Interview with Charlie Holland – Head Winemaker at the Gusbourne Estate
The Gusbourne Estate is a vineyard with 90 hectares of wine-growing land across Kent and West Sussex, specialising in the growing of high-quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
Since it first planted vines, back in 2004, Gusbourne’s mission has been simple – to strive to create the finest wines in the world. As Chief Winemaker and three-time English Wine Producer of the Year, Charlie Holland is absolutely central to this vision. Recently he was kind enough to answer some of Blend Group’s questions regarding his role, career and what the future holds for Gusbourne.
What does your role entail as Head Winemaker at Gusbourne?
Making sparkling wine is a very long-term process with lots of tiny decisions that contribute to making a fantastic end product and I hold the responsibility for many of those decisions. It takes four years from first planting a vine to when the grapes are ready to make into wine, and then six months to actually make the wines, and then we age them for at least three years – so it’s seven or eight years from planting a vine to seeing a bottle of wine produced from it.
How did you get into winemaking?
I fell into wine as a lot of English people do. It’s not necessarily a career path that you follow to get into it, but I had the opportunity to do a vintage in Australia back in 2000, 22 years ago, and I fell in love with it, and fell in love with the whole alchemy of making grapes into wine. I then came back to the UK and studied winemaking at Plumpton, and then travelled the world and went to work in lots of different places. To be honest, I thought that was my ticket to somewhere warmer and more exotic, but then the opportunity came up to come back to England to make wine and I can’t think of a more exciting place to be making wine at the moment.
In which part of the winemaking process are you most able to impact the outcome and include your individual touch?
Deciding which wines we’re going to produce each year and the style we’re trying to achieve is where we can make the most impact on what we’re going to produce. This makes the blending process incredibly important as we make those decisions long before the finished wine reaches the customer. We taste every single component blind. We make copious notes and score everything scientifically, statistically. Later we refer to all that data – graphs, charts, word clouds – to help us put the blends together. Then we begin to taste and refine.
What are your top three wines?
It’s hard to choose! I’m proud of all the wines we produce here. If I had to pick one of our classic sparklings, our Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs is one of my favourites; it’s won a fair few awards, so I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that! It’s made purely from our finest Chardonnay grapes, and it’s a great wine to go with scallops, oysters and fresh fish – all of which we get in abundance on the Kent coast.
Our newest release – Fifty One Degrees North – is another, newer favourite. It’s a wine that’s been years in the making and we released the first vintage, 2014, in September last year. It’s a wine that truly sings, made from the best fruit from the best parcels of the best vineyards, the purest pressings, the most characterful barrels.
Then our Chardonnay Guinevere Barrel Selection 2020 is perhaps my favourite Gusbourne still wine to date. It’s silky, smooth and elegant. I had a lightly chilled bottle with the Christmas turkey this year and it was incredible.
What’s a wine you’d like to produce that you haven’t had a chance to yet in your career?
Ah, I’m not going to give away all my secrets! Stay tuned…
Which wines are worth investing in?
Whichever you enjoy the most!
What’s next for Gusbourne?
We’re heading into the growing season soon, so a whole new vintage! Plus, we’re about to release our new still English Rosé 2022 that has an entirely new look and feel. The perfect wine to enjoy as we head into the spring and summer months!
Also, The Nest, the home of our tour and tasting experiences, gets incredibly busy as the weather gets warmer. We have a wide range of special events too that are very exciting. I always love seeing so many people visiting and discovering all about Gusbourne, our wines and how we’re able to produce such exceptional quality products year after year.
Finally, we’ve also recently purchased more land in Kent, so we’ll be planting that with new vines very soon.