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A Perfect English Setting - Afternoon Tea & Sparkling Wine At Hambledon Vineyard

The home vineyard of Hambledon on the southeast facing slope

A wine tasting tour is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a day out in England, even in summer. Well summer in England is whole topic of discussion in itself, and though we would like to avoid the topic, we cannot mention the how varied the day was!

The home vineyard of Hambledon

Limited by what we could do in the Covid pandemic era, we decided to find some experiences to keep our spirits high, and what better to lift your spirits than to taste some sparking English wine in a gorgeous setting. So we booked a wine tasting and afternoon tea at the Hambledon vineyard, in the middle of the week! Well why wait until weekend, if you can sit with a glass overlooking the rolling hills on a Tuesday!

Windmill Down (West Vineyard) Friendly and knowledgeable staff (East Vineyard)

The drive, which was over an hour started off as usual – with a lot of confusion around whether it will be wet, hot, cold or a combination! Started off as hot and then the heavens opened up drowning our hopes for a lovely sunny afternoon, but the English weather Gods do like to keep things interesting! So the rain soon stopped, the sun came out and there we were – driving through the stunning countryside of Hampshire, gorgeous fields, curvy roads on rolling hills with massive drops and bringing the zing back into our hearts!

Traditional wine making in wooden barrels

When we reached, we noticed a substantial building site, and some three massive steel cylinders. We were later told that the building was the future on-site restaurant, above the basement wine cellar. The exposed chalk in the dug up gave away tHamhe main secret of the success of this vineyard.

We waited for a bit before the tour started. To be honest we were not expecting to discover a rather fascinating story of how this place came to be. The then owner Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones had the idea of converting the field below into a vineyard. Having been a diplomat in Paris, he managed to get advice from his friends from the renowned Champagne House Pol Roger and managed to plant a number of different grape varieties in back up in 1952. The first commercial harvest was in 1961 and over the years Hambledon wine was served to the royals, in house of parliament and in British embassies across the world. However, with times the vineyard changed hands and also saw it decline before being revived by its current owner, who also happens to be a cricket enthusiast. Well Hambledon has a rich cricket history and you can see the traditional two-wicket logo on uniform of the Hambledon staff. It seems that the chairs in the new restaurant will have the cricket ball stitch!

Hambledon link to Cricket Hambledon Premiere Cuvee

Windmill Vineyard

In Hambledon Vineyard, the vines grow on chalk soil, part of the Newhaven Chalk formed on the seabed of the Paris basin some 65 million years ago. Chalk is considered as the perfect subsoil due to its ability to retain water while at the same time providing drainage system when it rains thus protecting the vines from rotting. The chalk on which vines of Hambledon vineyard grows is also found in the Champagne region of northern France. There are three types of grapes planted here: Chardonnay (around 70% of vines in the vineyard), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There are other smaller vineyards in the village of Hambledon accounting for over 100,000 vines.

The facility where the press and fermentation steps takes place

The vineyard uses traditional wine making process. During the harvest season of September through October professional fruit pickers harvest the grapes by hand acting as the ‘quality control’ step of grape selection. The grapes are then crushed and the primary fermentation or cuvee takes place in barrels. After this a blend of yeast and sugar (liqueur de tirage) is added to the wine base and is transferred to bottles where the secondary fermentation starts (not in the barrels which is the main difference in this process). Sought after winemakers from France come for a week or two for the blending and tirage process. The bottles have 'crown caps' and not corks at this point so as to trap the carbon dioxide released by the yeast along with alcohol when it starts consuming the sugar. This trapped carbon dioxide is what causes the fizziness in sparkling wines.

The riddling process Bottles are corked

The yeast eventually eats up all the sugar and dies. The dead yeast called 'lees' gives the wine its characteristic texture. The bottles are all stacked by hand, it was fascinating to understand that human hand still outperforms machines in the 'gentle' handling of the bottles! These are then left to age for a few months to a few years. After the ageing process, the lees and any sediment that is formed is then removed through a process called 'Remuage' or riddling. The bottle is placed at an angle with the bottleneck down and is turned manually every few days. This leads on to the next step of 'disgorging' where the bottle neck is then dipped in a freezing solution and the crown is popped to remove the lees.

The final labelling step

This leads on to the next step of 'disgorging' where the bottle neck is then dipped in a freezing solution and the crown is popped to remove the lees. A bit of sugar (for smoothness, not sweetness) along with some wine is added, this is called 'dosage'. The bottle is then corked and labelled.

This and other interesting trivia was shared during the wine tour! We were able to witness the steps from secondary fermentation onwards.

The ever glorious English Afternoon Tea

After witnessing this carefully preserved age old tradition of wine making, it was time for the main deal - the afternoon tea - these were served in cute boxes due to pandemic restriction. We would have preferred the traditional tiered trays but on the brighter side we were able to pack the leftovers! There was a good selection of sandwiches, cakes and scones! We have done quite a few vineyard tours and quite a few afternoon teas but never had an afternoon tea in a vineyard! Well the fun of English weather, good sparkling wines and afternoon tea served by a friendly bunch – what’s not to love!

They also do ‘dine in the vineyard’ which definitely sounds very romantic!

Seeped in history - The Hambledon Cricket Club and 'Bat and Ball' pub

We decided to extend the day by lingering around in the village and dining at the Bat and Ball pub – the views were extraordinary and a perfect way to end the day!


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