When Michael first visited Lympstone Manor, he was not only inspired by the potential to transform a dilapidated mansion into what has become a luxury country house hotel and highly acclaimed Lympstone Manor, he was equally excited at the prospect of planting a vineyard in Devon on the southwest-facing parkland overlooking the beautiful Exe estuary.
“The vine likes to see the water”, asserts Michael confidently. “Most of the great vineyards of Europe are all located near rivers, the Médoc châteaux of Bordeaux on the Gironde, wine estates along the Rhône, Loire, and Rhine rivers, the great port vineyards of the Douro. So why not the Exe estuary? Our climate is mild and the success of other local vineyards has convinced me that it will be possible to produce outstanding wines here.”
Michael’s dream is to produce high-quality English sparkling wine utilising the varietals of Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier. Vineyards, like dreams, take time to be transformed into reality, time for roots to penetrate deep down and become established, time for grapes to ripen, for wines to be made, for secondary fermentation, and for the complexity to develop that only comes from lengthy maturation on the lees in the bottle.
In May 2018, the first stage of the dream was realised: 17,500 vines are now planted in the red earth of Devon, basking in a special and protected micro-climate that has been identified as one of the very best in the country. The first significant harvest is unlikely to be before 2021, and it will take a further two years for the wines to develop and mature before release.
However, we can confidently say that Michael’s dream of enjoying a flûte of his own Lympstone Manor Cuvée from grapes grown overlooking the beautiful Exe estuary is getting closer than ever.
Of course, having a dream and a vision is one thing, turning it into reality is another. Early soil analysis was promising, and, to Michael’s surprise and delight, it seems that the Lympstone Manor estate is blessed with a microclimate that is particularly suited to growing grapes. Climatically, the site falls within the top 5% in the entire country, putting it on par with some of the best wine estates in the UK.
“My intention is to produce high-quality sparkling wines utilising the same grape varieties cultivated in Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, made sparkling by the classic method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. English sparkling wines have proven themselves able to compete with the very best in the world. Our cooler climate results in sparkling wines that at best combine fresh, exhilarating acidity with ripe fruit, structure and elegance. Working with a chosen partner winery, we will seek to produce a single vineyard premium English sparkling wine that truly expresses the unique microclimate and coastal terroir that encompasses the estate.”
The Devon based vineyard has been mapped out to determine the best row orientation to maximise available sunlight. The soil was enriched with organic compost and lime. Because it had been many years since the land was last cultivated, the ground had become compact, so subsoiling was necessary to reinvigorate the earth to bring oxygen back into the earth. This was followed by a final plough, turning the soil to allow it to break down over winter in anticipation of planting in the spring of 2018. 18,000 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines were planted at the optimum moment in April 2018. Management of the vineyard requires precise skills, training and a great understanding of viticulture. The Vineyard will be under the management of James Matyear. James studied viticulture at Plumpton College, East Sussex then later went on to work for the multi-award-winning English sparkling wine producer Hattingley Valley, in Hampshire.
Planting a vineyard is an undertaking for those with considerable patience. The first small harvest will not be until autumn 2020. Afterwards, the laborious process of turning the subsequent still wine into quality sparkling wine by the classic method of secondary fermentation in the bottle, including ageing on the lees for 2 years to add complexity, will be equally painstaking and time consuming.
It is anticipated that the first release of Lympstone Manor Cuvée will not be before October 2023.
“I am a patient man,” says Michael. “To create something lasting and worthwhile takes time and nature can’t be rushed. It will be a very special moment when we will be able to offer a flûte of our own Lympstone Manor Cuvée for guests to enjoy on the terrace overlooking the vineyard and the Exe estuary.”