Star Quality at Langham Estate
During the recent film awards season, it had occurred to me that you can’t call up the winner of the BAFTAs and ask to meet them for a glass of bubbly, but sometimes you can get in touch with the vineyard equivalent of a BAFTA winner and have a glass of sparkling wine with the winemaker. I know which one would give you a better wine and most probably better conversation, too!
Roll on a little while and in come the results of Judgement of Parson’s Green IV, a contest this year of 94 English sparkling wines tasted and judged by a prestigious panel including the organiser, Stephen Skelton MW. I was delighted to note that Langham Estate, the winner with their 2010 Cuvée, offer Cellar Door sales and bookable tours on Fridays and Saturdays.
I filled in my details and proposed date on their website and was delighted to hear back from winemaker Liam Idzikowski himself that he would be happy to show me around any time I liked. My honest thought, was “Bless, that’s so sweet of you to say you’ll just show me around, but in reality you’re going to be mobbed with people keen to see what makes a JoPG winner”. It turns out that the results of that win are more of a slow burn, but definitely an exciting development for this young, growing wine producer who have won a great award with their very first vintage.
The appointed Friday came and huge clear blue skies over Dorset were yet another reminder that by only straying a little way off the beaten track, you get not only the huge treat of vineyards and fabulous wine being made, but also stunning British countryside you would otherwise never have seen.
Friend and colleague Rob-the-photo couldn’t resist joining me and we pulled in through smartly signed gates to a regular farmyard with not a “visitor experience” in sight. Liam came out to meet us and after introductions to the dogs, he suggested we start our morning with a glass of fizz. Closer inspection showed that two of the buildings, while still being agricultural and understated were actually quite smart and these turned out to be the wine store cum bottling line and the winery.
We started off with a taste of the blended wine that has been through malolactic fermentation and is currently being chilled to zero degrees – oh, the joy of a tank sample! Liam explained that at this stage he’s looking for structure and a wine which will develop throughout the second fermentation and remainder of the wine-making process, rather than fruit flavours. From time to time the wines go into oak for relatively short periods to produce desired qualities, without imparting an obvious “oaky” flavour. We then tasted a sample from the second tank, destined for Cuvée. The only difference was apparently the very best of the grapes and a slightly different blend, but the quality of the wine was hugely different, in both the mouth feel and the flavour, very intriguing even at this early stage – definitely one to watch.
The treats continued with a glass of the 2011 – the next vintage to be released, which I can promise is at least as good as the award winning 2010. Liam topped up our glasses and we headed out for a walk around the vineyards. These occupy around 30 of the total 2,500 acre working farm. We talked as we walked and learned about Liam’s time at Plumpton, Camel Valley and Hush Heath as well as at vineyards in the USA and Australia, how his sister has caught the wine bug too and how buzzards keep the other birds off the grapes. It was lovely and really interesting, but as we came to leave I still felt a long way from understanding what it was about this affable, understated guy from Northern Ireland that had imbued his wines with star quality. That was before I offered to help with labelling a few bottles…
As he talked me through the process, it all became clearer: every bottle had to be placed into the labelling machine at exactly the right angle to ensure that the opening sits nicely at the front, he mentioned the need to adjust the machine so the that distance between the front and back labels is mm-perfect both sides. The addition of the capsule, the neck label, the box construction and the precise positioning of the bottles, the new style boxes with slightly altered construction… All of this must be attended to with nothing short of perfection. As we left, Rob & I caught one another’s eye and smiled – we had uncovered at least a little of what lies behind Liam’s success.
Currently, cellar door sales are welcome and tours can be booked. Langham Estate takes a little determination to find, but will reward the effort to do so. Meanwhile, a shop is soon to be constructed and signs will appear on the main road once this is done.
It feels like the JoPG win has come at a perfect time for Langham Estate. It has attracted a nice uplift in trade enquiries just as production quantities are increasing. This is a producer that is not well known yet, but is clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with, in the best possible way.
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