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Roaming at Roebuck

Driving up to Roebuck Estate’s ‘Home’ vineyard, situated near the tiny village of Tillington, the weather, as always, looks to be taking a turn for the worst. Large, dark grey clouds are rapidly approaching like an armada in the sky. As we look out to the distance, across the vines, a bright ray of sunshine breaks through the cloud formations, painting the rolling South Downs with bright golden rays, and highlighting the rich tapestry of the land. It is here that I start to appreciate, not just the beauty of this countryside, but how one could easily mistake it for being a famous international winemaking region across the Channel.

Situated between a row of vines we are treated to a wine and food experience in the most picturesque setting…

Thankfully they knew we were coming!

We are greeted by General Manager James Mead, Will Headley (Sales Manager) and Danielle Whitehead (Marketing Manager) who, along with the vineyard team, look after this relatively new estate. While it might be new, it has received a flurry of awards since its emergence onto the English winemaking scene.

Looking out across the vines from a purpose-built viewing platform at the highest point of the vineyard, we are treated to one of the very first, and very limited, bottlings of their Blanc de Noirs 2015 in magnum. As James introduces the history and ethos behind the estate and the wines, we discover a partial explanation for why the wines have been heralded so early in the Estate’s life. Grapes develop the potential for complexity and depth as the vines age. Roebuck were successful in purchasing four established south-facing vineyard sites in Sussex before nurturing them in their own special way. Combining these mature vines with the team’s winemaking skill and vision, has allowed them to produce wines with complexity and depth right from the get-go. The sites are all planted with the three main Champagne grape varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), with their smallest Roman Villa vineyard (just 14 acres) producing only Pinot Noir. Although we didn’t visit the site, it is one for the local vineyard bucket-list!

James Mead, Roebuck GM, explaining biodiversity at the Estate

Walking amongst the vines, I was amazed by the diversity on show; from the leaves and rootstock to flora and fauna, and soil topography below my feet. It was during this initial wander that James and Will highlighted the Estate’s approach to sustainability. Sheep are bought in as natural grazers of the land, eco-friendly labelling and packaging is used across the range and the utilisation of the most up-to-date technologies at their disposal. This primarily means a nifty piece of software called Sector Mentor, which monitors and provides accurate readings of vines above and below ground to ensure only the highest quality grapes are produced. It is no surprise then that the Estate is one of the founding members of the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain certification; a remarkable feat for such a young estate, especially when factoring their final goal of achieving net-zero emissions in the not-to-distant future. 

We come to the final leg of the tour and perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the evening. Situated between a row of vines we are treated to a wine and food experience in the most picturesque setting. Not to be outdone by the landscape, we were treated to a tasting of their range as well as a scrumptious cheeseboard and salad selection for everyone to enjoy.

James Mead (front left), Danielle Whitehead (front right) and the Hennings’ team

The Classic Cuvée 2014 is a blend of the classic Champenois varieties. It has spent a generous 36 months ageing on lees (partial oak-aging for added complexity too). The use of 50% malolactic fermentation across their range means that the acidity softens as well as the technique adding more structure and complexity to the wines. The 2014 is instantly gratifying with richly textured layers of toasted pastry and citrus fruit notes backed by an appealing freshness on the finish. My first comparison blind would be towards the likes of Bollinger and Charles Heidsieck due to the richness and fruit profile. This was awarded the Decanter Platinum Medal and I can see why; it is a great introduction to the range.

…brilliant single vineyard, single vintage, single varietal sparkling to finish the night and a firm favourite amongst the team…

The next wine up was their newly released Rosé de Noirs 2016. Pale salmon pink in colour (almost Provençal) thanks to a splash of Pinot Précoce. It has a beautiful nose of fresh strawberry, raspberry and red cherry fruits followed by a creamy finish. Only produced in limited quantities, this is quite beautiful and one of the nicest English Sparking Rosés I’ve tried.

For the finale, we finish where we started, with the Blanc de Noirs 2015. A single vineyard, single varietal release, with 100% of the fruit sourced from the Roman Villa site. It is the pinnacle of the range combining the weight and complexity of the Classic Cuvée with the fruit and finesse of the Rosé de Noirs, whilst retaining its own unique style. A brilliant single vineyard, single vintage, single varietal sparkling to finish the night and a firm favourite amongst the team, heralded by all as the wine of the night! 

It is remarkable what the team at Roebuck have achieved in such a short space of time; producing world-class wines right on our doorstep. As we said our goodbyes and drove off, the clouds finally open-up painting the vineyard as a dark-shimmering backdrop against the rolling hills – unlike our arrival, there was no mistaking where we were, and no mistaking where this Estate is heading. 

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Tasting, training and taking it all in…

WSET Class

I often look back to my school days and think “if someone had told me then that working in wine is all science and geography I would have probably paid a lot more attention!” Therefore, these days, I like to make it my mission to spread the word that there is so much more to wine than just a cheeky ‘wine Wednesday’ tipple!

At Hennings we are very proud that we’re a WSET approved provider. This means that we are qualified to teach both Level 1 and Level 2 courses from  the WSET. You wouldn’t know unless you’ve attended onen but The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) offers qualifications in wines, spirits and sake, for professionals and enthusiasts.

A couple of weeks ago we held a level one day course in our Chichester branch, and I’ll let you into a little secret – teaching these courses is one of my favourite parts of my job. Colin (Nicholson #RM) and I get to meet people from different corners of the wine world, whether that be customers from our trade outlets, members of our own team or retail customers who are keen to find out more about the vinous delights we recommend to you each week!

The Level 1 course is great fun and is a day course that is jam packed with enough wine knowledge to give a confidence boost in both choosing and recommending from a wine list. We cover how wine is made as well as the impacts of climate; winery technique; principle grape varieties; food and wine matching and a whole heap of tasting! For good measure we also throw in a few activities from word searches to grape dissection!

For me it’s great when the room starts to get as interested and excited about the structures and stories behind a wine as I do. Once our budding Level 1 candidates have passed the day course with flying colours, we love to see familiar faces book onto our Level 2 course. This one is much more in depth and runs for two hours a week for eight weeks. Over these weeks we get to build a great relationship with our students, each week covering a wine region or specific grape variety in much more detail and of course we taste and analyse a plethora of wine styles to ensure we keep the palates happy with the practical elements of the course!

You may now be wondering what makes me so qualified to impart all this wine knowledge upon other people? Well, beyond the fun and fascination of Levels 1 and Level 2, comes the serious business of Level 3 and the Diploma. Two years and five exams down (three to go) I am very near the completion of my Diploma which looks into the global market, vitification and vinification, alongside every wine and spirits style you can think of…in the world. Yes, it is intense and a huge amount of reading, tasting and understanding but the level of information and fascination I now have is both exciting and thoroughly interesting. Ultimately, this leads me back to being able to spread the word from the wine gospel to all you keen enthusiasts out there!

So yes, it turns out it is all science and geography, but it’s also a huge amount of fun! Hopefully I might see you in one of our courses – we’re very welcoming and try to keep them as fun as we can! They also make great gifts for budding wine enthusiasts so please do get in touch for more information and I’ll look forward to seeing you in our classroom soon!

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