While England may not be the first place that usually comes to mind as a world-class wine region, our minds were opened when we dug in a bit. A taste of Bolney’s 2008 Blanc de Blanc at an East London wine bar during a trip to watch Tottenham Hotspur was our first taste of English Fizz. A little over a year later, in the fall of 2015, we had our next encounter with a phone call from English wine royalty, Red Johnson, son of legendary wine guru Hugh Johnson.
Red was assembling a small portfolio of English producers seeking distribution as a unit, with each having their own story. The initial selection of wines included, coincidentally, Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex, along with Balfour Estate in Kent, micro-negociant Digby Fine English, which sources from various sites throughout the southern coast, and Camel Valley, located in Cornwall, home to the most extreme growing conditions in England. A few years later we added Harrow and Hope, which is sourced in Marlow, the most unlikely source of benchmark sparkling, as it sits on the banks of the Thames just northwest of Heathrow Airport. Harrow & Hope is the definition of farmer fizz. With the assistance of each of these winegrowers we made global news as the largest importer of English wine on planet earth!
The wines are something we truly believe in as their precision, clarity and soulfulness is instantly apparent. Telling the terroir story has been the most captivating part of this journey, as we believe that simplifying the regions down to the same chalky soils that are found in Champagne is lazy thinking and storytelling.
Champagne is more than chalk and grand crus are found throughout varying soils, aspects and elevation, and the same holds true for England. English wine is built on a patchwork quilt of life-giving dirt beneath it. Chalk is there, in abundance in Hampshire, parts of Sussex, and Dorset. Greensand is perhaps the most interesting soil type and is found primarily in Sussex. This oxidized and decomposed sandstone is intermixed with fossilized marine animals and provides an elegant lift to the wines. Clay is found throughout the Wealden hills in Kent and the warmth here, coupled with the clay, provide an ideal backdrop for red grape production. Even in Buckinghamshire, the home of Harrow & Hope, you find alluvial stones over gravelly sand that are unique to the region.
The finest English wines are yet to be made and we are honored to be a part of this groundbreaking story. We look forward to what the future holds.