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New English vineyard launches first sparkling wine

This month sees the launch of Ambriel, a new English sparkling wine from a vineyard planted just five years ago. Felicity Murray talks to the founders

Charles and Wendy Outhwaite Redfold Vineyards

In April 2008, husband and wife team, Charles and Wendy Outhwaite planted 9.5 hectares of vines on south-facing greensand slopes overlooking West Sussex’s South Downs.

Planted with the traditional champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the vineyard has now produced three consecutive vintages. It is managed to the highest standard in sympathy with both nature and the demands of the weather. Spraying is kept to a minimum and much of the work (pruning, green harvesting, de-leafing and harvesting) is done by hand.

“With the help of our South African winemaker, Kobus Louw, we strive to produce wines that encapsulate the particular characteristics of the Sussex soil and climate,” explains Wendy Outhwaite.

“West Sussex has a semi-continental climate rather like that famous French growing area about 80 miles to the southeast, which is perfect for great sparkling wine grapes. The cooler climate allows the grapes to retain the requisite acidity to form the backbone of an outstanding sparkling wine. We selected slower ripening Burgundian clones of varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier because, although lower- yielding, they produce grapes of a dramatically higher quality.

“Our grapes are cosseted: we expose them to the sunlight by removing by hand the leaves around them to minimise shade and maximise ripening. At harvest, each bunch is picked by hand, and handled like lightbulbs to reduce the risk of damage. And as harvest approaches, we monitor the grapes daily for sugars, acidity and phenolic ripeness to ensure that we identify when the grapes reach their peak. When they are ready to go – we go.

“We are proud of the purity of fruit, the crisp acidity, and the creamy finesse of our wines.sparkling wine is our passion."

Charles and Wendy are involved in every aspect of the creation of their wines.

“You can find us the vineyard, pruning in the depths of winter, cleaning out the press at midnight in late October and, of course, tasting, tasting, tasting.

“Each year we make a Classic Cuvée blended from all three grape varieties. We love to experiment in the relentless pursuit of quality and ceaselessly strive for excellence. Our winemaker uses different yeasts to accentuate particular flavour characteristics and we may use oak barrels from Burgundy to mature some of our wine to give added complexity to the final blend.

"Once blended, our wines go through secondary fermentation in their individual bottles to produce their sparkling character. They are then stored in temperature-controlled conditions and left undisturbed to evolve. The wine rests on its lees and evolves by integrating and gathering the toasty, yeasty flavours and aromas associated with great sparkling wines. We only release the wines when we think they are ready, reflecting the optimum balance between fruit, acidity and age. This takes time and patience, but we think it is worth the wait.

“We are proud to be producing a wine at a time when those in the know follow their palate, not their prejudices. Without sounding too John Bull-ish, our wines are unapologetically English – not sham-pagne – and they taste divine!”

Pictured above: Charles and Wendy in the winery with winemaker Kobus Louwe. Ambriel sparking wine sporting a clean purple and silver livery, which Wendy says was inspired by a nail polish colour and, below, Charles and Wendy in the vineyard


18 July 2013