A taste of success: Hush Heath

Kentish Pip Wild Summer Sparkling Elderflower Cider

Established in 2002, Hush Heath winery was founded by entrepreneur Richard Balfour-Lynne after his wife Leslie suggested they buy the 400 acres of land that surrounded their family home of Hush Heath, a 16th century manor in Staplehurst, when it went up for auction in 2001.

The couple initially began by planting the classic trio of Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, which resulted in their first vinous offering: a pink sparkler called Balfour Brut Rosé.

“We just wanted to produce a really high quality pink sparkling wine that we hoped would compare with Laurent Perrier and Billecart Salmon Rosé. That was our strategy,” Richard explains.

‘Nannette’s Rosé is as good as any quality French provençal rosé we’ve tasted, it’s great to know you don’t have to travel all the way to the south of France to enjoy it’

Well it’s certainly one that worked, as Balfour Brut Rosé is now stocked in some of the world’s most prestigious establishments, including Fortnum & Mason, and is also on sale at selected branches of Waitrose. It’s also served in First Class on British Airways and on the Orient Express.

In the past fifteen years Hush Heath has greatly expanded, enlarging the size of its vineyards and creating a state-of-the-art winery in order to produce its portfolio of wines – now an impressive 15 in total – as well as producing a range of ciders and beers. Over the next year the estate will increase its planted vineyards to 130 acres and over the next five, wine production will increase to 500,000 bottles per year.

Last year the vineyard opened its new tasting room and eatery The View, which showcases all the business’s award winning drinks and provides the perfect spot to sit and sample a glass of something chilled, a gourmet bite to eat and take in the beautiful views of the Kent countryside. The ambitious project has seen the size of the previous facilities at the estate double and the development now includes a new shop and an upstairs terrace bar.

As well as spending time enjoying the new facilities and walking around the estate’s beautiful grounds, which also include apple orchards and conservation areas, you can also participate in a number of tasting tours too. These include a self-guided tour which is free and boasts a tasting of either wine, cider or beer. You can also do a private group tour for a minimum of 10 which runs for two to three hours and can be specifically tailored for each group’s needs.

Then there’s the full estate tour and tasting which lasts three hours and costs £25 per person. This is the one we decided to do in order to get a complete picture of the winery’s stunning location, extensive vineyards and gastronomic offering, as the tour ends with a tasting of six wines, ciders and beers in The View. You can also indulge in one of their many sharing platters of cold meats and cheese for an additional fee starting from £20.

On arrival at Hush Heath one sunny Sunday we were greeted by Emma Broom, who manages the Cellar Door area where the tastings take place. She expertly led us through a very enjoyable and informative experience which commenced with the winery’s most famous offering.

A tour of the cellar

Balfour Brut Rosé 2015 (£40 or £34 to Hush Heath members).

A mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes this sophisticated pale pink fizz boasts delightfully fruity notes – think rhubarb, strawberry and blackberry – but with a strong, lingering finish thanks to its additional hits of peppery spice and sloe berries. Chilled to perfection it makes a perfect aperitif or accompaniment to a seafood starter.

Balfour Skye’s Blanc de Blancs 2014 (£45 / £38.25 for members)

This was next on our tasting list. Made only during a good vintage and exclusively from Chardonnay grapes it’s a special little treat for the tastebuds. And if you like your sparkling wine bone dry, with a good citrus kick and little hints of apple, then this is for you. A flute of it to accompany a dish of seafood linguine or perhaps a fresh crab salad would be utter perfection.

Balfour Leslie’s Reserve NV (£30 / £25.50 members)

Like the previous sparklers we sampled, this boasts an alcohol content of 12% and is a mix of the traditional Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Golden in colour, it has a beautiful blend of citrus and sharp redcurrant notes to offset the sweet brioche and red apple found on the nose. Out of all the sparkling wines we tasted this was our favourite and one we went on to purchase as it’s a good all-rounder for lots of types of dishes and definitely a palate pleaser for even the most fussiest of connoisseurs. It would be perfect served with a celebration cake or decadent dessert.

Balfour Skye’s Blend 2018 (£18 / £15.30 members)

A mix of Bacchus, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc grapes, this young wine can be savoured now or left to age a little more. With subtle notes of gooseberry and hawthorn blossom it’s like drinking in a taste of summer. Beautifully pale gold in colour and superbly aromatic, it’s also got a clean finish and therefore makes a great partner to lighter dishes such as seasonal salads and seafood platters.

Balfour Nannette’s English Rosé 2017 (£17 / £14.45 members)

This delicate rosé is made in the same way as the Balfour Brut Rosé sparkling wine i.e. with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Refreshing and fragrantly fruity, it has an intoxicating blend of fresh pear, rich redcurrant and piquant herbs on its bouquet with a drop of sweet strawberry and stone fruit on the palate. This is as good as any quality French provençal rosé we’ve tasted, so it’s great to know you don’t have to travel all the way to the south of France to enjoy it.

Balfour Luke’s Pinot Noir 2018 (£25 / £21.25 members)

A Pinot Noir makes a great summer drinking red wine thanks to its lighter, more fragrant character. And as it’s quite rare to discover a good quality British offering, this Hush Heath offering is a delight. Bursting with vibrant red berry, cherry and raspberry fruits, there’s also a hint of spicy vanilla and oak, thanks to the fact that it’s been aged in French and American barrels. Seasonal lamb or a selection of slivers of hard, nutty cheese would make an ideal gourmet pairing with this red.

Balfour Liberty’s Bacchus 2018 (£20 / £17 members)

This single vineyard Bacchus has been picked and pressed by Hush Heath’s Wine Club members making it rather unique in terms of its production! Dubbed by the vineyard as ‘England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc’ it’s a lively mix of acidic, citrusy notes tempered by fragrant rose petals, making it a pleasantly complex wine with good staying power. Keep a bottle in the fridge so you can crack it open when you want an enjoyable post work glass or something to accompany an Asian feast.

We also had the opportunity to sample a number of Hush Heath’s beers and ciders, which we were also very impressed with, and the Winterdale cheese platter (an additional fee of £20) was sublime.

Hush Heath is a charming destination – whether you’re after a quick walk or a full guided wine tasting tour and given the fact it is open seven days a week it makes it very accessible. If you want to find out what English wine is all about then this is a perfect place to start. Cheers!

For more information on Hush Heath Estate or to book a formal tasting visit www.hushheath.com

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