Behind the scenes of vintage English sparkling wine
A first for Sir Gordon Bennett and our 'Meet the Maker' interview series. This week we sat down with the Head of Viticulture at Roebuck Estates, Jake Wicks So, if you have 5 minutes grab a glass of English sparkling wine and learn how one of Britain's finest vineyards, Roebuck Estates craft their vintage wine in Sussex.
SGB: Hello Jake. First of all, how did Roebuck Estates come about?
Jake: The seed was sown a number of years ago when two friends, who grew up in Sussex and had an immense passion for wine, spotted the potential in the burgeoning English sparkling wine industry. They set out to produce world-class sparkling wines and take these wines as far and wide as they possibly could, to show the world that we have the climate to grow superb fruit and the talent to make extraordinary wines.
SGB: This maybe a long question but how did you become Head of Viticulture at Roebuck Estates?
Jake: I grew up in a farming community in West Wales and so I was always surrounded by agriculture. When travelling overseas, I was given my first opportunity to work with vines and it all stemmed from there. Time spent in New Zealand and the Rhone Valley cemented my interest and passion for viticulture and so when I moved back to the UK, I enrolled on the Viticulture & Oenology Bachelor’s Degree at Plumpton College. At this stage, the wine scene in the UK was growing at pace and I really wanted to work for a producer who had a commitment to growing exceptional quality fruit and creating great sparkling wines. Roebuck was the perfect fit.
SGB: Can you describe the types of wine Roebuck Estates produce, maybe in laymen's terms?
Jake: We are wholly committed to producing sparkling wines only, and in every vintage. We have an incredibly talented team here, which combined with our great vineyard sites allows us to grow excellent quality fruit year in year out, whilst also embracing the differences between each growing season. Our sparkling wines are made using the same method as Champagne and whilst our quality is on the same level, our ‘house’ style is unique to us – deliciously complex, wonderfully balanced and bursting with rich notes of baked fruits, toasted nuts, and a hint of sweet spice. But most important of all, perfect for celebrating life’s cherished moments.
SGB: Can you succinctly describe the process of creating an award winning sparkling English wine?
Jake: For us, it all starts in the vineyard. We have over 200,000 vines to tend and our in-house team make every effort to ensure that every one of these vines produces fruit of a quality that befits the very best sparkling wines from anywhere in the world. Only the finest handpicked grapes are sent to press where our talented winemaking team craft our base wines. By the time we start blending, we have a multitude of different components available to create our final sparkling wines. All of our wines are aged for a minimum of 36 months in bottle followed by a further six months on cork, which brings additional complexity, texture and opulence to our vintage wines.
SGB: Is there a part of the process you enjoy the most, apart from the tasting at the end?
Jake: Harvest is always a celebration of the year's hard work and a time when we can affect so much in terms of quality. It's hard work, long hours and fast-paced but ultimately incredibly rewarding!
SGB: Quality is important to SGB in everything we purvey, what makes Roebuck Estates wines special?
Jake: At Roebuck Estates we produce exceptional vintage sparkling wines, every single year. Using estate-grown fruit from our rich, diverse vineyards in combination with terrific winemaking, we are proud to say that we can confidently craft the perfect blend in every vintage.
Quality, along with sustainability, lies at the heart of everything that we do and the decisions that we make. It is our belief that a hands-on approach in the vineyard is key to producing high-quality sparkling wines and preserving our natural surroundings. Each site is managed on a block-by-block, row-by-row basis according to its unique topography. Also, meticulous care and attention are paid to every part of the vine growing and wine making process.
SGB: English wines seem to be having a more international exposure, is there a reason for this?
Jake: You are absolutely right. Markets such as Norway seem to be doing very well indeed. My suspicion is that this is driven by their focus on quality rather than brand.
SGB: Is there a 'typical' English wine?
SGB: Not that I have experienced! As an industry it feels as though growers are starting to carve our their own individual 'house' styles and I'm fascinated to see the progression of this over time.
SGB: What do you see for the future of English wines and sparkling wines?
Jake: The future is very bright both domestically and on the international stage - it feels as though we are on the cusp of something very special.
SGB: There seems to be a lot of press on the subject but has climate change had a positive impact on English wine?
Jake: We are always very careful to dispel the myth that climate change is good for us. Whilst there is no doubt that it's getting warmer, the variability between and within growing seasons makes my life as a Viticulturalist pretty difficult. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best is a popular mantra around here!
SGB: And as it has what are Roebuck Estates doing to negate its impact on the environment?
Jake: Like the roe deer itself, we aim to leave only the lightest footprint on our wonderful environment. We are incredibly proud to be one of the founding members of the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB) certification scheme. Also, we've got a multifaceted approach to sustainability here at Roebuck. Whether it’s using sheep to graze the grass in the winter, investing in technology to minimise our footprint in the vineyards or sourcing the most eco-friendly materials for our wines, we will look at all options available to us.
You can purchase Roebuck Estates vintage wines here on Sir Gordon Bennett. Simply click the images below to enjoy some of England's finest wines.