Part 2 in a series of the rise of English Sparkling Wine

Website: www.nyetimber.com

Nyetimber is possibly the most famous of all the English sparkling wine producers, largely because of the reputation they built up on the first wines they made in the early 1990s. These were the first bottles that made people realize that English sparkling wine wasn’t just good: it could be world class. Over the years Nyetimber has grown, most significantly under the current ownership which dates back to 2006. In 2007 the winemaking team— Canadian wife and husband duo Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix—were brought in. I visited to taste with them, and then visited again a few months later with some Canadian wine friends. What is going on here is fabulous, and it is a story worth telling.

It was back in 1986 when a wealthy American couple, Stuart and Sandy Moss bought the then 49 hectare Nyetimber estate, exactly 900 years after it was first mentioned in the Domesday book. Based in an idyllic part of the Sussex countryside, it boasts a half-timbered manor house that dates back to Saxon times. The Mosses had the vision to focus on sparkling wine, and with assistance from Kit Lindlar, who supplied their vines, they established the vineyard in 1988. Significantly, they focused on Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This was at a time when no one thought they could succeed in the UK’s cold climate, and Nyetimbers original Chardonnay plantings are the oldest Chardonnay vines in the country. Had they taken a less risky route, then it’s unlikely that English sparkling wine would be where it is today.

The first release was the 1992 Blanc de Blancs, which was made at Lindlar’s High Weald winery. The 1993 Classic Cuvée followed. Both wines were brilliantly received, and quickly Nyetimber became famous. From the first vintage until 2007, the wines were made under the guidance of Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, a consulting winemaker from Champagne.

In 2001 the Mosses decided to retire and headed back to the USA, selling Nyetimber to musician and songwriter Andy Hill. Hill’s claim to fame (in the UK at least) is that he co-wrote and produced Making Your Mind Up, the song that won the Eurovision Song Contest for Buck’s Fizz back in 1981. He’s written and produced for many other artists. Hill originally bought Nyetimber because of the house, but then realized that the vineyard was pretty smart, too. The big change, though, was when Nyetimber was sold to Dutch entrepreneur Eric Heerema for £7.4 million in 2006. Heerema was already resident in the UK and had his own small vineyard a few miles up the road from Nyetimber. He decided to invest heavily in his new project and grew the vineyards from 16 hectares up to its current level of 150 hectares of vineyards spread over eight sites. Six of these are on greensand, but two are in Hampshire on chalk, both planted to Chardonnay. 2012 was the first vintage of these chalk-based terroirs, which now account for 40% of production here. He also appointed Cherie and Brad to head up the winemaking, and established a modern winery on an industrial estate in Crawley (the roads around Nyetimber are too small to make a larger winery practical).

Winemaker Cherie Spriggs

Interestingly, all the Nyetimber wines currently on the market are from the greensand vineyards, including the impressive single-vineyard Tillington, which at £75 is the most expensive of all English fizzes. The wines are excellent, but Brad and Cherie think that the chalk will add something extra. 'The greensand brings perfume and brightness to the wines, with fruit intensity,' says Greatrix. 'The chalk brings minerality, lime and texture.' He adds: 'Greensand works. Nyetimber’s reputation is built on greensand, but there will just be this extra dimension when the Hampshire vineyards are in the blend.’

Brad Greatrix

When Brad and Cherie arrived in 2007 they inherited the 2006 base wines. ‘There were lots of different emotions when we came in,’ recalls Cherie. ‘In the first week there were some things that were really exciting. We were quite pleased with the base wines from 2006 which was a warm year. But there were other things: we felt maybe the wines weren’t being kept and treated in the way that we would prefer.’

The main difference between Cherie and Brad’s approach and that of the previous regime concerned malolactic fermentation. From the beginning, until they arrived, consultant winemaker Jean-Manuel Jacquinot had been calling the shots. He pursued a no-malolactic policy, beginning with the 1997 vintage. ‘He advised us emphatically that Nyetimber wines should be made without malolactic fermentation, regardless of the year,’ says Cherie. ‘It was a bit funny, because 1992–1996 were made with maloactic, and we are in England.’

Every region in the world has an achilles heel,’ she notes. ‘In England we are a cool climate. We are one of the most northerly climates in Europe, and coming here our thought was if you are trying to create a wine with balance, acids could potentially be too high. So why would you take away a natural tool, malolactic fermentation, that would help adjusting acids to where they should be?’

But they didn’t want to rock the boat too much with a brand as successful as Nyetimber. ‘So in 2007 we decided we’d not change everything straight away,’ says Cherie. ‘We’d let the harvest come and see what the grapes are like to work with and get a good understanding.’ Then 2008 came and acids were very high. ‘We knew at harvest that if we did not make the 2008 with malolactic the acid would be out of balance,’ she says. ‘So we reintroduced the use of malolactic fermentation to Nyetimber.’

Another difference with their approach is with regards to protecting the base wines from oxygen. ‘One of the things we found that we weren’t keen on, was that when the base wines were kept in tank, there wasn’t a lot of concern for keeping the tanks full,’ says Cherie. ‘Keeping them with ullage was considered to be OK. We felt quite differently. Allowing the wine in tank to oxidize was pushing the style of the wine in a direction we weren’t that keen on.’

Sometimes the wines might have been pushed too far towards oxidation before they were bottled, but for us—trying to allow characters from the vineyard to come through—this didn’t feel right. We try not to use winemaking techniques that have a strong character that can change the flavour profile of the wine from what we got from the vineyard.’

Brad adds, ‘We are one of the few in [English] sparkling wine who own all their own vineyards. We can be talking about blocks that are interesting and flavours that we like—for us to squash them all with activities in the winery takes away from one of the benefits of working at Nyetimber.’

There is no doubt that there are wines that are oxidative or use oak that are delicious, but what we are so excited about is the vineyards we are working with and we want that to come through,’ says Cherie. ‘That’s why we are here: making sparkling wine in this country. What you can grow in England is so exciting.’

So the 2007 is their version of the winemaking recipe that they inherited, with no malolactic and a bit more Chardonnay than normal to tighten things up. From 2008 onwards malolactic fermentation has been used.

2009 was an important vintage for Nyetimber. ‘2009 was a great year,’ says Cherie. It’s widely considered to be a warm vintage in the UK, but this isn’t what the figures show. ‘It is an interesting vintage in a lot of ways,’ she says. ‘There can be the impression that in cool climates the great vintages are the hot years. But compared with the 10 year average, all the various characteristics of 2009 are almost bang on average. On the one hand, to call it an average vintage does this a bit of a disservice, because the quality of the fruit that we were working with was amazing.’ What is important is that an average year here results in great wines. ‘Sometimes we hear people who are more sceptical say they might be able to make wine in a good year,’ says Brad. ‘But 2009 proves our point.’

Of the recent vintages, 2010 was another good year, 2011 was a tiny yielding year, and 2012 was a complete washout. Nyetimber didn’t pick any grapes this year, and received a barrage of criticism for putting out a press release explaining that they were scrapping the vintage because the grapes just weren’t ripe enough. ‘It was extraordinary,’ recalls Cherie. ‘The day the press release came out we had phone calls asking to buy the grapes and in the same breath saying to the press “look at what Nyetimber is doing”. People were very unhappy with us, but we were very clear that this was a decision for Nyetimber. We can only speak for ourselves.’

'People were saying the reason they are not picking is because their vineyards are riddled with rot and they don’t know how to manage their vines,’ says Brad, ‘all sorts of horrible things.’ Cherie adds: ‘the fruit was impeccable: it was too cold for botrytis to grow.’

2013, fortunately, is shaping up nicely as a vintage. ‘It was hard to pin down 2013,’ says Cherie, ‘But as we approached the blending process we just got happier with the quality we were working with.’

Yields in the UK are lower than in Champagne. A big year for Nyetimber would be over 8 or 9 tons/hectare, which is rare. In Champagne the average is around 13 tons/hectare for Pinot and 18 tons/hectare for Chardonnay.

Another thing that has changed under the new regime is the basis for picking decisions, and this has led to a new wine. ‘The philosophy at Nyetimber before we joined was that the decisions on harvest should be based on the chemistry of fruit alone,’ says Cherie. ‘Our background from still winemaking is that you can’t just harvest the fruit by chemistry, so we threw that rule out of the window. In 2009 we were walking through the vineyards tasting the fruit, and we walked through a parcel of Pinot Noir on the Tillington site where the fruit was delicious. For all the parcels we have we keep them separate as much as possible, and this parcel kept standing out. By the time we hit blending this Pinot kept coming out at the top, but there was no obvious outlet for it.’

So they created a super-premium single-site wine, the Tillington. ‘It does need some Chardonnay which can just hold the Pinot in check from getting too broad and heavy,’ says Cherie, ‘and the Chardonnay from the same site was also beautiful. So we created this blend which was 79% Pinot Noir and 21% Chardonnay.’

The 2009 was the first release. ‘It has been extremely well received. It is an exciting thing for us. We made the wine in 2009 and 2010, and we haven’t made it since. There’s a question mark over 2013. I feel that some of the characteristics that we are getting from this site we are seeing year on year, which is exciting.’

The big change in the pipeline is that Nyetimber are adopting a non-vintage model for their Classic Cuvée. ‘We were interested in producing a non-vintage, but we didn’t just want to scratch the year off the bottle, so from 2007 we have been setting aside reserve wines,’ says Brad. ‘From tastings and trials we felt that three back vintages was right for the style we are interested in. 2011 was the year that we felt we had enough of a library to do this, using 2011 as a base with 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 reserve wines. We have played around with the number of vintages and the percentage of reserve wines in the blend, and we have settled on three years and around a third reserve wines. We won’t be bound to that.’

The idea of the non-vintage was formed in 2007,’ adds Cherie. ‘The classic cuvee is our main product and what most people know. There is an expectation already in the market that our classic cuvee would be the same from year to year. When the 2011 NV blend comes to market, this is what the Classic Cuvée will become.’

The future is looking bright for English sparkling wine, and Nyetimber are leading the field. ‘I still think there is an opportunity to take sales from Champagne,’ says Brad. ‘There are 30 million bottles of Champagne sold each year in the UK, so there are lots of occasions when people are spending £30 on an experience. Why wouldn't you get an English wine?’


Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2006 England
Lemony and precise with a toasty nose and some rich honey and biscuitty notes in the background. The palate is complex and taut with high acidity. Very lemony and showing some nice complexity, as well as riper notes of apricot and peach. 92/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2007 England
Subtle herb and toast notes on the nose. Lovely detailed palate with good acidity. Keen and lively. Tight with toast and lemon characters, showing lovely precision and weight. Still youthful. 92/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2008 England
Distinctive creamy, lemony, fruity nose with some pear and apple notes, as well as dairy and herbs on the palate. Some creaminess here with lively acidity. Nicely rounded with apple and citrus notes. A rounded, fruity style. 89/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009 England
Lovely pure wine with delicate pear, apple and citrus fruit. Fruity and rounded with lovely purity and balance. Harmonious with subtle toasty notes. 93/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2009 England
Very pure with crisp, clean pear and citrus fruit. Hints of white peach and subtle creaminess. Linead and focused with real finesse. 92/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2010 England
51% Pinot Noir, 31% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier, spent 3 years on lees, 10.5 g/litre dosage. Lovely pure fruity style with harmonious white peach and pear flavours and a nice citrussy finish. There's a faint hint of cherry, too. Very delicate and pure with lovely precision. 92/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1998 England
2012 disgorgement. Mature notes of herbs, fennel and toast, and even a bit of spun sugar. Rich pear fruit palate with some herbiness. Bold and fruity with toasty richness. Bold and full. 89/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2001 England
Very toasty peach and apricot nose. Quite rich. The palate has herbs, mushrooms, toast and peach fruit together with aggressive acidity. Very exotic but the acidity is too much. 86/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2003 England
Lovely toast and herb notes on the nose. Very fresh and lively on the palate with lemons and herbs, and real precision, together with high acidity. Some complexity here and a touch of richness, as well as tight lemony acidity. 89/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 England
Tight, precise, pure and lemony. Very fresh and youthful with high acidity. Lovely precision and finesse with pear, apple and citrus fruit. High acid, but it integrates well with the fruit. Needs time. 90/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 England
Distinctive toasty, herby nose with a hint of creaminess. The palate is powerful with lively acidity. Very keen and lemony with subtle toast and herb notes. Powerful stuff, showing high acidity. 90/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2009 England
A pre-release disgorgement. Very harmonious and pure with precise lemon, pear and apple notes. Real harmony and nice weight to the fruit. Potentially great. 93-95/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2009 England
3% of oak in the base wines. Very pure and delicate with lovely precision and good acidity. Nice finesse with a pristine, youthful character and amazing potential. 93/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2009 England
Ripe and fruity with lovely fine, complex ripe red apple, white peach, cherry and citrus notes. Beautiful harmony on the palate which combines concentration and finesse. Great precision and purity here with subtle toasty notes and some richness, but also nice finesse. Young but already pure and complex. 94/100

Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2009 England
First vintage, 79% Pinot Noir, 21% Chardonnay. Super-fine yet generoys with pear and white peach fruit, a hint of cherry and some toastiness. Has generosity but also focus. Serious stuff. 94/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Rosé 2007 England
12% alcohol. A really distinctive wine. Quite full pink with a salmon/orange hue. The nose is assertive with some strawberry and raspberry notes as well as subtle toasty hints. The palate shows some strawberry/raspberry fruit and richer toasty/brioche hints. It’s also quite grippy and tannic, and has high apparent acidity. There’s a bit of richness, but also some savoury austerity. Overall, it’s a dense, structured rosé with real potential for development and great concentration of flavour. 92/100 (01/10)

Nyetimber Rosé 2007 England
75% Chardonnay and 11.5% red wine. Lively cherries and herbs with high acidity and some lemon notes. Subtle toast. Precise. 89/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Rosé 2008 England
58% Chardonnay, 15.5% red wine. Herby, leafy cherry fruit. Very attractive with some open, ripe cherry notes. Very pretty and distinctive. 92/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Rosé 2009 England
45% Chardonnay, 15.5% red wine. Great definition here with broad, complex flavours of red cherries, herbs and citrus. Subtly spicy notes and some structure, too. Beautiful wine. 93/100 (02/14)

Nyetimber Rosé 2009 England
Full pink colour with a hint of orange. Lovely cherry and plum fruit notes as well as pear and toast. Lovely fruit presence with a hint of creaminess and really direct flavours. Some rose hip syrup. Dry but generous and very pure. 92/100 (05/15)

Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV England
44 g/litre sugar. Off-dry and rich, and a little spicy with apple and pear notes. Some melon here, with bold texture. Very attractive. 91/100 (02/14)

See also:

A video introduction to English sparkling wine
Blog posts on English sparkling wine

Wines tasted 02/14 and 05/15  
Find these wines with


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