Started in 2004 by Simon Bladon, we can thank a glass of Nyetimber at a furniture auction in 2003, as the legend goes, for inspiring Bladon to start his South Downs vineyard rooted in chalk and greensand. One of the powerful terroirs sending English sparkling into stratospheric quality, Jenkyn Place was already storied. Named after a Grade II William and Mary house on its grounds, it’s also said to be haunted.
He’s the handiest of friends not only because of his firm grasp of poetry and history nor the many bottles of champagne I’ve hogged at his house. Clarke is also an expert on ghosts
“The celebrated Ghost Hunter Peter Underwood took a particular interest in Jenkyn Place and visited it many times with members of the Ghost Club,” says Roger Clarke. Clarke is a writer and author of ‘A Natural History of Ghosts’. He’s the handiest of friends not only because of his firm grasp of poetry and history nor the many bottles of champagne I’ve hogged at his house. Clarke is also an expert on ghosts. It is his book that told me about the famously spooky Hinton Ampner, a scant 18 miles from Jenkyn Place. According to Clarke, “Underwood described Jenkyn Place’s garden as ‘ghost-ridden’ and they’re celebrated for this rarity as well as the spectre of housekeeper Mrs Waggs in the house itself.” Hampshire has a lot of secrets.
His daughter Camilla Jennings now manages the winery in Bentley. Despite me asking questions she’s answered a hundreds of times previously, she is very gracious. So I took a chance and said that it’s been fun for me – and educational – to do blindfolded taste tests with Hampshire sparkling and champagne. It’s not quite right as I don’t have the masked glasses as I should with a proper mini Judgement of Paris.
“It can be the only way some people can see the quality of our wines,” Camilla says, noting Taittinger’s and Pommery’s stakes in English soil. “They see we’ve got the terroir, we’ve got the climate, and we’ve got a country of serious wine drinkers. People in the UK really like their wine and they really like good wine. We sit very comfortably alongside good champagne and I think lots of people see us as the second option with champagne be the top end and then English sparkling wine.”
With a current production somewhere near 25,000 bottles a year, Jenkyn Place’s output is relatively small but with a big taste and an even bigger future. Its Blanc de Blancs 2015 is more than I expected. Winner of a silver in the 2019 Sommelier Awards, I feel vindicated in loving it so much but looking at my notes, it appears my brain and mouth excluded my hand and pen. As an undergraduate, I worked for a manager who, during a “trip”, discovered the secret to the universe. They wrote it down and stashed the slip of paper in a drawer. Later, they read out what had been written in enlightenment: “There’s a strange smell in the room.” It was like that, only my slip of paper reads, “A headlining wine. Almost perfect.” The incredible experience of Jenkyn Place’s Blanc de Blancs obliterated my ability to turn all that flavour – all those sensations – into understandable words. So, um, the Jenkyn Place style is…? I hope Camilla will help me out here.
“All of our wines are so different,” says Camilla. “I’ve tasted a lot of blanc de blancs but I didn’t know what it would be like in the Jenkyn Place style and Jenkyn Place grapes.” I know she’s just trying to make me feel better here and it is appreciated. “There’s this underlying character that flows through all of them. It’s characteristically English. It’s very classic and elegant, but with a real bright backbone. It’s very well balanced but with a cheeky little bright spot.”
Just like the famous Paul Masson line (spoken by Orson Welles), one of Jenkyn Place’s keys to success is that it sells no wine before its time. “Just because we don’t have chateaux and they’ve been doing it a long time,” says Camilla. “I don’t think that actually [makes] better wine. Having a heritage doesn’t make good wine. What makes good wine is good weather. A good team behind it. A lot of hard work.”
So, while it hasn’t a chateau perhaps, but Jenkyn Place does have a nice house and possible spirits. As any ghost hunter, I am a seeker of the unexpected too – the exceptional, the meta-normal of sparkling wine. Crisp and elegant with a length of flavour that’ll make you want to savour with closed eyes, this one soothes with a smooth foam on the tongue and dazzles with a kaleidoscope of citrus, apple and, erm, biscuitiness. If you see a bottle of Jenkyn Place, buy it. And if you can’t quite recall, tell the wine clerk that you want a sparkling wine that’s from Britain’s seventh most haunted spot where a lot of knowledge, patience and great terroir creates memorable wine. The ghost of Mrs Waggs would approve.C