- Image: Ben Radley

We joined the 2021 harvest at Louis Pommery's vineyard, in Hampshire

Having a grape time among the vines at Pinglestone Estate

6w ago

It’s likely most of you will have heard of Pommery Champagne, but did you also know the famous Champagne house is the first to release an English sparkling wine?

Last week we headed to Louis Pommery England’s home at Pinglestone Estate (it even sounds like an English vineyard!) in Hampshire to take part in the 2021 harvest, and find out more about the exciting upcoming plans for this special vineyard.

The fascinating history of Pommery Champagne

Ok, this one is in France. The home of Pommery.

Ok, this one is in France. The home of Pommery.

First up, a little history. The Pommery Champagne house was founded in Reims by Alexander Pommery and Narcisse Greno in 1858. However, just a short while later, Alexander Pommery died. Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Mélin, aka Madame Pommery, took over the Pommery business. She set to it, sold off the struggling wool business, and concentrated on the Champagne side of things. Sensible lady.

As part of her plans, she purchased lots of limestone and chalk pits carved underneath Reims by Roman soldiers in which to store the wine in a temperature-controlled environment, and commissioned a local sculptor to decorate the pits with a large bas-relief of Bacchus, and various busts. The pits are also filled with large city signs, which she used to highlight the new markets she’d sold Champagne to, and helped to sort the various orders by region.

Image: Ben Radley

Image: Ben Radley

Perhaps most importantly, Madame Pommery is credited with creating the first ever ‘brut’ Champagne, with no added sugar, in 1874. Before that, Champagne had been a sweet drink, and her decision changed everything.

She died 45 years after taking over the business, and in that time increased Pommery sales from 20,000 bottles a year, to 2,000,000 bottles a year. She set up the first pension fund, and a social security system for her employees, as well as opening an orphanage in Reims and its maternity fund. What a fabulous and pioneering woman.

But back to today, and back to England

Clément Pierlot is the current Pommery Chef de Cave (Cellar Master). He took over the position in 2017, and works in France, as well as across Vranken-Pommery group’s international ventures.

Image: Ben Radley

Image: Ben Radley

We were welcome by Clément and headed out to explore the Louis Pommery England vineyard in Hampshire. Planting started at Pinglestone Estate in 2017. It’s a 40-hectare site, with 14 acres ready for production this year, and 16 acres that should be ready next year. Apparently in the Champagne region, you don’t usually harvest grapes during the fourth year, so it’s great they’re able to harvest some, in what is the fourth year, in Hampshire. There’s also another 10 acre site, Lovington, which will be planted next year. The main focus is on Chardonnay, with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (aka the three Champagne grapes). There’s also a little Pinot Gris, just because.

Walking around, we were told Pommery UK is trying to be as organic as possible, with no herbicides used and a big focus on biodiversity. Some of the land has also been left and planted with apple and other fruit trees. The vineyard has been certified as part of the WineGB Sustainable Wines of Great Britain programme.

Vineyard manager, James Bowerman talked us through the site and the grapes. He said the ground has some top soil (about 20-30cm), and then it’s straight into Seaford chalk, meaning it dries out within 24-48 hours of rain. This is really helpful for the vines, and especially helpful with how rubbish the weather has been this year.

This year is set to be the vineyard’s first significant harvest. The wine up until now has been made in partnership with Hattingley Valley up the road, who have helped with sourcing fruit and winemaking. Pommery brought out its first brut in 2018, but it’ll be a few years yet (depending on who wins between the winemakers and the sales team) before bottles made solely with grapes from Pinglestone Estate will be on the market. After all, English Sparkling Wine is made using the Traditional Method, which is not a quick process.

And then it was onto work, and a bit of grape harvesting. We’ve visited a lot of vineyards over the years, but never got involved in picking grapes. It was a fun half an hour, although we’re under no illusion we were rubbish compared with the pros. In the time it took us to pick one side of half a row, the pros had cleared a full row on both sides. However, we did pick an entire bucket, piled high, so felt we’d at least earned our lunch… maybe. We’re not sure the amount we picked between the group would be enough for a special limited-edition release of um, a couple of bottles(?), but watch this space. You never know.

Harvest lunch in Pinglestone barn

After working up a serious appetite, we headed to the Pinglestone Barn, apparently one of the oldest in England, to enjoy some Louis Pommery England brut 2017, alongside a three course lunch cooked by local tapas restaurant, Pulpo Negro.

It was quite a surprising mix of bold flavours to pair with sparkling wine, but the Louis Pommery England stood up to all of them. We started with an Autumnal salad, with pear, walnuts and blue cheese. The main course was slow cooked pork cheek with apricots and a bean puree, and dessert was a lockdown favourite – burnt Basque cheesecake.

Image: Ben Radley

Image: Ben Radley

The 2017 wine is made up of 10% reserve wine. 50% Chardonnay. 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. There are around 20,000 bottles available, but the plan is to double this to 40,000 for the 2018 release onwards. And you’re really going to want to get your hands on a bottle or two. It’s delicious. The nose is full of apples, pears, white peach, citrus and some pastry notes. On the palate it’s got more of that citrus, mixed with some flinty minerality. Then a really long finish with yet more citrus. It’s really well balanced, and fabulously moreish.

It’ll be very interesting to see where Louis Pommery England goes next. There are plans for an on-site winery, we mentioned it would be the perfect place for weddings if they wanted to go down that route, and there are eventual plans for a visitor centre too. It’s a gorgeous part of the world and we did almost manage to forget we weren’t frolicking around somewhere outside Reims.

Louis Pommery may have won the race to get out the first English sparkling wine from a French Champagne house, but Taittinger is close behind, and it’ll be very interesting to see if any others take the plunge and join the English sparkling party over the coming years.

Have you tried any English sparkling wine?

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Comments (3)

  • This desperately makes me want a vineyard

      1 month ago
  • Yes, we have tried Louis Pommery England. It often features in QANTAS Wine Club and we are buying it every time it comes up. But I would also like to say what a great article, covering great wine and great lady behind it! Thank you. History of Pommery is quite typical for many Champagne houses, i.e. getting out of wool and into wine making. My wife and I are sooo envious seeing you picking grapes 🍇. Last year, while Melbourne was in extended lockdown, we were invited to grape picking in Vosne Romanee!

      1 month ago
  • You can't wine about an experience like that...

      1 month ago