This month we are shining a spotlight on the wonderfully talented winemaker Wendy Outhwaite, who, through both her passion and determination, created the wine estate Ambriel.
Q) Tell us about the Ambriel estate and following your dream to become a winemaker?
The vineyard is in the wilds of West Sussex with spectacular views over the South Downs. We planted it with Burgundian clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier on greensand rock. We’re proud that our wines express their terroir – which is not so common for Sparkling wines. Perhaps because of our previous careers, both Charles and I are ‘details’ people. Even the smallest things matter. We insist on having complete control from grape to glass and only use estate grown grapes. We make wines in our own way – for instance, we’re slightly obsessional about proper bottle lees ageing. So we’re not your typical ‘hands off’ owners, but rather ‘hands on’, and usually ‘hands in’… but that’s the joy of it! We’re creating something delicious for other people to enjoy. It gives you a little fillip when you see people sip, and then smile.
Q) What does sustainability mean to you and what is your approach to sustainability in the vineyards?
England is late to the viticulture party, but there’s one big advantage that follows: we have not had centuries of monoculture to degrade the environment and we can learn from the mistakes of others. Its so important that our green and pleasant land stays that way. At Ambriel HQ as well as being certified carbon neutral, we grow grapes and make wine in a sustainable manner. We minimise the use of chemicals – we don’t use insecticides, prefer hoeing to herbicides and embrace biological controls in the vineyard. We encourage biodiversity by planting trees, hedges, wildflowers and keeping a wild oasis in the middle of the vineyard. Our vineyards are ‘mowed’ by ouessant sheep (the smallest in the world) in the winter, and our bird scarers are buzzards! We’re so very lucky in England to have the perfect goldilocks climate – not too hot, not too cold. We’re very keen to do our bit to save the planet. After all, it’s the only one with wine.
Q) Can you tell us a bit about your partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the event you are hosting in September?
We hugely admire the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to address – as they say – the ‘plight of the bumblebee’. We will be welcoming them in September and I hope to show them some of the things we have done to try and help. We love bees and are generally pro-bug. The vineyard is covered with all sorts of different plants between the rows, but particularly dandelions for that all-important early nectar. Just recently we installed a Victorian thyme walk which is currently in flower and smells divine to us and the bees. We have many different types of bee here, but we’re closest to masonry bees who literally live in the sandstone walls of our house.
Q) What is your favourite part of the winemaking process and why?
That’s a tough question. Obviously the hurly -burly of harvest and triggering fermentation is very exciting because that is the first glimpse of the wine to come. It’s the firing of the starting gun. Blending is a lot of fun – particularly as we ‘blend blind’ so we try all sorts of different combinations without knowing what they are, until we taste the best one, and then there is the big reveal. Its definite a ‘palate not wallet’ decision-making process. For me though, I think my favourite of the wine-making process is following the evolution of the wine as it ages on the bottle lees. That transformation as the Sleeping Beauties lie undisturbed on the bottle lees for years is the closest thing to magic I know. Its mesmerising.
Q) Why would you encourage our customers to drink English Sparkling wines? And what will you drink during English Wine Week running from June 19th to 27th
This June- ‘Go Anglo!’. What better way to celebrate the Summer than by sipping Sparkling with the ones you love? English Sparkling wines have such great structure, a refined effervescence and are so refreshingly more-ish. Its the perfect sip.
Q) I have heard that you’ve recently released the new vintage rose – would you please tell us about the 2015 and how does it compare with the current 2014 vintage?
Yes, the Ambriel Rosé 2015 has arrived. It is made with the same love and care as the 2014 vintage, but I would say it has greater texture and complexity. Its jewelled hue is almost rosehip in colour, with exuberant raspberry and wild strawberry notes dancing on the bubbles, and a long succulent finish. It is a complete delight. Best served with friends (or failing that, a delicious lobster).
Q) What are your plans for the Ambriel Estate over the next 5 years?
We would like to welcome people to come and see us. We don’t want to keep our secrets behind closed doors, we’d like to throw open the gates. Wine is made for sharing, and there’s something rather special about sipping the wines in amongst the vines themselves. Sparkling wines are innately joyous – that’s why each of our corks proclaims ‘Huzzah!’ – and we’d like to celebrate the fun and delight and sheer ebullience of great English Sparkling.
Q) When you are not making wine what might we find you doing?
Drinking it. Preferably with family, friends and fantastic food. When are you free?