Over half a million years, our part of the Chiltern Hills has been shaped by the retreating Thames, leaving behind an environment ideal for creating world-class sparkling wine. Alas, the same flint rocks that make our single vineyard estate a dream for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, also make it a nightmare to work and cultivate – as two broken harrows testify. But then nothing worth treasuring ever came easy.
Grown, picked and expertly blended by the same team on the same site, each glass of Harrow & Hope is a tribute to traditional method viticulture and winemaking, to the unique characteristics of Marlow and to the spirit of adventure.
A Labour Of Love
I come from a wine obsessed family that has been in the business for over 50 years. Since I can remember I’ve been taken around vineyards and wineries in all parts of the world. It’s no surprise then that my obsession with creating wine started with the monumental release of my first (pineapple!) wine at the age of 13. By 17 I had completed my first proper harvest as a ‘cellar rat’ in the beautiful Ardeche region of France. That place really ignited my passion for wine production, wine people and the whole culture that surrounds this magical agricultural product. After another harvest at Tatachilla winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I met my wife Kaye at Durham University, where we studied biology together………well she studied it, and I stole her notes! She also tolerated me disappearing for months on end to Australia and France to build up my winemaking experience. We married in 2008 and headed off to rural France to set up our first vineyard project at Chateau Verniotte in Castillon, Bordeaux. Although we still love the place, we wanted to start a family in England. And just at that time it had become clear, thanks to the work of others, that the chalk hills of England were capable of producing Sparkling Wines that were more than just good; that were world-class.
We decided to begin a sparkling wine project. We searched for and eventually got lucky and found our perfect site on the rolling hills behind Marlow. Vines planted, three kids born, winery built and 10 years later we’re very proud of the recognition the wines are receiving and the customers both in the UK and abroad that have supported us from the very beginning.
Small Is Beautiful
For the first 7 years it was just myself, Kaye and Alfonse (now Alfie), our trusted vineyard dog we rescued from the streets of Bergerac! As the work got more and more we’ve built a small dedicated team that get’s involved in every part of the business, no two days are every the same!
But along the way we’ve had an immense amount of help from family and friends, and a few experts as well. Before he sadly passed away, we had a lot of help from Mike Roberts OBE and his family Tamara and Simon from Ridgeview; the great pioneers of the fledgling English sparkling industry and who we all have a lot to thank for. Without their previous groundwork and kind help we would never have been able to start at such a high standard.
We also enjoyed a bi-annual visit from Dr Tony Jordan before he sadly passed away in 2019. The great Australian sparkling pioneer, working for Moët et Chandon, setting up for them Domaine Chandon in Australia and other sparkling wineries around the world. Tony was hugely generous with his time and his knowledge, the greatest mentor a young sparkling winemaker could ever hope to have. Without Tony and Mike’s help and the devotion of our family and friends we certainly wouldn’t have got off to such a flying start.
Our philosophy in the vineyard is simple, to help the vines in every way we can to best express the character of our site in our wines. It sounds quite simple, but it’s one of the hardest things to achieve in wine. The French have a word for it, “terroir”, it has no direct English translation but it simply means all the natural elements that contribute to a wine’s taste, including soil structure, soil biology, rocks, micro-climate, aspect and ultimately us! We’ve always felt, through our work and the learnings of others, that the best way to achieve this is by working organically. We have a focus in building the natural biome both above and below ground by not using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, employing cover crops, home made compost and working WITH instead of against nature. This all sounds lovely in principle, but it’s no mean feat in our climate, and can only be achieved with attention to every detail of our vineyard work.
Our Site – Thames Terroir
Our 6.5 Hectare vineyard is in one plot perched on the end of a Thames gravel terrace, formed by the river cutting into the Chilterns chalk around 450,000 years ago. It left behind a complex layer of clay, flint and gravel that we felt would be perfectly suited to our Pinot Noir, giving it ripeness, texture and weight.
Further down the slope the clay layer gets thinner before you get to the pure chalk that is home to our Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Here we like the freshness and minerality it lends to the Chardonnay whilst keeping the Meunier elegant with great aromatics and acidity. We had a great feeling about this site from the day we stood on a cold, rainy February day in 2010, but now it’s our responsibility to do it justice by transferring this potential into the bottle for everyone to enjoy.
Our Winery – A Light Touch
By the time harvest comes around, most of the hard work has already been done. The quality of the fruit is paramount if you want to make great wine. The role of the winery is to preserve this quality as it is guided gently through the traditional method process. In short, the winemakers job is to not mess it up, but also to work in a way that brings out the best in the fruit.
Our winery has no frills. But at every step of the winemaking process we have invested in the best; the right piece of ‘kit’ for the job. Traditional method sparkling wine is more complicated than any other winemaking process, because of those fine bubbles! Every stage is done in-house with meticulous care and attention. Good winemaking is paying attention to all the little details along the process, that when added together preserve the wines great quality.
As we’ve moved to become more natural in the vineyard we have done the same in the winery. We ferment in small batches using a combination of small stainless steel tanks and various different size oak barrels. As the vines have got older we now pick our plots based on soil type, as over the years we have come to understand the characteristics of each plot and what they contribute to each blend. We are increasingly using the native yeast that exists in the vineyard and winery to perform our fermentations. This leads to slower fermentations that bring out more texture and complexity from the wines.