'Heart of chalk' and stainless 'steel resolve'
Exton Park is a relatively new vineyard, set on the slopes of the wide rolling chalklands at the heart of Hampshire. The result of three careful plantings over the last ten years, Exton is one of the largest – at 55 acres – in the county, on terroir that precisely mirrors the famous Champagne vineyards just eighty miles away across the Channel. And with a similar cool, northerly climate.
At the heart of Exton Park lie two key components – the prized chalk terroir that imparts a unique, mineral character to the grapes, and the policy of focussing on non vintage wines that are backed by a growing ‘library’ of reserve wines from different plots and years. Both have had the spotlight shone on them over the summer.
In the vineyard, the porous chalk below the soil allows for good drainage with no surface water to encourage frosts. But quite how much of the vineyard was actual chalk only became apparent when excavations began beside the oldest, and highest, part of the vineyard – planted with classic Chardonnay and fine, floral Pinot Meunier. The sites, in fact, of the 2016 Gold medal winning wines. The true terroir was laid bare, with less than 6” of topsoil above solid, pure white chalk. The pit seemed bottomless, as Vineyard Manager Fred Langdale and winemaker Oliver Whitfield discovered nervously. Into this amazing space carved out of the chalk, will go a new ageing cellar and tasting room, with the grass ‘roof’ returned to become part of the landscape once more.
But getting ready for the harvest this year was not all about excavation – but installation too. Ten brand-new gleaming stainless steel tanks were installed in a new shed beside the winery. These are tanks with a very special difference - each with three small internal compartments, designed by Head Winemaker Corinne Seely together with Fred Langdale to suit the size of the various plots in the vineyard. As Corinne’s reserve wine collection increases year by year, so new storage space had to be found. Now – starting with the 2016 harvest next week - each parcel can be picked separately, vinified and stored on its own until ready for blending.
A remarkable co-operation between vineyard and winery, thanks to Fred and Corinne’s shared passion for the terroir and vines at Exton Park – and their potential. According to Fred Langdale, who is in charge of the vineyard, the 2016 harvest, due to start on 11th October, is already looking exciting, and showing excellent quality especially the Chardonnay. ‘Which means that we will be making full use of these new tanks with their individual tiers’, Corinne Seely concludes.
Visit Exton Park website for more information about their vines and wines.