With English Wine Week In Full Stride, We Meet The UK’s Youngest Winemaker

A year-and-a-half into his tenure at Crawthorne Farm, Tommy Grimshaw is already catching competition judges’ attention.

At 25, Tommy Grimshaw is the youngest professional winemaker in the UK. His office is at Crawthorne Farm, part of the 1,000-hectare Langham Agricultural Estate that surrounds the Grade 1-listed Melcombe Manor House in Dorset: a former small hobby vineyard turned into a commercial venture and a world-class wine estate by its owner’s son, Justin Langham, who studied viticulture at Plumpton College.

“We take a low intervention approach to both grape growing and wine production, meaning that all of our base wines go through spontaneous, wild fermentation and they are not fined or filtered,” explains Grimshaw. “In the vineyards we use minimal sprays and encourage strong biodiversity. We’re constantly striving to minimise our environmental impact and produce honest wines that reflect our terroir.“

Twelve hectares are now planted at Crawthorne Farm – which was named Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2020 – including chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier vines, located on a sheltered south-facing slope 90 metres above sea level. “The soil consists of a shallow clay loam, containing flint, over deep Cretaceous chalk,” says Grimshaw. “We strongly believe that our chalk soils bring a fresh, saline character to our wines.”

Langham’s portfolio comprises Corallian Classic Cuvée Base Vintage 2018 with 17 per cent reserve wine; Culver Classic Cuvée Base Vintage 2018 with 11 per cent reserve wine, (“Raspberry yoghurt and pink lady apple dominate, but a subtle salinity and Danish pastry bring the wine together well”); and a Rosé 2017 Vintage (which has “aromas of rhubarb crumble, cherry, cranberry and raspberry compote”).

“We also produce Blanc de Blancs and, when the vintage allows, a Blanc de Noirs, sometimes made with 100 per cent pinot meunier,” he adds. Born in Torbay and brought up in Totnes, Grimshaw is the son of a social worker and photographer. “I’m mostly inspired by the top grower producers of Champagne, although I take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. My favourite wines outside of the UK are probably Nebbiolo from Valtellina. Ar.Pe.Pe make some great examples of red – Grumello is my favourite. For whites, I often get drawn into Assyrtiko and the Gaia Wild Ferment from Santorini is always a good option in my opinion.

“Outside of wine-making, I love to cook. We have some world-class produce on our doorstep in the south-west. Portland crab sandwich and our Corallian is always a winner. Book and Bucket Cheese Company supply our café, and their  Smokey Burns smoked halloumi is delicious with the Culver and  Orwell soft with Corallian. Their Manchego style cheese, Hardy’s,  goes exceptionally well with the rosé. My girlfriend and I often pop down to Chesil Beach to have a glass. Our fizz happens to go very well with some local fish and chips too!” The winery, meanwhile, is a converted barn found within metres of the vineyard. “With stainless steel tanks and used French barriques, we have all we need to produce executional wines.”

After a season of labelling and bottling wine as a summer job, Grimshaw developed a love for English wine and left school to work a harvest at Devon’s Sharpham Vineyard, where he spent six years, eventually becoming assistant winemaker. He joined the team at Langham in January 2019 as Assistant Winemaker, working with Daniel Ham. “Daniel and Duncan Schwab at Sharpham have influenced me greatly,” says Grimshaw. “Duncan opened the door to me when I failed school. Other than Sharpham and Offbeat, British wine producers I admire include Charlie Herring in Hampshire, Kent’s Westwell and Will Davenport and the Goring family’s Wiston Estate in West Sussex. Charlie Brown at Sharpham is another young winemaker I look up to.”

The Langham team 

Having taken on the role of Head Winemaker in January 2020, Grimshaw plans to continue, and develop, the ethos of minimal manipulation. “Not because of the growing trend in ‘natural’ wine, but purely based on the complexity and quality of the end product,” he says. “Our vineyard team takes meticulously care for each vine all year round, and I feel that it would be unjust to take this excellent fruit and turn it into something that doesn’t reflect the vineyard at all. Intervention is inevitable when creating a traditional method sparkling wine and intervening isn’t a sin by any means, but I take great pride in creating complex base wine parcels by not filtering, fining or adding cultured yeast for the primary ferment.

“Using a variety of oak vessels that vary in size, age and prior use, along with some stainless steel, allows us to have a vast range of different wine parcels to blend with, which for me is one of the most exciting things about our wine – it creates layers and complexity.”

Langham Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2015 was Supreme Champion of the Wine GB Awards 2019. At IWSC 2020, five of its sparkling wines won gold or silver. “This year, our wines received medals again with our Sparkling Rose 2017 being the only English rose to get gold,” says Grimshaw. “Being the youngest doesn’t make you the best. I have a long way to go and always aim to learn from others and improve.”

 

 

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