Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Hencote Estate in Shropshire is too far north to be a top quality grower/producer, they mean business! We were invited to the launch event of their 2018 Evolution Sparkling, which brought a refreshing new perspective to Sparkling Wine production in the UK. Hencote Estate is a family run business with 24,000 vines planted on a slope overlooking the nearby town of Shrewsbury. The business consists of Andy and Dora Stevens who settled at Hencote in 1997 and redeveloped the land into what it is today. While they established the vineyard, their son Mark left his legal career to complete a part-time wine degree at Plumpton College, Sussex. Vivienne leads the social media, in addition to planning events such as weddings. Charles takes care of the accounts and Suzanne ensures that every guest enjoys their wine whilst appreciating her floral arrangements. The launch event highlighted the high quality and passionate spirit of this family run business.
Our focus of the trip was to taste Hencote’s newly released Evolution Sparkling. This wine is a blend of Seyval Blanc (65%) and Pinot Noir (35%) from the 2018 vintage. This year was a successful harvest nationwide and the vintage is much anticipated in the English Wine community. It usually takes a couple of years to be able to appreciate a vintage due to regulations from the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) scheme. This scheme, adhered to by many English producers, states that a traditional method English Quality Sparkling Wine must be laid on lees (dead yeast cells that collect at the bottom of the fermentation vessel) for a minimum of nine months. In addition, the PDO scheme does not permit Seyval Blanc as a grape variety for this classification. As a result, Hencote could not gain PDO status for their Evolution Sparkling. They have embraced this wine-making freedom to create something refreshingly different. It’s unique, easy to drink, and resembles a high end traditional method Prosecco, unlike other English wines which are often compared to Champagne. This wine is fruit forward with orchard aromas and an inviting floral character. The palate showed a creaminess as well as crab apple and an expected citrus driven acidity. The acidity is well balanced by the dosage and the short three months on lees also brings a touch of weight to the middle palate. All in all, this wine was perfect for its own launch party. It’s a wine for celebration in the sun! Hencote also produce two traditional method sparkling wines, as well as an impressive range of still wines.
To appreciate the family’s vision, we need to begin in the vineyard. It’s always inspiring to meet producers with passion, which is vital in UK wine production given the challenging circumstances. A recurring theme of conversation with Mark, in the vineyard, was that of sustainability. How can a vineyard as far north as Shropshire maintain healthy yields without damaging the local ecosystem and soils? The answer is never an easy one. Mark’s passion to farm his vineyard sustainably has lead to some interesting answers.
Firstly, select the right clone of vines. Hencote have planted multiple different clones of individual varieties, some of which are planted on different rootstocks. This way, if some Pinot Noir is struggling, other clones may be thriving. Secondly, bolster the ranks of ‘touchy’ Champagne vines with hardy varieties capable of withstanding more challenging conditions, such as Seyval Blanc and Solaris. Both of these methods help with maintaining fruit yields in a sustainable fashion. Hencote haven’t sprayed any herbicide for 3 years now, an impressive feat that Mark hopes will become the industry norm. Birds of Prey protect the vines against pests and meticulous hands-on labour ensures that machines are seldom needed.
So where is Hencote’s certified organic status? For a vineyard to be organically certified, many chemical sprays are banned. Whilst these ‘banned sprays’ are less necessary in traditional wine growing regions, the marginal UK climate (which comes along with significant disease and pests pressure) can make successful viticulture significantly difficult. Rather than being organically certified, the vines at Hencote are managed sustainably, whilst using organic practices. Without certification, Hencote have the flexibility to use non-organic techniques if their whole crop (therefore livelihood) is at risk. We believe that ethos in the vineyard is often reflected in the character of a wine; when efforts such as these are made at this early growing stage, it is well reflected in the final product.
We are of the opinion that a winemaker should have a thorough understanding of the origin of the fruit, and this is certainly the case for Zimbabwe-born Gavin Patterson. By spending time amongst the Hencote vines throughout the season, Gavin has produced some incredible wines. As if the move from South Africa to Shropshire wasn’t hard enough, Gavin has managed to bring all four of his amphoras along to help him settle in. The winery oozes class with stainless steel tanks juxtaposed with amphorae. The sorting table, gentle press, and use of gravity to transfer wine/juice, re-iterates the focus on quality. Gavin is clearly as meticulous in the winery as others are in the vineyard. It is that seamless connection between the two that we believe allows Hencote to produce top quality wines.
Where is better to enjoy a glass of wine than overlooking the vines that once nurtured the fruit used to create it? The View restaurant at Hencote boasts incredible panoramic views, with floor to ceiling windows, and has something for everyone. If you’re looking for a casual bite to eat, the outside terrace or the bar seating is ideal. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a fine-dining experience, the restaurant doesn’t disappoint, especially when the sun is setting over the vineyard. A wood-fired oven offers another string to the chef’s bow and creates an interesting tasting menu to accompany the Á La Carte options, as well as wood-fired pizza for the bar and terrace diners.
Following sunset, head to the bar which offers the full range of Hencote Estate wines, in addition to an extensive cocktail menu. We would recommend asking barman George Mellor to create something special for you. As a Negroni lover and a fan of an Aperol Spritz, I was introduced to my first ever Sbagliato - meaning “mistaken” in Italian. Apparently a busy Italian barman once poured sparkling wine into a negroni (instead of gin) before shouting “Sbagliato!” in frustration. Who knows how true that is, but who cares, I loved it. A meal here can be a high end luxury occasion or it can be a chilled evening out if you can’t be bothered to cook. Either way, the two don’t clash and you’ll feel extremely comfortable no matter what you’re after. The view from anywhere in the building is amazing but it was the staff that made it exceptional. Every single person working at The View was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.
The perfect end to an evening at Hencote is to stroll back to one of their glamping lodges where you can relax in the wood-fired hot tub overlooking both the vines and Shrewsbury. The lodges are well equipped with outdoor living space and a modern bathroom with a stunning free-standing bath. With plenty of sleeping space; consisting of a double room as well as a room with bunk beds, the lodges are perfect for all group sizes. In the colder months, guests can warm up by the fireplace in the lodge’s cosy snug. This accommodation again reflects Hencote’s overarching sustainability and quality, being finished to a high standard whilst feeling homely and comfortable. The stunning rural views are once again optimised in the glamping lodges, perfect to take in over a freshly ground coffee in the morning (grinder and cafetiere included).
Over all, it’s hard to pick faults in our time at Hencote Estate. With regular tours available, we would highly recommend anybody that is in the area to pay them a visit. If you’re not in the area, book a glamping lodge and go for a luxury weekend away overlooking a beautiful and luscious English vineyard! It doesn’t get much better. Hencote Estate is not just a vineyard in Shropshire, they’re a top quality English Wine producer and we’ll drink Evolution Sparkling to that.