Discovering The Grange: A Sparkle of Hampshire’s Beauty

By | 9 March 2024

Margaret Rand visits an exciting young English wine project.


Margaret Rand

A relatively new face on the English wine scene, The Grange is the work of a multitalented family who have moved into wine on their estate in a beautiful corner of Hampshire.

I can do media,” says Zam Baring; “Mark can do money, Rose and Lucy get out selling. The only thing we lack is any experience of wine.” He’s both joking and not. The Grange is a young producer, and the Baring siblings are newcomers to wine.   

The Barings are by no means novices. Mark, the 8th Baron Ashburton, manages the estate located in Hampshire. This estate also hosts the fantastic Grange Festival of opera annually. He has a career in asset management. Rose manages a highly acclaimed independent publisher, Eland Books. Lucy founded Vaughan, a destination for top-tier lighting. Zam (formally named Alexander), previously a television production worker, partners with Mark in the arable farming business and manages the wine company.

The journey started as an effort for novice wine makers to expand their production. Nick Coates and Christian Seely, the energetic pair behind Coates & Seely (refer to WFW 77, pp.172–75), were on the hunt for places to cultivate vines on Hampshire’s chalky clay. They convinced the Barings to plant 25 acres (10ha) of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, having four clones of each. As Coates describes it, the main challenge was finding the perfect site since most land is owned by large farming families or corporations who don’t sell. However, suggesting the planting of a sparking vineyard could convince these large estates, like that of the Barings’, who don’t usually sell land, to offer a suitable site. And so, with the Barings’ aspirations to diversify, this is what transpired.

Thus, we find ourselves in an exceptionally picturesque part of Hampshire, where navigation systems tend to lead you, not to your desired location, but to an anonymous road in a maze of similar roads, leaving everyone at The Grange politely perplexed, who can easily make their way around. The annual journey to the opera festival is always a navigational spectacle. But that’s enough about that.

There’s a new winery in England. Despite not being the most flashy or tourism-centric, it has potential. It’s far larger than required, capable of managing 200 tons of produce while their aim is to handle around 75 tons. They plan on using the extra space for contract winemaking for other producers, albeit a limited number at a time to ensure proper care for each contract. The creation of the winery, according to Zam, wasn’t cheap – there was a 40% increase in costs between planning pre-Covid and actual execution. He noted that despite these challenges, having their winery is superb. With their winery, they can watch their grapes transform into juice, an enriching experience.

But let’s rewind and start from the beginning.

Understanding the trajectory

The vines were planted in 2011 in Burges Field, a south-facing slope on the 3,500-acre estate’s southwest corner. The top of the slope consisted of about 15 cm of topsoil, double that at the base. According to the soil analysis, it’s excellent for producing sparkling wine. Zam admits that planting at the slope’s bottom wasn’t a wise decision due to the 4°C temperature fluctuation and the risk of frosting on the lower vines. They’ve installed bougies to counter frost, but the location can be chilly despite the favorability of the soil.

It’s noteworthy that it ripens late. “At Hattingley, we were perpetually the last to arrive,” Zam conveys. “We’re about three weeks behind different locations in Kent. Although we receive a significant amount of rain, it drains exceptionally well. And there’s considerable vigor.”

They strive to be as regenerative as possible; they once ceased mowing and cultivating approximately 20 rows. The vines, however, were overtaken by grass and the canopy was reduced by half. “In 2020 there was no mildew due to the efficient air flow.” They plan to resume cultivating to increase yield. “We’re just beginning to apprehend how to manage our soil.” They abstain from herbicides completely and minimize all spraying to the utmost; they have plans to deploy a proper regenerative technique, possibly involving a rotational cover-crop sowing scheme.

The initial plan was to have Coates & Seely handle the winemaking. However, they decided against undertaking contract winemaking, so since the Barings didn’t wish to merge their vinous interests with Coates & Seely, they had to go it alone. There were current and past numerous advisors: the viticulturist having extensive experience in Italy, who was mildly shocked by the prevalence of dock leaves within the inner tubes; the highly organized and very efficient Phil Norman; Peter Hayes from Australia; and the well-known consultant who found it amusing when I expressed a desire to contribute, leading to disappointment.

After assessing a range of potential contract winemakers, they opted for Emma Rice, previously at Hattingley, who asked about the style they wished to make. They conducted a tasting session encompassing about 25 sparkling wines from all over the world. “We were complete novices… I still find base wines unpleasant to taste. Learning on your own is a steep learning curve.” Krug was the standout: “It was the first time any of us had tasted it.” Emma, though unnerved, responded: “I’ll see what can be done. At least I know which course to take.”

The initial unveiling of the wines was in 2018, designed for the Grange Festival’s consumption. This left Michael Moody, the festival’s COO, filled with trepidation. In Zam’s words, “the relief on his face was palpable when he tasted it. ‘I’m relieved it’s not awful,’ he said”.

Surprisingly, it is not. The wine boasts a traditional freshness and balance, flavor profile teetering towards a lemon-shortbread blend, with an undertone of tension, culminating in a savory aftertaste. They prefer to undergo malolactic fermentation for most wines. Pink, as the rose is called, presents a stern core beneath an extravagant fruit display and a hint of oak. While they do produce still wines, it’s a rarity. The barrels used are ex-Burgundy, courtesy of Tonnellerie de Champagne. Majority of the wine produced till now is Vintage, although they sell as Non-Vintage based on preference. According to Zam, “The expense of making 750 labels for the first batch of wine led us to decide to go Non-Vintage.” The winery has a large solera reserve comprising wines from 2015, with a part of the Classic blend added each year.

Harry Pickering, however, holds differing opinions. Harry, who transitioned from working with Charlie Holland at Gusbourne to being the Grange’s resident winemaker in June 2021, proposes segregating the reserve wines, perhaps by the grape variety. His objective is to have more blending options. However, realizing this can be a challenge given the difficulties of maintaining less than 1,200 liters in optimum condition, as per Zam, “which is a significant chunk of our production at this point.” This will become feasible only when production scales up.

Upon Harry’s arrival, the entire winery inventory was sampled – all wines under cork, on lees, and those stored in the cellar. “This was a first for us,” mentions Zam. Harry plans on annually experimenting, commencing with the new winery this year (an investment of over £2 million: £1.7 million towards construction, and approximately £600,000 on equipment), building upon what Hattingley had initiated. So, what alterations might we foresee?

Well, Zam suspects that Pinot Meunier might be the best suited to the terrain—he prefers the English word over “terroir.” “I’m not quite confident in Chardonnay yet.” “Chardonnay is a long-term proposal,” says Harry, “it needs a long time on the lees. But we can’t change everything at once. We’re vineyard-focused, and we can develop a sense of place, but not at the expense of compromising the fruit.”

Zam says that his son is obsessed with natural wines and is interested in the yeasts that occur naturally. “Harry let me ferment three barrels naturally, and they were an interesting blend element; they had a very different flavor. I’m interested in using our own yeasts, but not if they screw up the wines.”

And really, says Harry, the next five years will be spent understanding the vineyard. But what a start they have made.

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