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A multi-million investment
Hush Heath’s new winery in Kent, which I visited yesterday on open day, is a model of its kind and is telling us a lot about the direction of viticulture in this country. To make top sparkling wine in England you need vision, deep pockets and a top winemaker. Richard Balfour-Lynn, proprietor of Hush Heath, has all of these as witness his spanking new multi-million winery and visitor centre which has only been open a few days. Some years ago he said it would be a few years before he made a profit and it still looks like at least that. He is clearly in for the long term.
It is the most impressive “vineyard experience“ that I have come across complete with a large decked terrace surrounding it and a 200 seater tasting room inside with a plate of fine snacks at lunchtime at £20 for two – and self-guided vineyard tours to work it all off. The size of its facilities is second only to Denbies in Surrey which is still Britain’s largest single estate vineyard.
The outside decked terrace
Hush Heath intends to stay as a”boutique” with an eventual target of 500,000 bottles a year from its 130 acres and has no current ambition to join the million bottles a year vineyards such as Chapel Down, Rathfinny and Nyetimber (which may even hit that target this year).
Everyone I spoke to at the open day thoroughly enjoyed it despite a persistent drizzle.
Hush Heath has won a ton of top awards, and is unquestionably a premium producer (though you can buy its sparkling wines in selected supermarkets at around £20 a bottle). A tasting of Balfour Blanc de Blanc was absolutely delicious though at £45 a bottle I guess it ought to be. Leslie’s Reserve was very palatable at £28 and I was also impressed with their still Pinot Noir though at £22 a bottle it has drifted upwards from the last time I bought it (the 2014 vintage at £13.50 discounted from £18) on the recommendation of Fiona Beckett in the Guardian. But as they have no problem selling it, who am I to complain?
For reasons I don’t fully understand I am not a huge fan of sparkling rosé but lots of others are and Balfour’s brut rosé 2014 at £38 has been garlanded with some very impressive awards.
I couldn’t resist trying their Bacchus 2017. This is a cross of Riesling and Muller-Thurgau grapes and has become the default English still white wine. It was enjoyable but at £19 a pop it is a lot more expensive than the £10.50 a bottle charged by New Hall which actually pioneered this German variety in the UK. But New Hall is in Essex and Balfour in trendy Kent. What was that about branding?
None of this should deter anyone from visiting Hush Heath for a lovely vineyard experience and fine wines in an idyllic setting on a Tudor estate stretching back to 1503. This could become a major visitor attraction and help the estate towards its goal of selling 25% of its bottles from the cellar door thereby saving hugely in distribution costs plus wholesale and retail profit margins. I wish it well. It is living proof that Britain’s sparkling winemakers are ready to take on the world.