The first-ever release of Highweald Brut Reserve NV won FOUR awards at the International Wine Challenge 2022: one gold medal, with 95 points, and two trophies (the English Sparkling Trophy and the Non-Vintage English Sparkling Trophy). Last night, at the annual IWC Awards in London, the company picked up a fourth award – for the best wine in its first year of production.
The IWC judges said: “This non-vintage blend captures the essence of English sparkling wine. It has a citrus lemon-flower nose with saline citrus fruit. It threatens to bite your palate but then softens and deepens into a fine finish.”
Highweald was established in 2016, with the planting of 120,000 vines across 27ha of the beautiful Sussex High Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The company produced its first crop of 29 tonnes in 2018, but most of the base wine for the Brut Reserve NV comes from the 2019 vintage.
“The Reserve NV Brut is a simple wine, based on 2019 with some older vintage reserve,” confirms Robin Langton (above), general manager of the Highweald Beverages group. “The dosage is moderate, but not low by English standards. This wine is about the balance between base and reserve wine, fruit, dosage and autolytic expression, allowing each component to bring complexity, without overshadowing other elements.”
Interview with general manager Robin Langton, who has previously worked for English wine producer Ridgeview as well as retailers Iceland, Direct Wines and Naked Wines.Canopy: Congratulations on your success at IWC 2022. That’s an impressive start for Highweald. Could it have been any better?
Robin: “To win the IWC trophies was a real honour, especially for our first release. When our visitor centre opens this summer, it will be brilliant to be able to share our story and early success with our guests. Whilst the trophies are flattering, we know that we have a lot of work to do and are keen to focus on doing the simple things well, creating great wine with a sense of place.”
It’s a great achievement with relatively young vines – what’s their potential?
Robin: “I humbly believe that we have the potential to be one of the best English sparkling wine producers. What’s more, every English producer should focus on making the best quality wine that they can and that only wines made by the traditional method should be permitted. Further, the goal of our industry should be to promote this excellence and communicate it far and wide. We must not allow ourselves to become a cheaper alternative to the best traditional-method wines in the world – this is the biggest threat to our industry’s potential.”
Who are Highweald Beverages?
Robin: “I run a group of three small businesses: two breweries (Sussex-based 360° Brewing Company and Welsh brewer, Conwy Brewery) and Highweald Wine. Highweald Beverages is our group identity.”
What’s the advantage of having wine and beer divisions?
Robin: “We are a small family with just a handful of people in each business. The advantage of making wine and beer is that we have more opportunity to craft top quality drinks for everyone to enjoy!”
‘I am talking to other quality-focussed (English) producers about creating an elite marketing group’What’s the goal or long-term plan?
Robin: “To make the finest English sparkling wine and to share our passion and belief that English sparkling wine can be the best traditional-method wine in the world. I am talking to other quality-focussed producers about creating an elite marketing group based on this belief.”
What’s the next step?
Robin: “To further develop our market in London with Astrum Wine Cellars, our new distributor. Plus, opening our Garden Bar this summer and then our visitor centre. And last but most importantly, making better and better wine.”
Are you planning to buy any additional vineyards?
Robin: “Yes, we are always looking – anyone with a great vineyard to sell is welcome to call me!”
Did your purchase of Pookchurch Vineyards prompt the sale of Bolney Wine Estate to Freixenet Copestick?
Robin: “You’d have to ask Bolney about that.”
Will we see vintage sparkling wines in the future?
Robin: “Yes, in time we will make vintage wines, most likely blanc de blanc, possibly a blanc de noir.”
As well as growing Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, you also grow Pinot Gris and Bacchus – will we see still wines too?
Robin: “There will be some limited releases, mainly for cellar door. Bacchus, possibly Pinot Gris; it will depend on the year.”
What’s the next big release to look out for and when?
Robin: “We have a couple of experimental wines, but I haven’t decided if they will be released. We’re enjoying the NV for now!”
Highweald’s sustainable practices
- Highweald is a member of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB) and will be going through the audit soon to gain accreditation.
- The vineyards have sheep in the winter, before budburst, to manage the vegetation.
- They used organic fertiliser this year across most of their vineyards.
- They have purchased a mower with a side discharge to build an organic mulch under the vines.
- They harvest rainwater for filling their sprayers.
- They are leaving an unmown 2m strip around the entire estate boundary to create habitat for insects.
- They have plans to install bird and bat boxes in the woodland that they own.
- They have recenty planted a 2.5-acre wildflower meadow outside the winery.
- They are trialling a 4ha block without herbicide this year.