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Black Chalk ‘keeping the door open’ to English still wine with launch of Kent Chardonnay

Hampshire-based winery Black Chalk launched its first still Chardonnay this week despite its confidence in the future of English sparkling wine, with winemaker and CEO Jacob Leadley telling db “we’ve never closed the door on wanting to experiment”.

Black Chalk 'keeping the door open' to English still wine with launch of Kent Chardonnay

Little White Lie, Black Chalk’s first still Chardonnay, marks a departure for the Hampshire-based winery, with grapes from the inaugural 2022 vintage grown in Kent. “We’ve called it Little White Lie because it comes from Kent, and up until 10 minutes ago we were all about Hampshire,” Leadley joked.

Leadley and his winemaking team were offered the grapes from friends in the Kent North Downs, after last summer’s record-breaking temperatures. “We snapped at the opportunity to have a go at what we might be able to do with some Chardonnay from that part of the country,” he said.

Little White Lie 2022 has been fermented in stainless steel, with 16% in new French oak. Last year’s high temperatures resulted in riper grapes than usual, so no malolactic fermentation was undertaken to retain the wine’s freshness and acidity. Only 2,600 bottles were made, and Little White Lie has an RRSP of £33.00.

The English wine producer created its first still white wine with experimentation in mind, despite retaining a focus on Hampshire-made sparkling wines. “We’ve never closed the door on wanting to experiment and wanting to play around with other things — it’s a big part of what Black Chalk is. We encourage the whole team and the whole business to explore new ideas. I’d say never close the door on something that might be of interest.”

English sparkling wine continues to be recognised for its quality, but still wines from the UK are also climbing up the ranks. Gloucester-based Woodchester Valley’s still Sauvignon Blanc was recently hailed as the top wine among £20-£30 unoaked entries.

“Certainly there’s no hiding from the fact that English still wine is massively on the rise,” Leadley told db. “As a wine business and as a tourism business still wine certainly has a place in that market.”

Black Chalk does, however, plan to remain as a “Hampshire sparkling wine producer as a main business”. Alongside Little White Lie the winery also released the 2020 vintage of two of its sparkling wines – Classic and Wild Rose. The 2020 vintage wines are the first to be made with grapes grown on the Black Chalk estate, highlighting the winery’s continued investment in sparkling wine production.

“The whole vision from the beginning was to showcase what Hampshire can do incredibly well with small batch wines. Being able to grow the fruit ourselves and make the wine in our winery allows us to focus with even more detail on many aspects of the project,” Leadley said.

The vineyards comprise 36 different rootstocks all of which are handpicked and vinified separately before deciding on the final blends. The 2020 vintage also marks an increase of 56% in volume of these two wines, with growing demand from independents and the on-trade in the UK and across key international markets, including Japan and Scandinavia.

Classic and Wild Rose 2022 were shown to trade and press in London on Tuesday. The two wines are just the first of a number of sparklings from 2020 yet to be released. Others in the pipeline include a sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, a further Blanc de Blanc only available in Magnum and a single vineyard wine “which is to showcase in an even greater depth what a fantastic site can do in a fantastic region such as Hampshire”, Leadley told db.

Dancer in Pink 2022 – the estate’s still rosé which first launched in 2020 – has also been released. The 2020s and Dancer in Pink 2022 will be available from 1 April and Little White Lie will be released in late May.

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