Broadcaster and writer Olly Smith cut the ribbon at the opening of East Sussex vineyard Hidden Spring’s first on-site winery, as the producer aims to produce 25,000 bottles of both still and sparkling wine each year.
Located near Horam, Hidden Spring was bought by David McNally and Chris Phipps in 2015 after the couple, who both formerly worked in IT, were inspired to produce their own wine following a holiday to New Zealand.
With the winery officially opened yesterday (5 September), Hidden Spring predicts it will harvest between 30 to 40 tons of grapes each year by 2020 having planted 25,000 vines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier, Bacchus and Pinot Gris – in May 2016.
Speaking to the drinks business, McNally explained that himself and Phipps will be transitioning into making their own wine having currently enlisted the help of consultant winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann of fellow East Sussex winery Hoffmann and Rathbone.
Gearing up for its first harvest, McNally says the process has started with a bang.
“We’ve got far more grapes than we planned for this year,” he said. “Our site is certainly proving to be vigorous and we’re due to harvest almost double what we were expecting”.
The new winery has 32,000 litres of tank space and “room for more if needed”, said McNally. He estimates that this year, Hidden Spring will produce around 10,000 bottles.
“You never know what the future holds. Giving the shortage of winemaking facilities, there’s the possibility of doing contract winemaking,” he said, adding that he already works with vineyards in the local area in terms of sharing storage space and ordering supplies.
Hidden Spring has a long history of fruit production, having once been the site of an orchard back in the 1930s. The first vineyard was planted in 1980 by former navy commander Mike Smith and in 1986 its new owners began planting a commercial vineyard.
With retro, Art-Deco style labels including Ginger Nun and Gotham Dry (featuring an image of a chicken in a dress), the site grew grape varieties including Dunkelfelder, Ortega, Rondo, Muller-Thurgau and Sylvaner.
Changing hands again in the mid-1990s, Hidden Spring went on to produce wines for Fortnum & Mason, hosted John Lewis staff outings and even held a rock concert called Vibes from the Vines in 2006. However, from 2007 to 2015 it was converted into a campsite and the vines were grubbed up.
With 18,000 of the 25,000 vines being Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, the winery is also producing sparkling wines, with the first – a blanc de noirs – due to be released in 2020.
“We’ve already made two,” said McNally, who added that the blanc de blancs will be released in 2021.
A still red is also on the cards. “I thought I’d leave it a year to get a crusher and de-stemmer as you can only really make a good still red one year in every 5 to 10 in the UK, but as luck would have it, 2018 has turned out to be one of those years,” McNally said, revealing that he’ll be sharing Hoffmann and Rathbone’s facilities to make it this year.
Speaking about its current and future still wine range, he added: “Our style will really depend on what the grapes express and I don’t know that yet. Some producers are making Bacchus anaerobically and as the wine has never been exposed to oxygen, it starts changing the minute it’s opened. There are some fantastic wines produced in this way, but if there are problems with reduction or stuck fermentation, winemakers end up using techniques such as micro-oxygenation anyway.
“We prefer to use oxygen right the way through, meaning the wine is more stable,” he said, adding that he’s also exploring barrel-fermented Bacchus with the winery’s barrel room now housing four 300-litre French oak barrels.
The events and experience side of the business is also important to the couple, having hosted 170 tours already this year and launching a pop-up restaurant in the tasting room.
Guests can now enjoy a range of activities including music evenings, wine-pairing dinners and tutored tastings in the winery.
“This is a major and very exciting step for Hidden Spring. Up to now we’ve used contract facilities to produce our wine, now they will truly be ‘estate wines’. This year we’re harvesting our debut crop from the site too, so these are very exciting times for us,” said McNally.
Hidden Spring’s current range comprises Vines Cross 2015 a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner and two 100% Bacchus wines from 2016 and 2017, all made from locally sourced grapes.