Hambledon is famed as the Cradle of Cricket. Hambledon Cricket Club dates from circa 1750 and many of the laws of the modern game were developed there, including the addition of a third stump.
In its golden years of the late 18th century Hambledon regularly beat an England XI, though Hambledon now has another claim to fame.
It’s been an exciting few months up on those chalk downs. Last month travel guide Lonely Planet published a book called Wine Trails: Plan 52 Perfect Weekends in Wine Country, which suggests a year’s worth of wine weekends in wine regions around the world.
There’s a section entitled Ten of the World’s Most Intriguing Wine Regions and the South Downs is one of them. Quite an accolade for an industry that not long ago was no more than the hobby of a few weekend enthusiasts.
I spent a day last week at Hambledon Vineyard helping with the harvest and there was excitement in the air. The harvest, after some concerns about fruit maturation, looks to be very good and should yield good volumes.
The sun shone and I spent some of the morning picking pinot meunier, one of the three grapes – along with chardonnay and pinot noir – used in Champagne and which are grown at Hambledon.
It was hard work and lunch with a glass of Hambledon Classic Cuvée was welcome. During lunch owner Ian Kellet hinted at an exciting piece of news.
Earlier in the year Hambledon Classic Cuvée won the Trophy for the best English NV sparkling wine at the prestigious International Wine Challenge. This in itself was a wonderful achievement, but there was more to come. In a blind tasting organised by Noble Rot Magazine in September a panel of 13 experts, including Jancis Robinson MW, Dr Jamie Goode from wineanorak.com, Neal Martin from e-robertparker.com, Sunday Times wine columnist Kate Spicer and Master Sommelier Xavier Rousset, declared Hambledon Classic Cuvée the clear winner from a field of 12 Champagnes and English sparkling wines. The wine beat household names such as Pol Roger, Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger, in addition to five smaller grower Champagnes and three other English fizzes.
Ian says: ‘We are thrilled by this result. It’s a great testament to the hard work of the whole winemaking and viticultural team. It’s not just an accolade for Hambledon, it’s a triumph for the English sparkling wine industry, especially as England was outnumbered two to one in the tasting.
‘The Classic Cuvée was our first wine released from our resurrected Hambledon and we are working hard to get better as we learn how to match our terroir and our winemaking. It has set a high hurdle for us from the start, but given that we want to produce one of the world’s leading sparkling wines, and brands, it must necessarily be challenging.’
It’s amazing that having visited many of the world’s leading wine regions in the past 20 years, I now live only 10 miles from one of the leading producers of sparkling wine, not just in England, but in the world. Congratulations Hambledon, clearly it’s not just cricket any more.
This week’s Top Tipple is Hambledon Classic Cuvée. Produced exclusively from the Hambledon estate on the south-east facing chalk slopes of Windmill Down, it’s a non-vintage blend of 70 per chardonnay, 20 per cent pinot meunier and 10 per cent pinot noir.
I served this at my eldest son’s wedding this year and I love the bouquet of orange peel, oyster shell and very English notes of apple and pear. This very focused sparkling wine is a real standard bearer.
Available from Hambledon Vineyard and local wine merchants, about £28.50.
Alistair Gibson is proprietor of Hermitage Cellars, Emsworth. Call 01243 431002 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.