Our founder sits down with the co-owner of High Clandon Estate Vineyard in the Surrey Hills
First things first, what are you drinking?
Virtually every evening, I have a glass of English sparkling wine – almost always our own delectable vintage, the 2014 vintage Halcyon Cuvée – I hasten to add we have a special stopper, so six consecutive glasses are possible on six consecutive nights!
However, some evenings, I will have a G&T made with our High Clandon Cupid Blue Gin – just released and made with Eau de vie de Vin from our 2019 vintage. It’s been made and distilled at the Gin Kitchen in Dorking to a recipe created by myself and the Gin queen, Kate Gregory.
Tell us about your wine journey – how did you come to own a vineyard?
I grew up in the oldest wine region in South Africa, that of Constantia and had always loved wine and in fact at university won a wine tasting competition which further fuelled my love and interest in all things vinous. In 2002, I tasted my first English Quality Sparkling Wine, that of Painshill Park in Cobham, Surrey, and then Nyetimber in Sussex and was rather excited. When Bruce (my husband) and I bought this property, I also heard about Plumpton College’s wine and viticulture curses, which I completed in 2003/4 which readied us to rock ‘n roll!
I adore good champagne and the English climate is uniquely suited to growing the champagne grapes, so pretending I am a bit like Madame Bollinger who famously said “I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am…”, it became obligatory to start this vineyard.
What sets you apart from other vineyards in the South East?
Our objective is to make the highest quality aged-vintage sparkling wine, and as we age ours for a minimum of five years and because Bruce and I do nearly all the work in the vineyard, we can claim they are hand-manicured grapes. Also, our viticultural practices mean that we aim to produce perfectly ripe grapes despite climate vagaries, with marvellous flavour profiles…so we cannot have quantity, but do have super flavours.
So far, we seem to have been fortunate in realising our dreams by winning coveted Gold Medals in many international wine competitions – more per hectare than any other English vineyard according to and a little birdie called SixAtmosphere’s blog.
Where’s your favourite place to drink wine?
I can’t just do one! On our terrace overlooking the gardens and meadow…and also in front of a roaring fire with good friends and family.
Favourite person/people to drink wine with?
My husband!! Then son and daughter in law, and friends too.
What’s your favourite wine memory?
Gosh – so many – but one that stands out is a bottle of sparkling on the beach at sunset in Devon.
What wine has surprised you the most?
South African Chenin Blanc wines – each one, whether priced competitively or high, vintage or not, has such delectable flavours…my go-to wine for perfect drinking.
What’s your favourite wine and food combo?
Lobster Thermidor and sparkling! But to be more practical, I adore a succulent sirloin steak from Conisbees Butchers (in East Horsley village) fried in butter and matched with a succulent South African or Rhone Syrah wine. It seems, my palate is for big flavours.
Finally, if you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would that be?
Besides our Cuvées, Eagles Nest Shiraz 2013.
This summer, High Clandon Estate will launch its 2015 vintage sparkling, High Clandon Endymion Cuvée. The vineyard’s annual Art & Sculptures in the Vineyard, which usually takes place in May, has been rescheduled to mid-July due to Covid-19. Check the website for details.