Simpsons Wine: Why do Bacchus when we can make great Chardonnay in England?

Flying the flag for English still wine ahead of the launch of her first Kentish fizz at the end of the year, co-owner of Simpsons Wine, Ruth Simpson, believes that Chardonnay should not be overlooked.

Having produced two vintages of still Chardonnay at the Kent-based winery, Simpson believes the grape variety has great potential in England.

“Demand for English still wine is definitely growing. There’s a lot of talk about Bacchus at the moment, but we thought why produce a Bacchus when we can make great Chardonnay in this country, especially as we’ve already planted it for our sparkling wines,” she said.

With a vineyard planted with clone 548 Chardonnay, the estate produced 600 bottles of its Roman Road Chardonnay in 2016 and 1,800 in 2017 – this in spite of losing 60% of its crop due to the frost last year.

Ruth and Charles Simpson.

The Chardonnay undergoes full malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks before 30% of it is aged in second-use French oak barrels shipped over from the Simpsons’ boutique winery in the Languedoc, Domaine Sainte Rose.

Simpson believes one of the reasons why England, particularly Kent, is so suited to Chardonnay, is its soil.

“We have solid chalk soils at our property in Barham. I remember when we sent soil samples to Chablis in 2014 and they couldn’t believe it came from England”.

When asked whether the winery would consider producing a still red, Simpson did not rule it out.

“It’s a possibility but as with our Chardonnay, I want to make sure we can do it well. A rosé is more likely to be released sooner”.

Sparkling wine 

Simpsons will ultimately produce four sparkling wines: a rosé, a classic cuvée, a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs. The first release will be the rosé, due to be disgorged in June and released at the end of this year. Called Canterbury Rose, Simpson told db how she prefers red-dominant blends in sparkling wine and how this will be the focus for the winery.

In terms of the other expressions, the classic cuvée will be released at the beginning of 2019, with the blanc de noirs available at the end of the next year. Also due to be released this year is the wine produced in collaboration with Naked Wines, with its name, brand and packaging design determined by the company’s customers or ‘angels’.

The winery planted its first 10 hectares of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Noir (30%) and Pinot Meunier (20%) – its Roman Road vineyard – in 2014, planting a further 20 hectares in 2016 and 2017. When all sites are in full production, which is expected to be in 2019, the winery has the potential to produce 250,000 bottles of English sparkling wine a year.

Simpsons Wine applied for a DEFRA grant of £144,154 to open a new state-of-the-art winery in May 2016, complete with helter skelter, which opened in October the same year, ready for the estate’s first harvest.

Ruth and her husband Charles also own 42 hectares in the Languedoc and have been making wine at their boutique winery Domaine de Sainte Rose near Servian, since 2002. The French side of the business has been working with Naked Wines since 2012.

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