When, nearing the end of a conversation about a young wine business, the owner drops in that they’re currently the only vineyard to create a rosé demi sec in the world, you know this is an exciting find. It’s this element of mystery and yes, the feeling you’ve been allowed in on a wonderful secret that sets Coolhurst Vineyard and their Lady Elizabeth sparkling wines apart from the rest.
Hidden away from view, the only nod to its existence a smart yet unobtrusive entrance on the side of the A281, just outside of Horsham, West Sussex, this boutique label is making a name for itself in the competitive field of English sparkling wine. Owner, Charles Scrase Dickins began his venture in 2010 with his wife Jo and cousin Will, but the idea of a vineyard on the site, which has been in his family for seven generations, had been mooted for as long as he can remember.
“During the war my grandfather gave the land and house over to the Canadians, where they used to practise drills on it and when it was returned to him it was in a terrible state. There was a man in Horsham who was a prominent wine seller and the story we were told as kids was he was sure my grandfather should turn it into a vineyard even back then,” Charles cheerily explains during a brief break in his work.
The land wasn’t turned into a vineyard in the 1950s, but when photographer Charles was looking for a new venture the idea came up again – this time from his friends, the owners of Amberill wines.
Charles picks up the story
“Over two years they persuaded us to do it and, after the soil had been tested and we knew it could be done, that’s when we went for it. I knew exactly what I wanted to make. We’re experiencing the Champagne climate of the 1980s in Sussex, and I decided I wanted to make English sparkling wine – but I wasn’t going to make Champagne in England, I wanted something softer, less acidic.”
He adds, “I wanted to create something with a softer mousse, which was more rounded on the palette and less gassy. We still follow the Champagne method using Pinot Noir, Pinot Menuir and Chardonnay grapes but we make single varietal vintages. The first year was pure Pinot Noir, which created a stunning rosé, which became our Lady Elizabeth. Our Blanc de Noir we make from our Menuir, and that style has become our USP. We use single varietals to make our wine and never make classic cuvees (a wine made of mix of grapes).”
This method is, according to Charles, quite rare – particularly for the price point.
“Single varietal Champagnes under £42 don’t exist – it is an expensive style of wine to make and can’t be compared to the classic cuvee Champagnes which appear in supermarkets for under £20. The closest is from Lanson but they still don’t cost the same.”
In fact, the single varietal isn’t the only USP going for Coolhurst. The website carries the phrase “single vineyard, single vintage, single varietal”, which reminds any discerning customers of the delights on offer.
Oh, and the name?
The Lady Elizabeth is named in recognition of the daughter of the Marquess of Northampton who established the estate in West Sussex. In fact, heritage is extremely important to Charles and Will, who consider themselves “custodians” of the land which was passed on to them.
“We don’t own the land, we just look after it for the next generation of our family,” explains Charles, a reminder of which is the design on all the bottles which includes the family’s coat of arms, which was granted in 1792 by King George.
For Charles, enjoying a glass of his own sparkling is the cherry on top of owning his own vineyard, but it comes with a hefty amount of work.
“Like any business owner I can always find something to do,” he tells me, after a morning of tending the vines, “I can be looking over social media plans one moment, dealing with orders the next, working on the land after that, the list goes on – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He adds, “When I used to work as a photographer, the great joy I had was, after waiting a long time for “the” shot, to be able to capture it. That’s how it feels when our rose is disgorged after 36 months on its lees, it’s worth the wait.”
Being a boutique vineyard Lady Elizabeth isn’t to be found in every hotel or bar, instead you can choose to order directly from the website, pick up from the vineyard (once paid through the website) or visit a local stockist such as Horsham Cellar in The Carfax, Horsham.
Contributed by Lisa Brace