It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and the Hattingley Valley English sparkling wines in December’s Bubble Box are perfect for fizzing up your festive season.
Come Christmas morning, fizz lovers across the nation will be reaching for a bottle of bubbly to sip while they relax with their loved ones.
But when Bubble Clubbers curl up beside the Christmas tree, they’ll have something extra special to open: the beautiful Hattingley Valley sparkling wines in December’s Bubble Box.
These wines – lovingly crafted by a family-run winery in beautiful rural Hampshire – are part of a new wave of English fizzes taking the world of sparkling wine by storm. One sip and you’ll see why this is the best festive fizz you could possibly uncork.
So what’s the story behind this month’s English bubbly? Strangely enough, it all started with Radio 4.
It’s a well-known phrase: inspiration strikes when you least expect it.
For Simon Robinson, who would go on to build Hattingley Valley, it holds particularly true. He was at work in the City one day when he turned on a radio programme about the bright future of English wine, and couldn’t help but wonder: why not get in on the action?
The show’s presenter wasn’t the only one excited by the future of British bubbles. Thanks on one hand to global changes in climate, and on the other to the ancient land mass that once formed both Britain and France, things have been looking up for English wine for quite a long time.
As Emma Rice, head winemaker for Hattingley Valley, explains: “For the past 30 years the average temperature has been climbing in the UK, and it’s now almost a degree higher than it used to be. Plus, the soil is excellent for grape growing, due to being situated on the chalk downlands – just like the Champagne region of France.”
While many would dream for a moment about a new life and leave it at that, for Simon the idea stuck. So he did what any aspiring winemaker would do: locate a plot of land – in this case a beautiful slice of rural Hampshire – and have it tested rigorously.
“The in-depth feasibility studies confirmed that the English climate, combined with Hampshire’s incredible soil, would be most suited to producing sparkling wines,” Emma says. Thus, Simon’s sights were set firmly on fizz.
By 2008, Simon’s mad idea was looking like a solid bet. Aiming to produce the best bubbly possible, that year he planted the three classic Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. All went according to plan, and in 2013, Simon and his team finally got to sample the fruits of their hard work.
Turning a chicken yard into a fully functioning winery wasn’t simple, Simon says, but “having expert advice and guidance along the way was a great relief. And it was extremely rewarding to taste the first wines after all of the hard work and dedication that were put into Hattingley Valley.”
So far, the experts who predicted the rise of English sparkling wine haven’t been wrong – especially where Hattingley Valley is concerned. This vineyard, like English bubbly itself, has been going from strength to strength.
These days, Hattingley Valley covers more than 60 acres across two plots of land, both just a short drive from Winchester, the ancient Roman capital of England.
Following the success of their first vintage, the team have planted even more grape varieties – including Bacchus, a white grape created when viticulturists crossed two of Germany’s signature varieties. Half Silvaner and half Riesling, this grape retains much of its acidity in England’s cold climate, and is known for producing character-rich wines described by experts as ‘exuberant’.
In their quest to make amazing wines, the Hattingley Valley team invested time, thought and energy into their infrastructure. In 2010 they completed construction on a custom-built, eco-friendly winery.
The first in Europe to adopt solar power, the Hattingley Valley winery is equipped to the highest standard with the latest winemaking technology and equipment, along with a sophisticated waste-disposal system. All of this is just part of the winery’s commitment to protecting the English countryside that they love so much.
“In addition, all the spray programmes that operate in the vineyard are developed to be as green as possible,” Emma says. “At Hattingley it’s important for us to be as eco-friendly as possible, given the challenges of the English climate.”
This commitment is stamped all over Hattingley Valley’s bottles. The beautiful silver butterfly embossed on the label is a Silver-washed Fritillary, a rare butterfly that almost disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s. But these days, they can be spotted on the Hattingley Valley vineyard.
“The presence of this pretty butterfly indicates that the vineyard is a healthy environment, with rich biodiversity,” Simon explains.
Putting eco-friendly operations at the top of their priorities list isn’t the only way that Hattingley Valley has been investing in the future of the UK. Their team of winemakers is young, innovative and always happy to experiment. From an eau de vie to sparkling red offerings, this team’s willingness to explore and experiment is helping the infant English wine industry to develop.
This yen for experimentation – not to mention the talent of Hattingley Valley’s winemaking team, headed up by Emma Rice and Jacob Leadley – is on full display in winery’s incredible range; including, of course, the two brilliant bottles in December’s Bubble Box.
Classic and Courageous
Both of the wines in this month’s Bubble Box this month are incredibly special to the team at Hattingley Valley, albeit for very different reasons.
The Classic Cuvée, the first style ever produced at Hattingley Valley, is the very definition of this unique winery’s style.
As Simon explains, “A key element of our style is the subtle use of oak barrels to ferment a small proportion of the wines each year, as well as ageing on the lees in stainless steel tanks. This helps to soften the wines before they go into the bottles for their second fermentation.”
The White Admiral, on the other hand, is a brand new release for this constantly innovating vineyard. Composed of 76% Bacchus grapes – the flavourful hybrid of Riesling and Silvaner – it’s truly unique.
“It’s the first of its kind,” says Emma. “It offers wonderfully aromatic flavours for a sparkling wine, which is often much crisper.”
While the Classic Cuvée is perfectly paired with canapés, particularly a quiche or flan made with Lyburn Old Winchester Cheese, the White Admiral is best served nice and chilled. “This wine is perfect for unwinding and relaxing with friends.”
But whichever you choose to drink first, take pride in sipping a home-grown wine from a hugely respected sparkling wine region this Christmas – these wines are truly the best of English bubbly!