Three Squirrels and a Pint of Wine at Hazel End
According to his diary entry for December 1st 1660, after a fortifying venison pasty, Samuel Pepys and his friend Mr Shipley “went into London, and calling upon Mr. Pinkney [headed to the tavern to enjoy] a pint of wine”. Later, after another pint at The Star, Samuel Pepys went home, his “brains somewhat troubled with so much wine”.
Pepys’s friend Mr Pinkney was a London goldsmith who founded the bank of the Three Squirrels on Fleet Street, the name of which is now used for an English sparkling wine from Hazel End Vineyard in Essex. The name was a source of much amusement for my 2 children, one of whom – inevitably – had to ask “‘how do you get the squirrels in?’ In response, vineyard owner Charles Humphreys gamely explained the wine making process in a child-friendly way and how the unusual name came about. By the mid 18thC, the bank of the Three Squirrels had become Goslings bank and 250 years later, when Charles and his wife Petronella, a Gosling family descendant, were looking for a name for their new sparkling wine first produced from the 2001 vintage, it seemed the perfect choice.
This vineyard, near Bishop’s Stortford, is one I’ve only recently become acquainted with after seeing Three Squirrels included in a top 10 list of wines from Cambridge Wine Merchants. It’s a small vineyard of 4 acres where vines were first planted in 1978, although the oldest vines now – still at 25 years of age – were planted between 1990 and 1993. As in many older English vineyards, the varieties planted were Muller Thurgau, Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner and Bacchus. After a few years the Bacchus failed to crop satisfactorily and was eventually removed, but has now reappeared, planted on the original 1 acre Hudshill plot where it all began in the ’70s.
There is no winery at the property, although one of the attractive timber-framed barns (including one rescued from demolition and replacing another that burned down the week the Humphreys moved in) would make an ideal home for one. For the last 6 years the wines have been produced at Shawsgate in Suffolk. For the still wines, all of which are bottled under screw cap, Shawsgate manage all stages of production. They do not, however, have the facilities for the secondary fermentation required for sparkling wines, so at wine maker Rob Capp’s suggestion, adding the sparkle to the Three Squirrels is handed over to Wiston Estate, under the watchful eye of Dermot Sugrue.
Three wines are produced – the Three Squirrels sparkling, a Hazel End still white (each a blend of Muller Thurgau, Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner) and Hazel End Hudshill, which has Bacchus added to the blend. None of the wines were offered to taste but are priced reasonably enough (£7.50-£9.50 for the still and £16.50 for the sparkling) that I was happy to pick up a few bottles without trying them. They each turned out to offer good value for money in the classic, easy drinking English wine style, with the Hudshill benefiting from the extra complexity given to it by the Bacchus.
Before our visit we enjoyed lunch at the Fox and Hounds pub in Hunsdon. Their wine list features a white, rosé and sparkling wines from another, even smaller vineyard a few miles from Hazel End which we visited the same day, over the border in Hertfordshire. At Wareside Wines David and Daphne Briscoe grow 800 Bacchus and Pinot Noir vines in a 1 acre vineyard planted in 2004. In good years, the harvest is sent to Stanlake Park in Berkshire to produce a single varietal white and rosé, and even combined with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grown at Surrenden Vineyard in Kent to produce a sparkling wine.
In recent years, however, personal circumstance have meant less time spent in the vineyard and problems with downy mildew meant no crop was harvested in 2014. The Briscoe’s have another, much larger property in South Africa and I felt that here is where their future focus lies. A couple of local people currently helping with vineyard tasks may take on the vineyard management in future.
Neither of these vineyards is large or offer anything in the way of visitor facilities. At Hazel End, the comfortable, domestic scale means the ‘cellar door’ is in fact the ‘kitchen door’. But as with many English and Welsh vineyards, the story is interesting, the setting charming and if you are in the area and can call ahead, the reception welcoming.
FEATURED / PINNED POST
Use our map to find your local vineyards, a great place to meet that friend you've been meaning to catch up with, somewhere to hold your next business meeting...