely destemmed, even if the fruit is nicely ripe, Kent is still a marginal climate. If you were to whole bunch press, it risks the addition of green flavours coming through from the stalk. The still Pinot Noir also aged in old oak and a little bit of new. It is vibrant red fruit-driven with red cherries, wild strawberry and raspberry on the palate, with an element of savoury character.
And my favourite wine of the day?
It had to be the Blanc de Blancs. A beautiful classic, we all left with a bottle to enjoy at home.
Wines can be purchased directly from the Nest at Gusbourne. https://www.gusbourne.com/wines
Or if you can’t wait to try something else, I’ve linked a few limited edition wines by Gusbourne, from retail stockists.