Just eighty miles north of the chalk hills of Champagne lie the chalk downlands of southern England. Each is, in fact, a part of the same geological structure, enjoying virtually identical soils and a substantially similar climate. The combination of chalk soils and a cool, northerly climate creates the ideal environment for the production of great sparkling wine, a combination that is abundant in both regions.
In England these chalk downlands rise, iconically, from the sea as the White Cliffs of Dover before curving across the southern English counties and finally coming to rest on
the Dorset coast, in the fabled beauty of Lulworth Cove and the sea-strewn, prehistoric chalk relics of Old Harry’s Rocks. In the middle of this chalk seam lie the North Hampshire Downs: best known as the backdrop for the tales of Watership Down, but concealing in their midst secluded valleys and chalk slopes that are a winemaker's dream.
A mile from the village of Kingsclere, in Hampshire, the downs rise vertiginously to the famous heights of 'Watership Down'. But if you turn your back on this Northern escarpment, the land falls away in a gentler gradient. Here the downlands have a smoother, mellifluous contour, rolling in wide, expansive swells of undulating slope and chalky drift, their crests occasionally topped
with ancient beech hangers and mixed woods of oak and yew. But at 200 - 250 metres altitude, these higher slopes are too exposed and too cold for grape cultivation.
Further down, in the mid-slopes, the landform keeps its rolling shape but is dissected by dry valleys and winterbournes. Old farms begin to dot the landscape, drawn to the water sources along the spring-line. Mixed hedges and winding single-track lanes subdue and enclose the land. It is in these quieter, wooded downlands, at an altitude of around 50 - 100 metres, that the Wooldings vineyard sits, a mile uphill from the village of Whitchurch that hugs the banks of the River Test along the valley floor.
The vineyard at the Wooldings is based on chalk soils with clay caps and is planted with a mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines.
The vineyard envelops either side of a well sheltered, steep-sloped V-shaped valley and face South-East and South-West. Large flints scatter the surface of the vineyards, wreaking havoc on tractor tyres but miraculously retaining the heat of the sun and warming the top-soil, whilst chalk drifts reflect the sun back into the vines. Shelter from the prevailing wind is provided by a thick band of trees that run along the South-Western
perimeter of the vineyard. In the summer months the enclosed valley traps the heat and the steep southerly gradients maximise sunlight. Day to day management of the Wooldings Vineyard is the responsibility of the Vineyard Manager, Paulo Veloso, for whom the pursuit of quality is a passion. Rigorous yield management, meticulous soil cultivation, painstaking disease control and uncompromising fruit selection are just elements of a year-round, unstinting discipline. As hard as the discipline might be, it alone can combine with the natural quality of terroir and vine to produce the balance of crisp acids and beguiling sugars, as well as the complex minerality, that are the hallmark of the very best sparkling wine grapes.