England’s oldest commercial vineyard
During the summer of 1951 Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones was looking out of the dining room window of Mill Down House with his stepson John thinking about what to do with the field directly below them. As Sir Guy was a keen wine lover and Francophile, having spent time as a diplomat in Paris, John suggested he might consider planting a vineyard?
The seed had been sown and Sir Guy began researching the feasibility of planting vines on the south-facing chalky slopes surrounding the house in Hambledon on the South Downs. After careful deliberation, and with the help and advice from friends at the renowned Champagne House Pol Roger, he planted a number of different grape varieties in 1952 and went on to release the first commercial range of English wines. See the clip below showing the Hambledon harvest of 1961.
Winemaker Bill Carcary joined the Hambledon team in 1966 and the wines soon drew a strong following, winning a number of awards and even a Gold Medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 1984. The wines were served on the QE2, in British Embassies around the world, in the Houses of Parliament and in export markets around the world including the USA and Japan. On one occasion during a visit to Paris, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd served Hambledon wine to President Pompidou during a reception at the British embassy in Paris. The story behind this wine being served involves Steven Spurrier MW (famous for the Paris Judgement of ’76) and an interesting interaction with French customs.
Sadly, following a change of ownership, wine making activities were curtailed at Hambledon in the mid 1990’s and the vineyard was shrunk to just 4 acres, producing grapes for sale to other wineries.