A gnarly sentinel stands below the rows of cherished Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines at the Redfolds Vineyard, home to Ambriel Wine. In its shadow lie the greensand house, barn and outbuildings that comprise Wendy and Charles Outhwaite’s home and winery. Ever alert, as if aware of a threat to its charges, the aged watchman overlooks a slope that dips south of the vines into The Weald and across to Chanconbury Ring, the Bronze Age hill fort on the South Downs ten miles away.
A taste of Nyetimber in the early 2000’s led the couple to their plot on a ridge north of Pulborough in West Sussex, and it probably also drew them closer together. Their challenging professions, Wendy a QC of 25 years and Charles in finance, afforded too little time together, so a joint career was sought. A shared passion for sailing drew them to Chichester most weekends but Wendy’s preference for calculable waters didn’t align with Charles’ desire for a more turbulent ones – echoes of their respective professions – so brine beneath their keel would remain for leisure only. A holiday to the Napa Valley in California germinated the seed fed by that fine glass of English bubbly and a plan took root. With no previous experience, could the pair make wine to stand with England’s finest? Subsequent wine exams and ongoing consultancy informed their 2008 purchase of this plot to plant their vines.
Wendy says they have been undeservedly lucky since they arrived. Tasting their wines supports the premise that they have chosen the site wisely, their luck no doubt made from their pooled experiences in their professions, together with personalities that both support and challenge one another. To have produced their first vintage in 2010, just two years after planting, is a remarkable achievement in any wine region. To have created wines that exhibit a depth of character more akin to mature vines, well, there may be a bit of luck in that. This isn’t to say it has all been plain sailing. There have been obstacles, from low water pressure to no mains gas or sewerage and insufficient electrical power, all challenges that Wendy and Charles have navigated as if rounding a turbulent point.
One element Charles does firmly attribute to good fortune is that the vineyard has been little affected by frost – usually a source of much anxiety for anyone endeavouring to draw wine from English soil. If bud burst is underway, late frost can severely affect yields and even wipe out the year’s income completely. Ambriel escaped the effects of the devastating frosts of 2012 and more recently those in 2017. Since many of their friends in the industry were not so lucky, it was something they were keen to downplay when I spoke to them. I asked if they knew of this microclimatic anomaly before they bought the land. ‘Not until we collected the keys,’ said Charles. ‘The vendor said they once had an orchard on the site and it always fared well. “You should have no problem with frost,” his parting words were.’
On a cold spring night, when the burners are lit and all that can be done to protect the vineyard has been done, the pair look out of their bedroom window at the last remnant of the orchard, a solitary ageing dessert apple tree, their arboreal barometer which, if untouched, tells them they can return to their beds, safe in the knowledge that there’s still hope for a good vintage.
- Planted: 2008
- Acres: 23
- Altitude: 60-90 metres
- Soil: Greensand
- Grapes planted: Chardonnay (Ch) 47% / Pinot Noir 47% / Pinot Meunier 6%
- Wine Styles: Sparkling white & rosé
- Wine released at: Minimum 3 years
- Production: 25,000 bottles
2010 Classic Cuvée (70% Ch, 27% PN, 3% PM)
- Nose: Developed. Savoury apple & quince.
- Palate: Fine bubbles. Crisp & elegant. Ripe apple, yeast & lemon.
2011 Classic Cuvée (70% Ch, 27% PN, 3% PM)
- Nose: Crunchy apple, peach and lemon.
- Palate: Excellent palate feel. Fine bubbles, bright citrus fruit.
2010 Blanc de Noirs (100% PN)
- Nose: Rich fruit compote, apple and sweet lime.
- Palate: Deep palate with nutty overtones. Lime, grapefruit and almonds.
2010 Blanc de Blancs (100% Ch)
- Nose: Bright, lemony, floral.
- Palate: Crisp with fresh citrus notes. Hints of apple and fresh mushroom.