Well, viniculture is one enduring legacy all bon vivants should be thanking the Romans for. They had vineyards as far north as Lincolnshire but by the 19th century production had almost died out mostly due to pests.
Thankfully with the huge demand in the UK for locally sourced products and the increasing interest in food and drink from small producers, the English wine industry has been well and truly resurrected in the 21st century.
As a whole the UK’s wine industry has upped its game in recent years and has continued to make its mark in international rankings as customers are increasingly realising the high quality of the wine produced in the UK. As a result of this demand a greater number of producers are flocking to the market.
One such producer is Exton Park which is a relatively new vineyard, set on the slopes of the wide rolling chalklands in the Meon Valley. It was first planted in 2003.
At first, just 12 acres were planted with the classic Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which was a natural decision as the ‘terroir’ precisely mirrors the famous Champagne vineyards only eighty miles away across the Channel and with a similar cool, northerly climate.
In 2009, shortly after the second site was planted, the vineyard was bought by local farmer and businessman, Malcolm Isaac. He was familiar with the benefits of the special ‘terroir’ in this area as he had built up the hugely successful company, Vitacress which had supplied the major supermarkets with bagged watercress and salads.
In 2007 he had sold Vitacress to the Portuguese conglomerate, Grupo RAR leaving him with up to £40 million to invest in new ventures, and he realised the potential for a properly funded, professional wine making operation.
Malcolm Isaac has a special understanding and knowledge of this entire area having acquired the Warnford Estate, which in addition to the farming operation, also offered some of the finest shooting in Hampshire. This is now run on a commercial basis. Fortunately, both the shoot and the farming activities run quite happily side by side, and now Exton Park Vineyard has become part of his enlarged estate.
The result of three careful plantings on different sites and terroirs over the last ten years, Exton Park is now one of the largest vineyards, at 55 acres, in the county. All the wines produced by Exton Park come from this one single property.
Initially in 2009, all the grapes were sold to nearby Coates and Seely, whilst the new plantation was maturing. However, two years later, Malcolm decided he wanted to make his own wine, with the ambition to produce the best sparkling wine in the country. He already had the knowledge of dealing with the largest supermarkets, and numerous other retail outlets and had made Vitacress a household name – so what he had done for watercress he could do for grapes!
Malcolm Isaac could afford to invest in the finest new technologies and equipment for a new winery at Exton Park. He purchased two Bucher presses which allowed for the harvest to be brought in as fast as possible in the uncertain English weather, and also to enable both Rosé and white wines to be made at the same time.
He also contracted French-born Corinne Seely, as his winemaker. Corinne, who had previously made the Coates and Seely wines, was able to design the winery needed for this particular task, including unusually small tanks so that each plot could be vinified separately.
She also worked closely with Fred Langdale, the vineyard manager, to develop what was the largest planting at Exton, on a 25 acre site at the foot of the chalk slopes. This parcel is now maturing well, ready for the 2015 harvest.
The latest addition to the property is a unique and eco-friendly cool cellar room, with solar panels providing the power for the temperature control – all part of Malcolm Isaac’s commitment to the environment.
Now, with the full vineyard coming to maturity, Exton Park produces non-vintage Brut Reserve, Rosé and Blanc de Noirs sparkling wines, with Vintages only released in exceptional years – like the 2011s just on the market. There are also plans in the pipeline for some more single varietal sparkling wines. Exton Park will one of be of the first Hampshire vineyards to do so, thanks to the size of the vineyard, and the careful plantings according to aspect and vine characteristics.
Fortunately this year the conditions for the grapes have been near perfect, with good weather during the flowering period in May, a dryish summer although not that warm, and finally the so often promised and eagerly anticipated ‘Indian Summer’ actually happened in September, and all these elements have contributed to the promise of an ‘outstanding vintage’ for 2015.
So we look forward to more award winning wines from Exton Park Estate, especially as they are only 5 minutes drive from our house!
For stockists and wine sales visit the website www.extonparkwines.com’
Exton Park’s Award Winning Wines:
Exton Park Brut – rrp £26.95 (2015 Decanter World Wine Awards Silver & international Wine Awards Bronze)
An elegant expression of Exton Park’s unique chalky terroir. Made from a blend of 60 % Blanc de Pinot Noir and 40 % of Chardonnay wines from several years, this is a refreshing wine that can not only be served as an aperitif but also matched to salmon, white meat, and even a raspberry cake.
‘In colour, the crystal clear gold colour tends almost to the green. Its fresh attractive nose is generous, with a lemon character and note of passion fruit. A lovely minerality in the mouth indicates a good, balanced structure, with an intense backbone and very long finish with some white pepper notes.’
Corinne Seely, winemaker
Exton Park Blanc de Noirs – rrp £29.95 (2015 International Wine Challenge Silver & Decanter World Wine Awards Bronze
Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, of which 15 % are from the young recently planted vines, and the rest from the more mature vines of earlier plantings.
This is a wine for gourmets, with rich rounded fruit, and lovely with nuts as an aperitif, or with fresh or smoked trout, and fine charcuterie like Lomo or Bresaola.
‘The colour is reminiscent of the pale golden wheat moving in the wind during the summer. The nose is open, with a slight note of brioche and a touch of lime tree flowers, while the wine is round and generous in the mouth. The long finish is delicately spicy with a hint of nutmeg’.
Corinne Seely winemaker
Exton Park Rosé NV – rrp £29.95 (2015 Decanter World Wine Awards Silver)
A sparkling pale pink, delicate yet with a surprising depth of fruit, this wine is made by very slow direct pressing 70 % of Pinot Noir and 30 % Pinot Meunier from the mature and older vines .
Full of character, this is an ideal aperitif or ‘celebration’ drink, but also good with chicken, shellfish or light meats – as well as classic summer fruit desserts.
‘The wine displays its delicate pink colour like roses in a garden when the new buds are blossoming. After an open and enticing nose of strawberry liquorice, the wine reveals rich fruit characters in the mouth, including white peach and the rich plum flavours of the Pinot Noir. This well balanced Rosé is the perfect example of the complexity of the Exton Park vineyard.’
Corinne Seely, winemaker
Exton Park Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2011 – rrp £39.95
(available in a presentation box)
The first Vintage wine to be released (September 2015), this is 100% Chardonnay from the pure chalk terroir from the top of the hill – the oldest plot in the vineyard – made in a particularly good year. A fine example of what can be achieved from this very special site. Just 2500 bottles were made in total, so the quantity will be limited – perfect as a valued Christmas gift.
‘A luminous gold, reminiscent of wheat ripe for harvest, with a nose of toffee, brioche and mandarin notes and a stone flint backbone. In the mouth, the wine has a creamy, almond flavour with a hint of lemon zest and clean minerality, combining complexity, balance and length. A wine to be savoured….’
Corinne Seely, winemaker
Exton Park Rosé Vintage 2011 – rrp £59.95
(available in a stylish presentation box)
Just released, this is a rare wine only available in extremely limited quantities, and destined for fine dining and wine connoisseurs. Delicate pink in colour, and made mainly from Pinot Meunier from the older sites in the vineyard, the complexity has been achieved by the uniquely slow pressing of the grapes.
‘The enticing salmon pink colour has almost a gold or copper hue. On the toasted hazelnut nose there are also surprising notes of passionfruit, maple and even sweet nectar. As it has aged, the wine has developed a full palette of spices. With remarkably fine bubbles, the wine is well balanced and full of flavour, with berry fruits combined with a creamy delicacy, concluding in a smooth, harmonious finish’
Corinne Seely, winemaker
Exton Park’s Winning Team
Malcolm Isaac – owner of Exton Park Vineyards
Local businessman and countryman Malcolm Isaac bought Exton Park in 2009, having just sold Vitacress – a company he had created initially to supply watercress to supermarkets, and which he then developed into Europe’s leading producer of fresh bagged salads and cress to multiple retailers.
A man with drive and vision, he knew that the local chalk uplands of the Meon Valley were very special indeed. Exton Park could realise his ambition to produce some of the very best sparkling wine in England. And thus he invested – not only in the land, but also in the winery, cellar rooms and the team.
‘We can only make good wine from good grapes’, he explains. ‘So we will invest whatever is necessary to achieve this. We intend to have all the facilities we need on this wonderful site to make market and promote our wines. Plans are already in hand for the next stage……’
Corinne Seely, Wine Maker
Corinne Seely was born in France, and took a Masters degree in mineral chemistry and soil formation at the P&M Curie University in Paris. To complete her wine education, she then qualified as an oenologist at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux.
At 24, she became one of the few Frenchwomen to break into this male-dominated world, and joined the team making the first white wine at Chateau Lynch Bages. After that, for the next four years, she was the winemaker at Domaine de Chevalier, one of the great white wine chateaux in Bordeaux.
Since then, Corinne’s career as a freelance consultant has taken her to Australia, the Languedoc and – following her marriage to Christian Seely – the Douro, where she made the first table wines at Quinta da Romaneira, Recently, her winemaking career has focused on England with the launch of Coates and Seely – and now at Exton Park, where her skill and dedication to producing elegant sparkling wines with character and finesse is very evident.
‘Thanks to my training and experience, I have a real passion for terroir, and how to express its true potential. I believe that we have something extremely special at Exton Park – and the team and equipment to realise our ambition to make the very best wines we can’ she says.
Fred Langdale – vineyard manager
Fred first worked with vines in 2001 at Peregrine Valley, Central Otago, New Zealand, and on returning to the UK, studied viticulture at Plumpton College, while at the same time working for Davenport vineyards, learning to understand organic viticulture.
In the summer of 2005 he had the opportunity to work for a year in South Africa at Le Avenir, a 55 hectare vineyard in Stellenbosch. On his return, he decided to concentrate on cool climate sparkling wine-growing, and supervised one of Nyetimber’s 32 hectare plots. In 2008 he moved to Exton Park and has been managing the vineyard ever since, supervising the last two plantings, and assessing the success of different rootstocks on various terroirs and varieties. He has been instrumental in developing the 55acre Exton Park vineyard as it is today.
‘The vineyard speaks for itself – it’s a viticulturist’s dream’ he says. I find it fascinating, and rewarding, to have such a range of different sites and terroirs all in one vineyard, and all with a unique character. With Malcolm’s support and investment, we are able to experiment and develop the very best from each parcel of vines. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever worked in’.
Robert Jarman has spent a lifetime studying and commenting on the habits and habitats of that endangered species, the British Aristocracy, including their house, art collections, sports and pastimes.
He was a part-owner and Managing Director of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, which he acquired and rescued from extinction, and built into a major publishing company with subsidiaries in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.A.
He also conceived and created an important contemporary reference book called, ‘People of Today’ which is the ultimate study of the UK’s most successful and influential people.
He is therefore well-qualified to publish The Vintage Magazine, an on-line publication aimed at, but not limited to, affluent and active, over 50s who number over 21 million in the UK, and control 80% of the wealth of the country.