Has Corinne Seely created ‘an English Bollinger’ at Exton Park, asks Peter Ranscombe.
MOST English winemakers are faced with a simple choice.
Make a “vintage” wine labeled with the year in which all the grapes were harvested.
Or create a “non-vintage” blend by mixing a small amount of previous years’ wines – “reserve” wines – into this year’s offering.
At Exton Park in Hampshire, Corinne Seely has chosen to do something different.
In her warren-like cellar, she’s been storing a library of liquid stretching back ten years to when she made her first wines on the site.
Today, she unveiled her “reserve blend” range, accompanied by Jaguar-esque luxury branding.
Instead of using the current vintage as her base wine and then blending in small amounts from previous years, she’s flipping the equation on its head.
Her reserve blends use only a small amount of the current year’s wine and instead focus on liquids mixed together from her winery library.
For example, she’s just finished blending her 2020 blanc de noirs, which she’s decided will feature 8% pinot noir from 2020, with the remaining 92% coming from her library.
‘An English Bollinger’
It’s a really interesting departure for an English winery, and has been made possible by each parcel of grapes from the 60-acre vineyard being stored as a separate wine.
Most producers south of the Border need to make and sell a vintage wine each year in order to bring cash into their business.
It mirrors the situation faced by most new whisky distilleries – they either need to make and sell gin or vodka to get cash flowing, or they must release “new make spirit” or very, very young whiskies while they wait for the main stock to mature.
Seely has been able to forge her own path thanks to the backing of Exton Park’s owner, Malcolm Issac, who made his fortune by selling watercress and pre-packed salads to supermarkets.
With less financial pressure to get her sparkling wines out the door as soon as possible, Seely has been able to create something remarkable.
That doesn’t mean it’s a vanity project by any means.
The success of the big Champagne brands in Seely’s native France is consistency; you pick a bottle of Moët & Chandon off a shelf and you know what it’s going to taste like, time after time after time.
Seely has a different comparison in mind though: “I want Exton Park to be like an English Bollinger,” she said during this afternoon’s virtual tasting.
“I want our wine to taste the same, so people recognise the quality and the taste.”
The taste test
Has she hit that mark?
Her Exton Park RB 23 Rosé (RRP £39, Selfridges from Monday) is really remarkable, and definitely has more richness and intensity, with the “23” denoting roughly how many wines went into the blend.
It’s made from 70% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier, and has nine grams of residual sugar per litre, fewer than the ten grams in the brut.
On the nose, there’s a complex mix of savoury raspberry leaf, clean sheets, strawberry jam, and even a tangerine tone.
On the palate, the fruit is fresher – centring around raspberry, apricot, and lemon curd – and the acidity is still crackling; it’ll be fascinating to see how these reserve blends age further in the bottle.
For me, the Exton Park RB 32 Brut (£39, Selfridges) and the Exton Park RB 28 Blanc de Noirs (£43, Selfridges) both feel more like evolution than revolution.
Both still display the label’s delicious chalky texture, both still have England’s distinctive acidity; the brut has a lick of salted butter amid its lemon juice flavours, while the blanc de noirs screams golden delicious apples and a toastier note.
Is this a pattern other English wineries could follow? If they have a backer with similarly deep pockets who’s prepare to wait for the return on their investment then it could well be the third way, where taste and business combine.