What a back story to Rebecca Hansford and Ian Edwards’s journey into the wine industry! As former actuaries, owning and running a vineyard in, arguably, one of the most beautiful parts of England is the stuff dreams are made of, right? But the dream gets sweeter as Rebecca grew up on the family dairy farm at Furleigh. I guess dairy farming on an 80-acre scale became untenable at some point and the farm had to be sold. After successful London-based actuary careers, courageously, as at that time the English sparkling wine industry was in its relative infancy, they bought back the farm and planted vines. Convinced by their thorough research, they had a clear view of producing quality English sparkling wine and, with laser-guided precision, planted 22,000 carefully-chosen vines. The classic Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – were chosen to be planted on the sunny, south-facing, free-draining, sandy-loam slopes.
Not only is their experience as actuaries apparent in their fastidious planning but also in their approach to managing the vineyards and making the wine. Recent awards for the Classic Cuvée, judging it to be the ‘most outstanding UK sparkling wine’ and Ian becoming UK winemaker of the year, are testament to this.
I helped harvest some tasty Pinot Noir grapes on a gloriously sunny early October morning. In most years it is a little less sunny and warm and the rainfall is more frequent, making organic viticulture almost impossible. However, a non-interventionist approach informs the winemaking with no adulteration during outstanding harvests, such as 2018.
Once our hand-harvested grapes arrived in the winery they are very gently, whole-bunch pressed. Innovation came into play too, as for the first time ever some grapes were foot stomped and our party got to immerse their feet in their own rich pickings. Such was the high from the foot pressing team that they suggested ‘treading’ could become a therapeutic foot treatment for the ladies and gentlemen of London. You heard of it here first folks.
The wines are made in the prolonged and labour-intensive traditional method, as practiced in Champagne, and remain on their lees for over two years before bottling and release. This allows a more rounded and balanced flavour to develop and a small proportion of reserve wine, which is from older vintages and adds complexity, is blended into the carefully assembled final wines. As most of the wine is from a single vintage, it is dated accordingly and very much reflects the climatic conditions of that year. Ian rated the current release of the Classic Cuvée, the 2014, as another exceptional year. Rebecca suggested trying it with the local fresh fish and chips or a creamy seafood gratin, but I loved it with sea bass with sizzled ginger, chilli & spring onions, which I cooked the next day.
After a 15-hour shift by all the winery team, followed by a wholesome and hearty harvest supper I imagine sweet dreams were indeed had by all.