particular priority during our trip to Kent was to visit a vineyard in its
infancy, so when the opportunity arose to see Woodchurch, we were delighted to
add them as the last stop on our tour. I must admit that although I had spotted
the vines falling away down the gentle slope to my right, I sailed past the
entrance on my first pass and had to perform a rather questionable 20 point
turn on a narrow country road to get back on track. There was no signage or
elaborate visitor centre, just a corrugated shed, a tractor, Graham Barbour,
and his vines – and you know, I quite like that.
Graham has always lived in Kent and leaving a
successful career in publishing in the City behind him, his ambition was to
produce wine that was completely representative of the county – a wine that
“tasted of Kent”, you might say. His wife Donna worked in the United States for
some time and was initially keen for them to move the family and set up a
vineyard over there, but thankfully they ultimately decided against the idea.
and Donna very much tend to the vineyard themselves so it seems that we visited
at exactly the right time of year – Graham’s favourite time of year, when the
pruning and tying is complete, everything is under control and all he has to do
is keep a keen eye out for late frost and wait for the buds to burst.
couple bought the South-facing plot at auction in 2009 planting the first
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier clones in 2010. As with many producers
that we speak to, Graham was clear that site selection was critical and their
meticulous preparation was immediately rewarded (as best as it might be…) by
their first harvest – the devastating wash-out of 2012.
On the crest of a hill, Woodchurch recorded a
significantly lower rainfall than even the Kent average and the younger, more
disease-resistant vines yielded 2,000 bottles each of the Blanc de Blancs and
Classic Cuvée, when many of the already established producers scrapped the
smaller harvest may have actually benefitted in the development side of the
business, as it allowed the Barbours time to experiment and really fine-tune
their product. For example, the keener-eyed of you may notice that not only are
the first harvest’s bottles individually numbered, but the original bottles
were green and subsequently changed to a darker glass from 2013 to better
protect the wine.
wine itself is vinified by Kevin Sutherland at Bluebell Vineyards, who was
chosen from a shortlist of contact producers because he offered the couple a
very direct connection to the winemaking process, which Graham quite rightly
felt was important. They gave Kevin a detailed brief of how they hoped the end
product would taste, from which Kevin produces 7-10 different base wines each
vintage. After much sampling and discussion, the final blend is decided upon
and after three vintages it seems they are much clearer and closer to achieving
the end goal. The other real attraction of working with Bluebell is rather more
technical - the number of fermentation tanks that were offered for the
production of the wine. Whilst other contractors offered just 4 or 5 tanks for
the contract, Kevin ferments each of the 12 clones of the 3 varietals
separately. This attention to detail really does pay dividends in the end
product and the wine has winning awards from the outset, not least recognition
from the IWSC and Decanter.
2013 the Rosé Brut was added to the portfolio following a much better vintage,
yielding around 6 times as many grapes as the previous year and producing
around 23,000 bottles in all. Some grapes were sold to recover start-up costs
and recoup some of the losses from 2012, but their brand was growing
successfully. The packaging was conceived by Donna and the end result is not
only striking, but beautiful and would certainly draw the eye on any major
In 2014 the Barbours hoped to add a still Pinot
Noir and Chardonnay to the portfolio, but the final result on the Chardonnay
was not entirely satisfactory so the wine “went back into the mix”. The Pinot
is still in barrel and I am extremely eager to try some once available – I’m
sure that Great British Wine will be reporting on it for you as soon as it is
released. Having tried some sublime still English Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
this year, we do hope that Woodchurch have made another attempt at the Chardonnay,
as their signature style would create a very interesting and exciting wine.
this year’s vintage goes to plan Graham aims to keep some of the wine back, so
it's with great anticipation we report that we may also be seeing a Non
Vintage Sparkling Wine from Woodchurch in the near future. They are also
planting their first Bacchus vines this year, with first harvest planned for
2018 and another still wine hitting the shelves in 2019. There are much grander
plans for the vineyard site in the near future too, with ambition to expand by
two or three fold and an interesting concept for a cellar door and tasting room
made from shipping containers was excitedly explained and drawn out in the air
by Graham, who told us that work should be well underway this Summer and
planned for completion by the end of this year, or early 2017.
leave you with a lovely sentiment from Graham about the English Wine world, who
he tells us is extremely close-knit and supportive – he firmly believes that he
and Donna couldn’t have got to where there are now without assistance and
advice from the wider English Wine community and is extremely grateful to
everyone along their journey. I can’t help but love the vision and simplicity
of the Woodchurch set-up as it is now but I sincerely wish them every success
in their future development, because the wines borne from their first few
vintages are truly excellent.
the challenging 2012 vintage forced their hand to only using Pinot Noir and
Pinot Meunier in their Classic Cuvée (technically a Blanc de Noirs?),
Woodchurch have more traditionally added Chardonnay to the blend for 2013.
is typical English vibrancy and freshness on the palate, but Donna’s insistence
on the Chardonnay receiving a lick of oak has really brought the best out of
the wine by adding a bit more texture, weight and all of those delicious
associated flavours that I personally adore.
fruit is certainly Kentish, with apples and pears at the fore, notes of summer
berries and melon and then a clean, citrus finish that just seems to keep
unfolding on the palate.
Woodchurch Blanc de Blancs, 2012
fact that this was my favourite of the three shows that perseverance was
justified in 2012. A higher dosage of 15.8g was needed to pin back the higher
acidity, but the fruit has certainly not been quelled by the additional sugar.
nose is distinctly of red apples, with lemon zest and white peach joining the
party on the palate. A touch of vanilla and brioche too, imparted by Donna’s
elegant bubbles and again, a clean, persistent finish. I found myself asking
Graham if he’d recommend this as an aperitif, but who am I kidding – it would
be equally brilliant before food, with food or even instead of food!
Woodchurch Rosé, 2013
Pinot Meunier & Pinot Noir
precise blend of 68% Pinot Noir and 32% Pinot Meunier produces this delicious
sparkling rosé. Whilst they all retain their Kentish heritage, the Woodchurch
wines each have their own unique character
palate is alive with vibrant red fruit. Wild strawberries, raspberries and
cranberries followed by watermelon and white pepper on the finish.
slight creaminess cuts through the freshness and the fine bubbles dance all of
the flavours across the tongue beautifully.