The Buyer
Justin Keay: England’s Wiston Estate and the power of dreams

Justin Keay: England’s Wiston Estate and the power of dreams

When Wiston Estate won WineGB’s best UK contract winery award last year it was the fourth time this West Sussex-based winery had received this prestigious accolade. Richard and Kirsty Goring, who run the estate, have been busy planting new vines and opening a swanky new cellar door shop, which joins the equally-swanky on-site restaurant, Chalk. Winemaking-wise Wiston has also seen changes with head winemaker Dermot Sugrue departing after 16 years, still wines now a definite thing and a change of distributor from Swig to Fells. Justin Keay popped over to Pulborough, met up with the team and tasted through the new wines.

Justin Keay
8th May 2023by Justin Keay
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

“When the weather allows we will make a small quantity of still wines only available direct from the estate. Mainly though, we will stay focused on sparkling wines because we feel this land and the climate is still best suited to that,” says Wiston Estate’s Kirsty Goring.

Wiston Estate is co-managed by Kirsty Goring and her husband Richard

“Dreams, you know, are what you wake up from,” wrote the late great American short story writer Raymond Carver in his poignant chronicles of dead-end suburban life in motels, bars and trailers in Washington State in the 1980s.

Wiston Estate‘s Pip Goring probably wouldn’t agree. When she and her husband Harry Goring came to the UK from her native South Africa 50 years ago it was very much with the shock of arrival, and with the gloomy weather an unwelcome contrast to home. Her consolation was the vast family estate, where the Goring family can date its ownership back to 1743 and whose impressive country pile Wiston House is now on permanent lease to the Foreign Office.

And she had a dream of building a wine estate that would recall those she grew up with on the Cape – something which seemed impossible until they planted 6.5 hectares of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay vines back in 2006 (after more recent plantings there are now 12 hectares under vine). “To dream the impossible dream,” as the famous song from Man of La Mancha put it – because back then it was hard to imagine this planting could lead to anything serious. But then the English wine revolution got underway.

In 2008 Harry and Pip stood to one side to allow their son Richard and his wife Kirsty to take over day-to-day operations of the estate, with both sharing the vision of producing quality wine in this beautiful part of the west Sussex Downs, near Pulborough.

Fast forward to today and, for the Gorings and Wiston Estate, dreams are very much what you wake up to; Wiston has won WineGB’s Best UK Winery Award four times, most recently in 2022,

“When I came back and dreamed of having a wine estate I could never have imagined all this,” says Pip to me in the estate’s new restaurant Chalk, named in honour of the main soil-type in this part of southern England.

Getting good notices: Wiston’s on-site restaurant, Chalk

Wiston’s focus on sparkling wines

Like the estate itself – which has seen new plantings and a modern winery on a site which suggests a natural amphitheatre – everything here is about quality; the food has already won major plaudits since its opening in December 2021, and the focus is on pure simplicity and natural produce, much of it from the estate itself, with cooking done to match the wines amidst calm, sympathetic décor.

There’s a nice outside patio which will be very popular when spring and summer eventually come, and a spanking new shop to showcase the wines, including two new arrivals – Wiston’s first still wines, a Pinot Noir which recalls Central Otago, dark fruit dominant with a suggestion of gun flint and black pepper, and a Bacchus blend made partly with fruit drawn from outside the estate. Both are small volume, but the Pinot has already attracted a lot of positive attention.

The main focus, however, remains the sparkling wines, clearly identifiable by their classy oval-shaped coloured labels, something brand director Kirsty Goring admits she is very proud of. And they are distinctive which, in the increasingly crowded and competitive world of English wine, matters a lot. But Wiston Estate’s main USP is that the Goring family has been looking after and farming this particular patch of land since 1743 and so is very familiar with the varying geology, aspects and micro-climates across 2500 hectares; focusing on sustainability and increasing biodiversity across the estate – and spreading the word about the importance of doing this – remains key.

“We carried this wider knowledge with us into viticulture. We have always planted small parcels at one time to check the suitability of varietal of vine to particular situation. We aim to slowly increase our acreage under vine, always ensuring that we prioritise quality over quantity,” she says.

Dermot Sugrue, Wiston’s head winemaker who left last year

Over the past decade Wiston’s reputation as one of the English wine world’s more quality operations was helped by the presence of chief winemaker Dermot Sugrue, who joined full-time from Nyetimber after the Gorings approached him about doing some part-time winemaking for them. The Gorings are taking in their stride Sugrue’s departure who left last year after 16 years, to focus on his own projects, including his iconic The Trouble with Dreams sparkling wine.

“Dermot is an amazing winemaker but our new head winemaker Marcus Rayner is also great – he knows the estate, worked closely with Dermot and shares our sense of direction for the estate and the wines,” says Kirsty Goring.

In good hands: head winemaker Marcus Rayner

Indeed, if the critically acclaimed Wiston still Pinot is anything to go by – Rayner’s first completed wine – the estate is in good hands following Sugrue’s departure. Kirsty also believes sales should benefit from Wiston’s decision last year to switch distributor from Swig to Fells, and says their first outing at the Fells annual tasting in February (where the full range was shown) was a big success.

And it’s a great move for Wiston – not only are they now with one of the most renowned distributors (since 1858) but their wines will now sit alongside some of the wine world’s best known benchmark producers including Torres, Symington Family Estates, Yalumba, Famille Hugel and fellow new arrival to the portfolio, Chateau Musar. They are a perfect fit because, as with all Fells wineries, they are a family run operation with this lying at the heart of their appeal.

So how do the wines shape up?

Of the three Non Vintage wines – made with reserve wines from past vintages to create a consistent style, a technique also followed by Hampshire’s Exton Park – all showed finesse and elegance with the Brut (comprised of 70% of the 2017 vintage) a great standard bearer for the estate, along with the spritzy, fresh but expressive Rosé. The NV Blanc de Blancs (disgorged in spring 2021) shows particularly well, benefitting from the 15% of the grapes spending time in 500 litre oak barrels with the remainder fermented in stainless steel, to give a precise, green-apple and flint-focused expression of the estate-grown Chardonnay.

It was a good curtain raiser for the award-winning Estate Blanc de Blanc 2015 – a wine which got serious mention from the New York Times – with the fruit fermented equally in oak and stainless steel tank to provide a rich mousse with brioche, honeysuckle and white flowers on the palate. And the Wiston Estate Cuvee 2016 – a creamy, toasted almond and sourdough-driven blend of 66% Pinot Noir and 34% Meunier – was truly delicious, already well developed and demonstrating great complexity but clearly likely to pay greater dividends in the years to come.

Good though the NV and more recent vintages are, however, it was the older wines – tasted at Fells and later at the estate – which showed most impressively. The single vineyard 2010 Library Collection Blanc de Blanc is truly exceptional, especially given the youth of the vines at the time – there’s a lot going on here with truffle, brioche and almond on the palate, great complexity and balance and amazing length. Similarly impressive is the Estate Blanc de Noir 2014, which rightfully won the GB Wines award for the UK’s best Blanc de Noir last year, 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Meunier, very rich and complex, with lovely balance.

My favourite, however, was probably the Estate Rose 2014, amazingly full and rich, with red fruit, marzipan, cherries and spice on the complex palate and nose, made from 10% Chardonnay, 22% Meunier and 68% Pinot Noir all grown in the original 2006 vineyard. Literally at the peak of its powers and fascinating to taste alongside the 2018 Rose, which will probably show the same amazing evolution.

Kirsty Goring says the family was gratified by the positive reception the Wiston Estate wines received at the Fells tasting, the first English wines to be part of the portfolio.

“In the winery there is the dual ambition. First, to continue to build up our reserve wines so that we can keep making fantastic NV wines that, while fresh, still have depth and interest. Second, to make vintage wines that reflect the particular nuances of that year’s growing season, as well as the concentration of flavour that comes from grapes grown on chalk soils,” she says.

“When the weather allows we will make a small quantity of still wines only available direct from the estate. Mainly though, we will stay focused on sparkling wines because we feel this land and the climate is still best suited to that.”