Gusbourne Estate on top in Top Wineries of Great Britain 2023

Gusbourne chief winemaker Charlie Holland (left). Gusbourne Wines

Top Wineries of Great Britain 2023

It will be 20 years ago next year since a South African orthopaedic surgeon, Andrew Weeber, saw the potential for grapevines at Gusbourne Estate, until then an arable, fruit and vegetable farm, or what Weeber called his ‘turnip patch’, lying on a south-facing slope off Kent’s Romney Marsh.

Weeber planted 20 ha to the classic Champagne varieties, but it wasn’t until 2013 that a massive new investment by Shellproof saw an additional 69 ha planted between 2013 and 2015 across the Kent site and at a West Sussex location, the Goodwood Estate. In the same year, Charlie Holland became CEO.

Gusbourne relies on production from its own 15 vineyards and each vineyard is very different.

As distinct from the chalk soils of much of Sussex and Hampshire, the Kent estate is on Wealden clay and Tunbridge Wells sands, while the rain shadow and low altitude help with warmth, protection and, crucially, ripeness. For Charlie Holland, the clay soils of Kent help to bring ripeness, fullness, and a muscular character. At the same time, Sussex land has given them the best of both worlds. So while they like the Kent clay, the free-draining chalk soils of Sussex add an extra poise, energy and acidity to the final blend. Being able to make blends with fruit from two distinct areas gives them flexibility to make the most of whatever the weather throws at them, whether it’s a cool or a warm year.

“Acidity is key, our calling card, and essential for freshness and vitality,” says Holland.

Gusbourne relies on production from its own 15 vineyards and each vineyard is very different. Some of the early vineyards, such as Boot Hill, have come into their own as excellent for still wines, and as England’s still wines start to gain recognition for their much improved quality, Gusbourne’s Guinevere Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are catching up with their sparkling wine counterparts.

Gusbourne works hard at improving the viticulture with the aid of grass and rotating cover crops to help with drainage, manure for improved humification and reducing spraying and herbicides to a minimum. With the help of a grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), viticultural manager Jon Pollard is collaborating with crop science group NIAB and Chapel Down in experiments and commercial trials of cover cropping and weeding strategies aimed at sustainability goals.

Gusbourne’s Boot Hill vineyard. Gusbourne Estate

Charlie Holland obtains over 200 different components from Gusbourne’s 40 blocks with 90% fermented in stainless steel and the remaining 10% in 75% older oak and 25% new oak casks. The wines are all vintage, with 5–7% reserve wine if need be to add complexity and a reduced dosage from 9 to around 7–8 grams per litre. After malolactic and secondary fermentation, the wines spend about three years on lees, while the flagship new prestige cuvée, the sumptuous 2014 Fifty One Degrees North—a blend of 60% fruit from Kent and 40% from Sussex—has spent seven years on the lees before disgorgement, with spectacular results and selling out within nine months of release. The 2016 vintage is due for release in September this year.

On the eve of its 20th anniversary, the bittersweet taste of success for Gusbourne lies in the fact that the talented Charlie Holland, after more than a decade as winemaker, is leaving this year to pursue plans to work with the Jackson Family Estate’s project to plant vineyards in Essex. It will be a great loss, but Gusbourne will have the opportunity to broaden the team by recruiting both a new winemaker and a new CEO.

Charlie Holland obtains over 200 different components from Gusbourne’s 40 blocks with 90% fermented in stainless steel and the remaining 10% in 75% older oak and 25% new oak casks.

The winemaking team of Tom Jones, associate winemaker, Alastair Benham, winery manager, and Mary Bridges, oenologist, supported by master sommelier Laura Rhys, will continue to work with Charlie Holland at least over this year’s harvest and across next year’s blending. With the continuity of Holland’s consultancy work into 2024, there will be no unexpected stylistic departures.

Indeed over and above business as usual, Gusbourne will be looking to expand its activities. Since Gusbourne plc acquired 146 ha of the original 202 ha estate in 2013, it has now bought the remaining 56 ha. To the existing 60 ha in Kent, it will be adding another 35 ha, while in Sussex it will be looking to expand from its current 30 ha by planting an additional 23.5 ha.

This is in line with the success of its sales growth figures for last year which showed that sales grew by over 20% last year mainly through online and cellar door sales under cellar door manager Dan Grainger. Revenues from experiences such as vineyard tours with wine tastings and dining options paired with wine were up 70% from the previous year. Add to that plans for an expanded cellar door operation, and while there’s no doubt that Charlie Holland will be missed, there’s no way Gusbourne Estate is going to rest on its laurels.


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