Its hard to think of a more fitting way to celebrate the start of English Wine Week than a visit to one of the real success stories of the English wine scene, and not just in the commercially viable English sparking wine market.
I first came across the Furleigh Estate on a visit to Dorset last October. As I was heading down to Bridport I spotted a small black and white sign saying vineyard! I’ve been coming down to this part of West Dorset for the best part of 17 years and had never noticed this before.
Curiosity took me down to the vineyard which was closed but a Google search of Furleigh Estate and its many trophies and medals prompted me to investigate the possibility of a visit/tasting on my next visit to West Dorset.
One slightly complicating factor was that the tour I wanted to do was on a Friday morning and the next one was on 27th May. This coincided with a long weekend down there but we were not due to arrive till Friday evening!
Spurred on by the perfect alignment of English Wine Week, A long sunny Bank Holiday weekend and the opportunity to take a day’s leave on Friday led to us booking on the 11am Vintage Tour at Furleigh Estate.
After the disappointment of missing the start of the tour at Vina Tondonia due to a combination of traffic and my poor navigation we decided to come down the night before.
Gillian rather generously offered to drive and in about 15 minutes drive we were heading down the rough drive to the vineyard.
On arrival we were greeted by Jim the recently retired estate manager who was helping out that day and our guide for the tour. We were given a brief introduction to the history of Furleigh and a glass of Classic Cuvee 2011, a great way to start the tour, especially as Gillian handed me her glass for a second helping!
After the intro we headed out to the vines.
The vineyard was purchased in 2004 when Ian and Rececca sold their actuarial business and the opportunity arose to purchase the diary farm that had been run by Rebecca’s family many decades before. The first year was spent laying out and preparing the site and Ian enrolling on a wine making degree course at Plumpton College in Sussex.
In 2005 the first rows of vines were planted with the second phase of planting taking place in 2006. Grapes are grown across three sites in Dorset, here at Thurleigh and a near by plot and also at Wooton Fitzpaine near Charmouth.
They have 10 rows of Rondeau, a red grape which strangely usually produces red juice! They have 40 rows of Bacchus, a varietal which is suited to the English climate although very difficult to grow and that produces a Loire style Sauvignon Blanc.
Overall the estate is weighted towards the commercially successful sparkling wine market with Furleigh producing 2 white and one rose sparkling wines, but more on these later and this accounting for around 70% of the 200,000 litres of wine produced!
Interestingly unlike most of what I’ve seen in Champagne the vines are grown on the vertical shoot method, partly because this keeps the precious grapes out of reach of pests like badgers etc…. and partly to optimise the grape to foliage ratio. With this method both the height and width of the rows is critical to getting the best yield.
The soil type hear is sandy loam unlike the chalk soils of the Sussex Downs which are on a similar geological line to the Champagne area. Crucially though with sparkling wines it is what the winemaker does with the grapes at the second fermentation that has the biggest impact on the overall taste and finish.
Furleigh Estate Vineyards panorama.
After a walk through the vines which sit in fields adjacent to rolling hills with Dorset breed sheep grazing we headed back to the wine production area. We also learnt of the importance of frost minimisation strategies; at Thurleigh they have a large man-made lake adjacent to the vines as this helps to keep the night time temperature a few degrees higher. West Dorest is also renomned as a faily windy place and you generally don’t get a frost when the air is circulating so again this is a benefit when there’s a frost risk.
Furleigh use a minimum of sulphites in their process which is generally a good thing. There’s been a huge investment by Ian and Rebecca in the best technology to help them make award wining sparkling wines. From the whole bunch presses to the gyropalette which mechanically turns the champagne the required number of turns that is part of the second fermentation.
The gyropalette achieves in just 5 days what would have taken considerably longer and been far more painstaking by hand!
They use a French Oak fermentation barrel and then new American Oak for aging their still wines. I recently wrote about the dying art of the cooper and this trade is in such demand that a new oak barrel can cost around £600!
After the tour of the production area we headed back to the tasting room for the highlight of the tour , tasting 7 of the Estates wines.
Bacchus Dry 2014
A clear and bright colour with nose of grapefruit and elderflower, a Sauvignon Blanc style with a palette that is fresh and citrusy with a good balance of acidity and minerality. Alcohol 12%.
Perfect with locally caught plaice or the local Woolsery dairy goat’s cheese.
Sea Pink 2014
Dark rose colour, an off dry rose with a hint of wild strawberry and summer fruits on the nose, a palate of red fruits including cranberry with a hint of acidity. Dry with a long finish
A must with anything crustacean from the legendary Samways fishmongers in West Bay!
Tyrannosaurus Red 2014
Aromas of cassis and plum. On the palate juicy fruit balanced with acidity, think peppered strawberries and sour cherries. A light smokiness comes through from the oak. A long fish tops out the performance.
Would partner well with roast pork or spicy Moroccan tagine and can even work as a lightly chilled red with meaty fish
A colour of pale salmon pink with red wine added at the dose stage just 17ml per 750ml. Aroma of wild strawberries. Palate is dry with mix of red summer fruits and a citrusy acidity.
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier.
A good partner to local seafood, scallops or garlic prawns.
West Dorset Chardonnay 2014
Aromas of baked apple and beeswax on the nose. Followed by a palate of dried apricot and apple compote balanced by a light oak with a buttery finish without masking the fruit. Don’t overchill
Bacchus Fume 2014
A dry aromatic white. A bouquet of passion fruit and mandarin on the nose followed by a palete of pineapple and tropical fruits.
Use instead of a Pinot Gris with spicy oriental food.
Classic Reserve 2010
Their premium white sparkling wine. Aromas of toasted hazelnuts and brioche. Palate of baked apple and buttered toast. Complex with a long finish.
A sparkler that is made to partner food such as turkey, chicken, quail or partridge. A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Meunier, 5% Pinot Noir.
After a few purchases from the shop and feeling slightly light headed were headed off to West Bay in search of some crustaceans to partner with the best of Furleigh’s wines!