Last month we ventured to Hampshire in the Emerging Vines-mobile (an old Fiat Punto). The thermostat read 19ºC; perfect considering we were off to spend the morning with Tim Philips - the brains, hands, and soul behind Charlie Herring. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.
The tone was set early and our expectations were immediately met as we were shown the newly crafted centre piece for where Tim will host his tastings. Upon arrival, we gathered around a fallen tree that had been masterfully and intricately carved by a chainsaw. The tree was a beautiful reminder of our surroundings, the gorgeous New Forest. This is why we came here, to experience and of course taste this environmentally cohesive and stripped back approach to Tim’s winemaking.
A short mile up the road, we came to Tim’s old Victorian walled garden “Clos du Paradis,” where Tim allows his vines to “do their thing” in this near perfect environment. Within the walls once lay a functional 19th century kitchen garden. Careful planning was required to optimise sunlight to ensure that even in the depths of winter, the whole garden is able to fully bask in the glorious south coast sunshine. Standing in the garden, we could see the meticulous planning that has made for such a wonderful space; a space able to nurture its vines.
Tim farms biodynamically and is a big believer in the circle of life. He grows Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling but also various varieties of pears as well as a stunning apple tree that has grown around a gate and contains three varieties of apple. Although following the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, certain preparations are left out if the soil does not necessarily need it.
The walls do the most amazing job of concentrating the sunlight into this little microclimate and of course reflecting it back off the toasted brickwork as well. All varieties really benefit from this unique plot but it was the Sauvignon Blanc where we really noticed it. Whilst we have come across a small few English Sauvignon’s that have impressed, they have mostly all been on the classically green pyrazine side, which has to be expected from this vigorous variety in our climate. The Charlie Herring style, which is given a week on skins and is spontaneously fermented, is ripe and fruit driven. In its youth (we tasted from tank), it showed a slight gummy bear aroma, quietly cut through by a shy, sweet-green vegetal streak. This wine was textural and intense with an acidity that keeps everything in line.
Chardonnay thrives and through massal selection, Tim has ensured it has really grown into its environment. We tasted Tim’s sparkling wine named ‘The Bookkeeper’, which spent four years on lees and was again very ripe, uniquely floral, creamy, beautifully textured and with a finish that we’re still trying to shake off. Just 4g per litre on the final dosage (Extra Brut) allows all the hands on work in the vineyard to shine through on the palate. The acidity is mouthwatering, pure and sits harmoniously alongside those four years of lees integration. We love how you can experience this wine for what it is and this ‘stripped back style’ does wonders with the ‘walled garden ripe’ fruit.
Next, onto what Tim calls his spindly block of Riesling, which we must say looks pretty feeble sat opposite its ‘on trend’ neighbour, Sauvignon Blanc. Being big lovers of this versatile German variety ourselves, this was what we were most excited about. Charlie Herring Sparkling Riesling or ‘Promised Land’, as it is aptly named, doesn’t disappoint. Another four years on the lees here but it handles it so much differently than the Chardonnay. ‘Promised Land’ is more delicate upfront, with gentle floral characteristics and underlying aromas of lime sherbet. Again, the acidity and texture of lees and mousse steal the show. In fact, everything Tim showed us in his walled oasis of Clos du Paradise and his modest and moveable winery has such balance. This was, without a doubt, a wine we could sit and work through in the sunshine, one glass after the other.
One of the main things we took away with us, other than some Riesling, was appreciation and understanding of how respect for the environment in which the fruit is grown is key. Given time, vines will adapt, harden to some disease and produce exceptional fruit. This can allow for less manipulation in the winemaking process and ultimately result in naturally expressive wines.
Our interview with Tim Philips will follow as part of a series and offer more insight into his approach and ideas and we encourage you to check him out at charlieherring.com