What. A. Day.
This was one of those days that truly makes your soul sing!
I was invited to spend a day with a group of female wine communicators and it was simply glorious; 23 degree sunshine in the middle of October (!), my first time harvesting grapes, an utterly fabulous group of girls and the most beautiful sights on the estate.
Balfour is a family owned winery in Kent, started by Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn in 2002. Leslie had the idea to plant the original vines at Hush Heath hoping to make a pink sparkling wine to rival their favourite Champagne, Billecart Salmon Rosé. They decided the risk was worth it - if they couldn't sell it, they'd drink it!
Luckily when Balfour Brut Rosé was launched in 2004 it was a huge success, winning a gold medal and trophy in the International Wine Challenge for its first vintage. It was also the first English Sparkling wine served on British Airways First Class flights worldwide! I knew there was a reason I was piling up the air miles! It was also the only English wine to be served at the London 2012 Olympics. It seems very deserving of its title of “England’s most exclusive pink fizz”!
Only a 40 min train from London Bridge to Marden; ideal for a quick getaway from the bustling city. We were picked up in the Balfour bus and greeted with a beautiful Autumnal brunch spread!
After inhaling pastries, fresh fruit and a glass of Blanc de Blancs we were ready to hit the vineyards!
We joined head viticulturist, Cath Smith, who has been working with vines for over 30 years. Under her guidance, we set off snipping away at the beautiful bunches of Chardonnay in Oast House Meadow - the original vineyard plot. I've always wanted to harvest grapes, and can safely say it's very fun for an hour! A lot of stamina is needed for a proper run at it!
Cath explained how bumper the crops have been this year; an anticipated 230 tonnes compared to 183 tonnes in 2018 (which was the best year for English wine so far). In 2022, they produced 400,000 bottles... 2023 could be as many as 800,000! Mind blowing.
We walked back to the winery through the ancient woodlands dating back to Tudor times, it really is a magical setting! Almost as magical as our delightful wine pairing lunch. Beetroot cured salmon with pickled candy beetroot and dill crème fraîche paired with Nannette's Rosé - an utterly superb still Rosé demonstrating England's ability with still wines as well as sparkling!
Pan roasted venison haunch with the BEST potatoes I've ever eaten, paired with one of my favourite wines of the day, Luke's Pinot Noir. I have really struggled with English reds... this one knocked my socks off! As we chatted with winemaker, Fergus, he explained that the Pinot Noir grapes are from Burgundy clones and they will engage in processes such as draining the juice, rather than pressing (to eradicate any bitterness) to create this silky smooth Pinot. Whatever they're doing, it's worked. Get me a bottle, or ten!
Balfour is all about the fruit; they want their wines to be enjoyed in all their freshness and their clay soils are the dream terroir for this. It was also a privilege to taste tank samples from currently fermenting wines - can't wait to taste the final wines next year!
I loved this place, it feels like one big family and everyone shared such a passion for what they do. Janina Doyle (of www.eatsleepwinerepeat.co.uk) is Balfour's Brand Ambassador and was truly the hostess with the mostest! A perfect day.