Exton Park

Published by Sally on July 21, 2015

Looking just south of west to Old Winchester Hill

Looking just south of west to Old Winchester Hill

Exton Park vineyards are just half an hour east of Winchester in the Meon Valley, on the opposite side of Old Winchester Hill to Meonhill Vineyard (now owned by Hambledon Vineyard).

Some of the vines have a decent bit of maturity for what is effectively a new English sparkling wine onto the market. Four and a half hectares were planted in 2003; the same again in 2008. The fruit was sold to a near neighbour rather than wine being made under an Exton Park label.

A change of ownership and vision arrived in 2009, when Malcolm Isaac bought the estate and started a new tranche of investment and planting – 2.5 ha in 2010, a wee bit more added in 2011, and a near-doubling of vineyard area in 2013, with 10ha planted, bringing the total to 22ha.

A new winery was completed in 2011.

Having put his money where his mouth is, right from the start Isaac created an unequivocal brief for his team “to make the best sparkling wine in England”. He didn’t tell me how long his team has to achieve such a thing, or indeed, how he might judge such success. But, to my palate (see tasting notes below), they’ve made a pretty smart start.

It helps having Corinne Seely as the consultant winemaker, who came with the new winery, having briefed its fixtures and fittings. She cut her English sparkling wine teeth at Coates and Seely, the ‘home’ vineyards for which are about half an hour north of Winchester. Indeed it was to Coates and Seely that Exton Park used to supply their fruit.  But Corinne Seely has vast global expertise, including at Domaine de Chevalier in Bordeaux, Australia, the Languedoc and the Douro valley. And Exton Park is now her only English client.

It’s long been known that England’s chalk downlands are of a similar geological make up to the chalk vineyards of France’s Champagne. But rainfall in England is a typically a bit higher. Vineyard manager Fred Langdale said “humidity is the main problem. Air flow is important” to counter the humidity, so vine density is lower than you’d find in Champagne. Also Langdale keeps the soil bare, mostly by mechanical under-vine hoeing “because grass acts like Velcro to frost” whereas frost “slips off the hill” where the soil is bare.

Pretty chalky

Pretty chalky

Langdale praised the “pure chalk” of his South Downs vineyards. Seely said of it “the chalkier vineyards give more minerality”. She expanded “think on the tongue, a bit lemony, pure, straight, a line, not related to acidity”, then added “I’ve never tasted chardonnay like the pure chardonnay here”. Clearly the predominance of chalk soil is somehow important for the wine.

Fairly unusually in the sparkling world of England, the estate concept has been adopted at Exton Park – that is, only fruit grown on the property’s own vineyard goes into the wine. No bought-in fruit is used.

Also unusually in England, though as the years progress this may change, Exton Park uses a substantial portion of reserve wine. Seely said “it can be difficult to make a vintage every year in England, so to have the same quality in the bottle every year, we have about a third of reserve wine” in the NV blend. Reserve wines allow the winemaker to balance wide vintage variation in a NV blend to ensure consistency of flavour. Those at Exton Park are kept both in vat and barrel.

Visit is by appointment only. In due course there will be plans to create some sort of tasting space.

Wine tasting, in situ, May 2015

Exton Park, Brut NV, ~£25
40% chardonnay, 60% pinot noir. 7g/l RS; 17 months on lees; 11.5%
Rich, with toasted nuts on nose. Chalky (by association?) and fresh, hawthorn, with fresh/savoury acidity and steely finish on the back palate; richly flavoured, with citrus, baked lemon, spiced with aromatic notes. Long finish.

Exton Park, Blanc de Noirs NV, ~£28
100% pinot noir, 9g/l RS;
Spiced nose, hedgerow and briar. Fresh, linear attack with power of flavour in the core. Hints of strawberry and black pepper, with long, rich nutty, bready finish.

Exton Park, Rosé NV, ~£26
70% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier
Delicate rose petal, soft pink colour. Direct primary fruit, bright young fresh strawberries, too easy to drink. Delicate yet still with steely brightness and soft summer fruits. Moreish.

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