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An interview with Chapel Down winemaker, Josh Donaghay-Spire

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English Wine Week is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate what makes this unique product great. The last 20 years, in particular, have seen a huge boom in this homegrown industry; in both the number of wineries producing English Wine and the quality of the final product. No wonder it is gaining increased recognition at home and abroad! This week we caught up with Chapel Down’s head winemaker, Josh Donaghy-Spire, to get his views on where English Wine is heading, the low-down on Sparkling Bacchus and all things English Rosé - the new wine coming to our range soon!

It’s been many years now since English sparkling wine began to be seen as a legitimate contender against Champagne in wine competitions. And it seems like sales of the category grow every year. Having successfully disrupted the sparkling wine world, what do you see as the next frontier for English Wine?

I agree that we’ve disrupted the sparkling wine world, but there is still so much work to be done in this area to consolidate our position as a leading region in sparkling wine production. We’re learning more about the land on which we grow with every season which passes and these learnings will pay dividends in the years to come as we continue to plant better and better vineyards. In addition to this area of focus, the role of still wines from England will continue to grow. Bacchus is hugely popular and something we’ve been making for decades but Chardonnay has an important role to play too. When we launched our first still Chardonnay about ten years ago there weren’t any others around and now, thankfully there are many excellent examples to choose from. I foresee that English wines such as our Kits Coty Chardonnay will have a place at the top table of cool-climate Chardonnay.

Chapel Down has been on quite a journey in the last 20 odd years to become one of the most recognisable brands in the field of English wineries. Is there some experience or achievement that you are particularly proud of?

Winning awards in international competitions is always a boost to the team and a vindication of what we all do in the vineyards and winery. These competition results inspire confidence in our customers and shareholders which has enabled us to grow and plant the best vineyards in the UK, which will hopefully lead to more competition success. I’m proud of these competition wins, I’m proud that our wine is served in some of the best restaurants in the UK and abroad, I’m proud that most people’s first experience of English wine is of Chapel Down, and I’m very proud that I serve it to my family every weekend!

I’m proud that our wine is served in some of the best restaurants in the UK and abroad, I’m proud that most people’s first experience of English wine is of Chapel Down, and I’m very proud that I serve it to my family every weekend!

By Josh Donaghay-Spire

The Chapel Down English Rose is coming soon to the Matthew Clark range and we’re so excited to welcome this lovely wine to the family. Provence is often the benchmark by which wine drinkers understand Rose styles, how does this wine compare in terms of texture, body and flavour to a classical Provence?

This wine is produced from the harder pressed fractions of grapes destined for our traditional method sparkling wines. As such it is whole bunch pressed and has minimal tannin pickup due to limited skin contact. When this is combined with the slightly lower acidity of this press fraction it means that we have a wine generous in red berry fruit flavours but bone-dry. In comparison with Provence, expect more red fruit flavours and a slightly softer mouthfeel, perfect for summer drinking!

If you were to have this wine as part of a meal, what would be the perfect accompaniment?

Great with barbequed salmon in the garden.

We also stock the gorgeous and refreshing Sparkling Bacchus, which strikes me as the perfect summer tipple. Bacchus isn’t a traditional sparkling wine variety so it may be a bit unfamiliar to some consumers. What can you tell us about this grape i.e. its history and characteristics?

Bacchus emerged in the 1970’s and is a crossing of several varieties including Riesling. It was bred as a variety suitable for cool climates and was popular in Germany and England. It is much more aromatic than any of its parents and is often compared with Sauvignon Blanc when made in the drier English style. It has the cut grass and nettle characters of Sauvignon Blanc but in my opinion is overall a more interesting and complex variety. During ripening the first flavours which emerge are the green bell pepper and cut grass. These are then replaced by citrus and peach flavours which then become more tropical as the grapes mature. Running through all of these stages is the aroma of elderflower which is a real hallmark of the cultivar.

What made you decide to experiment with Bacchus as a base for sparkling wine?

Curiosity. Bacchus has never been fully explored as a variety so we don’t truly know what it is capable of, we still don’t. Given that we’re the leading producer of wine in a viticultural region which is being born right now we are in a very fortunate position of being able to play around with styles to see what works with our grapes, on our land, in our climate. We’re the first to try this stuff so it’s quite fun too. We looked at using the traditional as well as the Charmat method, but the issue with these techniques is that lots of the compounds in the base wine are altered by the yeast. This is very welcome in our Brut NV for example, but I didn’t want to lose the upfront fruit and floral characters of Bacchus by doing this which is why we opted to carbonate the wine. This technique retains the freshness of the wine and ensures that all of those tropical fruit and elderflower flavours make it into your glass.

To discover more about Chapel Down’s wines in the Matthew Clark Range visit Register here or checkout as a guest.

About the author

Gabrielle Hutson

Gab found a love for wine (and spirits and beer and coffee!) during her years on the hospitality scene around Australia. The desire to dip her toes into a bigger wine and hospitality industry drove her to London and today she writes, reads and talks non-stop about wine for Matthew Clark's website and social channels.

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