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.
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!
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.
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.
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.