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Collaboration and experimentation ‘vital’ for future quality of English wine

CEO of Hampshire’s Black Chalk, Jacob Leadley, believes a collaborative approach to winemaking and experimental projects are the only way “to push English wine into a better quality bracket”, also stressing the need for more producers to “grow with intent”.

The Black Chalk team, left to right: Jacob Leadley, Zoë Driver, Andrew Seden and Justin Bache.

Leadley, who is also the winemaker for Black Chalk, has said he wishes to continue “the very collaborative experience” of making wine in England when Black Chalk’s winery opens this summer.

Black Chalk secured investment for a new winery and tasting room last year, while it announced that it would be leasing four vineyards within a mile of the new production site this month. Previously, Leadley has worked with growers within Hampshire to supply grapes for his wines.

“It’s really nice for us to now have the ability to add extra value to the wines in the vineyard, rather than just dealing with good fruit that comes into the winery,” he told the drinks business. 

“We’ve got full control, which is a stage I didn’t think we’d get to for a much longer period of time.”

Leadley, who was the winemaker at Hattingley Valley for seven years from 2011, explained that it had always been his dream to have his own vineyards and winery. However, without the funds of some other entrants to the industry, he did not expect the process to be so quick.

Black Chalk’s debut vintage, 2015, was unveiled in 2018, coinciding with Leadley starting to work on his project full time. In his own words, it has been “a busy few years”.

Based on the Fullerton Estate, just north of Stockbridge, Black Chalk’s site sits between the Test and Anton rivers in Hampshire.

Leadley told db of his desire to explore the potential of his site and the differences between clones, producing small batch wines, and potentially entering the still wine category for the first time.

Leadley continued: “We can now really delve into the nitty gritty of managing certain clones in certain ways. This might involve making a standalone wine out of that clone. It enables us to get down to that level of detail, which I think has been done to some degree by other English wineries, but more as a kind of side project of a bigger commercial concern.”

“I don’t think there’s ever been an English winery that’s opened with the sole purpose of making those kind of small batch wines.”

He added that he feels that the industry now has both the “market and the interest” to pursue these kinds of projects, stating that Black Chalk was aimed at people who already know and drink English sparkling, but who want to “delve deeper” and “know more” about it.

He explained that as the English wine industry matures, producers will have a better idea about which clones perform well in certain areas, and will locate areas within their vineyards that consistently produce good fruit.

Speaking about the potential for the single vineyard category in English wine, he said that “it’s inevitable” that producers will release more of these expressions in the future.

“We’ve selected areas of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and some of Meunier that we’re going to treat differently,” he explained.

Black Chalk’s new vineyards

“We’re going to grow the grapes with intent, which I think is a difference. Previously people have just grown the fruit and if something looks good at harvest, then they’ve tried to do something different with it.

“Some people have done things differently, especially with still wines, for example Chapel Down with its Kit’s Coty. They limit the crop and manage that part of the vineyard so they know they’ll get the best possible fruit. That’s what we’ll be doing here, we’ll be limiting the yield and focusing on certain clones.”

Among the experimental projects Leadley is considering is his first still wine. He told db that his new vineyards are also planted with a little Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir Précoce, which he doesn’t want to use in sparkling wine.

“I’m asking the team here to come up with some ideas and be creative about what they think might work and what they’ve been imagining might be possible in English wine,” he said. If he does decide to make a still wine, the first expressions could be released as early as next year. The first sparkling wines from the new vineyards won’t be ready until 2023 at the earliest.


Leadley told db he intends to continue making wine in a collaborative fashion.

“It’s been not so much a winemaker and a cellar hand or assistant winemaker kind of team – it’s more ‘let’s sit round the table and talk about this and thrash ideas out’.

“I’ve always encouraged the team to experiment and to follow projects, and create their own wines, and I think that’s the only way that we’ll eventually push English wine into an even better quality bracket, or at least continue chasing a better product.”

While encouraging his own team to experiment and pursue personal projects, Leadley is also hoping to open his winery to others.

He is aiming to engage with the trade and customers in ideas for new wines, while he also intends to approach formal education establishments within the UK with the goal of creating opportunities for budding winemakers to gain commercial experience.

He’s also open to other projects, having just ordered some 2,000-litre oak casks and is considering experimenting with clay.

Black Chalk currently produces two vintage wines, called Classic and Wild Rose, which are blends of Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir. They are distributed in the UK via Graft Wines.

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