Exton Park Wine Estate visit

Grapes don’t grow in ugly places, so they say. Ideal news for us as we went off to visit our wine supplier, Exton Park, in the fabulous surroundings of the Meon Valley in Hampshire.

A single vineyard set in 60 acres of rolling green hills, its chalk soils are comparable to Champagne’s famous terroir. Our mission was to learn more about how Exton balance protecting the natural beauty of the land with producing extraordinary English fizz. And do a fair bit of tasting too, again for serious research purposes.

As you can imagine, our wet and windy British weather poses many challenges when it comes to growing healthy grapes in the UK. We asked vineyard director Fred Langdale about his careful approach to soil management and commitment to biodiversity, but he smiled, shrugged and referred to it as ‘just smart farming’. We found out that being close to the south coast means fresh breezes help limit the amount of intervention needed to protect the fruit. Bee hives on the estate naturally encourage crop yields, and colourful cover crops grow between the vines to help maintain the healthy soil. A huge patch of wildflowers grows next to the stunning events and tasting space, attracting pollinating insects and pest predators.

We soon got some hands-on experience learning how to care for the vines and protect them from disease. Splitting up into small groups, we carefully hand-stripped any bunches of leaves from around the grapes, allowing them greater access to airflow and sunlight. This simple work in the sun was surprisingly joyful, (evoking some impromptu skipping and frolicking by our chefs). We had to eventually drag everyone out of the vines, making our way to the winery to meet with winemaker Corinne Seely.

A Bordeaux native, Corinne agreed to join the estate on the promise that she could build a reserve library of wines, like they do in Champagne. This storehouse of wines offers more ‘ingredients’ for blending, a back-up in challenging vintages and a safe space to keep wines that require gentle maturation. On our walk through, we saw countless bottles ageing, steel tanks filled with different base wines and a select few aged in the oak cellar.

Back at Exton Hall, we tried some incredible wines, including a preview of the prized 2014 vintage (which has since been released alongside a limited run of bottles aged under the sea off the coast of Brittany, both of which we snapped up for Murano!). We then devoured a feast provided by the local pub at record speed, complemented by a special limited release of Pinot Meunier Rosé. Our last adventure was a tour of the vineyard perched in the flatbed of Fred's truck. His children piled in too, adding to the fun as we whizzed around the estate. Finally, we retreated to the terrace where a magnum of the estate blend beckoned.

The visit was a real breath of fresh air for us all (highly recommended for the views alone), and such a great antidote to stressful city living. We were lucky enough to learn more about one of our incredible suppliers and see what they do first-hand. Now, every time we pop a cork of Exton Park Estate in the restaurant, we think back to those naturally flourishing grapes on the Hampshire hills.

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