THE DUCHESS of Cornwall was all smiles as she opened a new winery near Waterlooville.
On a glorious summer’s day, perfect for ripening grapes, the Duchess toured the brand-new state-of-the-art winery at Hambledon Vineyard.
Her royal highness met with Ian Kellett, the owner and managing director at England’s oldest commercial vineyard.
She clearly enjoyed a tour of the winery, finding out how the grapes are pressed and the wine is bottled.
As she was greeted by the Vineyard director Mr Kellett, she spoke of how her father Major Bruce Shand was a vintner. She laughed ‘Papa would be very impressed. He’s probably having a glass of champagne up there now.’
She told guests: ‘It’s no hardship at all for me to be president of the British Vineyards Association. My family have been involved in some way or another for a very long time.
‘They’ve written about it. They’ve sold it. They’ve drunk it. It’s like landing the perfect job here.
‘Coming here today, I must congratulate you. I think you are doing a wonderful job. It’s so exciting seeing your methods and I’m sure they’re going to be a huge success.
‘I’m looking forward to tasting some of the wine.’
She added: ‘I also think everybody should get their heads together and find a new English name for sparkling wine.
‘I don’t think sparkling is good enough. I think it ought to have something with much more depth.’
Vines were first planted in 1952 when Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, a former UK diplomat in Paris and self-confessed Francophile, decided to explore the winemaking potential of the south-facing chalky slopes surrounding his property on the South Downs.
Winemaker Bill Carcary joined the Hambledon team in 1966 and the wines soon drew a strong following, winning a number of awards and even a Gold Medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 1984.
Sadly, subsequent owners did not share Sir Guy’s passion for wine.
Gradually the winemaking activities at the estate ceased and the vineyards became overgrown.
But everything changed when Mr Kellett, a corporate finance expert, bought Hambledon Vineyard in 1999.
A passionate wine lover, he studied oenology at Plumpton College in East Sussex with a view to restoring Hambledon to its former glory.
In 2005 Mr Kellett planted a 10-acre ‘test bed’ of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to see which of the 27 different combinations of vine clones and rootstocks gave the best results.
Today the Hambledon estate comprises 50 acres of vineyards and a new gravity-fed, state-of-the-art winery - the only one of its kind in the UK.
In 2011 the final piece of the jigsaw slotted into place with the appointment of one of Champagne’s leading biodynamic chef de caves.
A renowned expert in minimal-intervention winemaking, Hervé Jestin now directs all vine growing and winemaking at the estate.
All sparkling wines at Hambledon Vineyard are made using the traditional method in the same way as champagne.
The Duchess met with the team and saw for herself the wine-making process.
Her royal highness unveiled a plaque and tapped a disgorged bottle to celebrate the opening of the new winery.
Mr Kellett’s aim is to produce the best sparkling wine in the UK, something to rival the best champagnes.
Two different cuvées are being produced: a vintage wine (the second label) called Mill Down after the name of the House, and Hambledon – the main cuvée which will be a non vintage blend.
The winery expects to launch Mill Down 2011 more widely in early 2014.
The main Hambledon cuvée will not be launched until late 2014 or early 2015.