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A Glass of Wine With Emma Rice

The head winemaker at Hattingley Valley has twice won the UK Winemaker of the Year award

First things first, what are you drinking?

A Valravn Pinot Noir 2018 from Sonoma County in California. Made by our US importer Valkyrie Selections – we did a lockdown swap and their wines are now available to buy from our website, alongside ours.

Tell us about your wine journey…  

My passion for wine started at 19 with a taste of Krug 1979 from a double magnum, whilst working part-time at The White Horse Inn, in Chilgrove. From there, I took a job at Oddbins before moving to Burgundy importer and wine merchant, Domaine Direct, which led to me becoming editor of the highly regarded Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for three years. 

At the age of 29, having completed my WSET Diploma, I decided to study viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College. At the same time, I continued to freelance as a wine editor, as well as in the vineyard at Nyetimber and various independent wine shops in Brighton.

After graduating in 2006, I travelled to Napa Valley in California for the harvest but ended up staying for nearly two years as oenologist and laboratory manager at Cuvaison Estate Wines. I then completed a cool climate vintage at Tamar Ridge in Tasmania, before moving back to the UK and setting up a wine analysis laboratory and consultancy, which is how I met Hattingley Valley owner (and chairman of WineGB), Simon Robinson.

What spurred your interest and passion for English wine?

Plumpton College – the best decision I made was to leave London and study there.

How do you think English wine has changed over the past few years?

Quality, professionalism, confidence have all massively advanced across the industry.

Do you have a favourite English wine region? 

I’d have to say the South Downs. I grew up in the Downs and now live just on the western edge of the National Park. Terroir is no respecter of administrative boundaries, so county lines as markers of regional differences makes no sense to me at all. The South Downs stretches through three counties and provides a properly unique set of climactic conditions right across the south.

What English vineyards do you think have really got it right?

So many are doing different things so well it is not an easy task to select a few. Hush Heath have really nailed the quality visitor experience; Will Davenport has pretty much set the standard for high quality organic production; Nyetimber have kept their cool and continued to lead the way with an unrelenting focus on quality. I could go on!

Emma Rice joined Hattingley Valley Wines in 2008

Where’s your favourite place to drink wine?

At home, with friends.

Favourite person/people to drink wine with?

In any company other than my own right now! But ideally with friends who appreciate a good wine but aren’t going to let it dominate the conversation. Good wine should accompany great meals, enhancing the experience not taking over.

What’s your favourite wine memory?

I’m lucky to have so many, but perhaps the first press in the new winery at Hattingley back in 2010. It was exciting and exhilarating and a little daunting as well.

What wine has surprised you the most?

The Kings Cuvée was a happy accident. It was never our intention to make a 100% barrel-fermented wine but, in that first vintage in 2010, we wanted to keep our small harvest from the home vineyard separate and a barrel was the perfect size. It was only several years later when we tried the finished wine that we realised what we had done!

What’s your favourite wine and food combo?  

The first time I really understood how a wine and a food can complement one another was when studying a fine wine tasting course with Michael Schuster and he gave us a very hard, tannic, austere Barolo that was really difficult to appreciate, then introduced shavings of Parmesan and the protein in the cheese transformed the wine into a supple, elegant number. It was revelatory.

Fish and Chips goes really well with our Kings Cuvée 2014 – another match made in heaven as the acidity of the wine cuts through the fat.

Finally, if you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would that be?

That is an impossible question! One wine type would be traditional method sparkling to include Champagne, as there are so many different styles for every occasion. But if you make me choose just one distinct wine then it has to be Krug, or perhaps Bollinger.

Hattingley Valley can be found at Wield Yard, Lower Wield, near Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9AJ.