English Sparkling Wine
English Sparkling Wine has been a passion of mine for well over a decade, in part because I genuinely think there are some tremendous wines and, in part, perhaps I must concede because of my desire to support local trade. Even being critical of my own motives, I genuinely believe the quality available in England can rival and often surpass comparably priced Champagne. What has changed in recent years in my mind is the necessity to select wisely; there are perhaps more producers now who are trying to cash in on the popularity of the brand, and consistency of quality is lower than it once was.
Since my fascination with English Sparkling wine started, I've made a concerted effort to taste as much as I could and subsequently share the best with friends and colleagues sceptical of the quality available. Changing pre-conceptions has been great fun, especially on trips to France! About 5 years ago, I was fortunate enough to taste blind a 50-strong flight of English Sparkling wine, with a few Grand Marque Champagnes thrown in for good measure. Top of the pile that day was a past vintage of a wine being offered for the first time today, Harrow and Hope’s Brut Reserve.
About Henry Laithwaite
Henry Laithwaite is, of course, part of the Laithwaites family, well known in the wine trade and my former employer. The drive for me to stock his wares as I set up on my own, I hope, shows not only the respect I have for the Laithwaites family but also the belief I have in Henry’s ability to produce some of the finest English Sparkling Wine on the market.
Being a son of Tony & Barbara, I'm sure Henry would be the first to admit he's been fortunate to be able to travel the world and work in a multitude of vineyards. This exposure to various aspects of viticulture and vinification culminated in him setting up Harrow & Hope in Marlow having identified the perfect vineyard. With assistance from the late Mike Roberts OBE and the team from Ridgeview, along with old family friend Dr Tony Jordan, Henry has quickly turned this Chiltern Hills hill site into one of the very finest.
Harrow & Hope's Philosophy
Henry’s philosophy on viticulture clearly comes from his time in France, taking the concept of ‘terroir’ to the Thames valley. His application of that concept to match the Pinot Noir to the complex layers of flint, clay, and gravel at the top of his vineyard gives the power associated with Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier are better suited to the chalkier soils further down the slope, maximising the minerality and freshness of the Chardonnay and the aromatics and acidity of the Pinot Meunier. Small plots are now vinified separately to maximize the expression within each plot, allowing the maximum choice when it comes to making the final blends. A light touch is the order of the day in the winery, giving the fruit the greatest opportunity to express itself, and as Henry says, trying simply not to ‘mess it up.’ He’s using a combination of small stainless-steel tanks and 500 litre oak puncheons for small batch fermentation to allow the individual sites to express themselves while also allowing native yeasts to lead the ferments, which, while slower, help improve texture and complexity. They have also recently been fully certified organic.