Food & Drink

Published: May 24, 2022 | Updated: May 25, 2022

Raise your glass! Award-winning wine estate celebrates planting of 45 acres of new vines

Justin Langham, Owner, Langham Wine Estate, centre, with (left) Olly Whitfield, Vineyard Manager, and Tommy Grimshaw, Winemaker, at the ceremonial planting of the last vine. Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

An award-winning Dorset wine estate, which is expanding production by 200 per cent to meet demand, has held a ceremony to mark the planting out of 45 acres of new vines.

Langham Wine Estate is to increase its vineyards from 30 acres to 85 acres in a project costing more than £500,000.

The expansion will increase annual production from 50,000 to 150,000 bottles.

The latest 45 acres of vines have been planted at its Crawthorne vineyard site, about 11 miles from Dorchester.

They include existing clones and varieties, predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The first harvest is expected in 2024/25 and the wine will be on sale in 2026/27.

A further ten acres will be planted next year.

In 2020, Langham was named Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year by the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC).

It saw off competition from more than 700 entries from all over the world including champagne and prosecco brands.

The previous year the contest had been won by the French champagne house, Veuve Clicquot.

In three out of the past four years it has been named the best sparkling wine producer in the South West.

Owner Justin Langham planted the first 30 acres of vines in 2009.

The soil at Crawthorne consists of a shallow clay loam, containing flint, over deep Cretaceous chalk.

The chalk soils provide the wines with a fresh, saline character.

But after what Justin described as a ‘roller coaster’ two years, Langham found that demand was heavily exceeding supply.

He said: “We are sadly turning away people who want to buy our wines.

“We simply don’t have enough.

“The easy thing to do would be to go out and buy grapes and rapidly expand that way but that is so much against our ethos.

“We would not only be losing our control but we feel the grapes we grow here are special.

“One of the things we are passionate about is having all the functions of producing the grapes and making the wine directly under our control.

“That makes me sound a bit of a control freak but I think that all of the small little increments that you can do to improve the quality all end up in the finished product.

“We decided the only thing to do was to plant more vines.

“The planting that has just taken place was meant to be 55 acres but one of the clones supplied wasn’t what I ordered.

“It was very similar but not the same.

“I rejected it so we’ve planted about 45 acres and we will, hopefully, get that extra ten acres planted next year.

“We didn’t want to take a clone and potentially dilute what we’re trying to achieve.

“The quality is everything.”

Justin, who heads up a small and passionate young team including Tommy Grimshaw, Winemaker, and Olly Whitfield, Vineyard Manager, said the past two years had seen challenging times for Langham.

He said: “It’s been a bit of a roller coaster.

“In 2020 we were hoping to build substantially on 2019 and then, of course, March came along and we had lockdown.

“As our wine is entirely sparkling wine, a lot of it goes for parties, celebrations, weddings as well as the restaurant trade and all of that stopped overnight.

“Our sales, frankly, fell off a cliff.

“We sold a few bottles online which was helpful but it didn’t remotely replace what we were selling elsewhere.

“At the end of June 2020 things were looking pretty grim.

“Financially we were staring into quite a black hole because I couldn’t furlough people and get government support because we still needed to maintain the vineyard.

“You couldn’t just switch things off.

“But when lockdown was released in early July we actually had quite a bounce back effect because people couldn’t go abroad and restaurants, and the like, were very limited to what they could do in the rule of six and two metre spacing.

“Because we’re such an outdoor place we started doing a lot of picnics in the vineyard and we were very, very busy.

“By the end of the summer we had made up quite a bit of the lost ground from the earlier part of the year.

“Then November came along and we were back into lockdown.

“We thought: ‘Oh, my God, we’re back to square one because everything stopped dead’.

“But then, very fortuitously, at the end of November we won the Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year global competition.

“We got a huge amount of publicity in this country, and also around the world, and it was very effective in helping our sales and expanding our profile.

“We had a huge bounce back at the end of 2020.

“The challenge in 2021 was to make sure that wasn’t just a flash in the plan and to continue the branding we were building up.

“By and large I think we’ve successfully carried that on and that’s why we’re planting these vines today.

“We are sadly having to turn customers away from our wine because we don’t have enough to supply.

“Although this will take quite a few years to come onstream you’ve got to start somewhere so we’re starting here.

“In global terms, and in terms of many producers in this country, we are still small minnows.

“In the South East there are a number of producers who are investing huge amounts and building up vineyards multiple times our size, often from scratch.

“Their first planting is two or three hundred acres.

“We’re planting 50 or so acres but my ambition has always been to try and produce some of the best sparkling wine.

“Being the biggest, frankly I’m happy to let other people do that.

“I’m never going to be the biggest and I don’t choose to be the biggest.

“We want to be one of the best.

“There are new producers coming all of the time.

“We’ve got to innovate and try to produce the most interesting and exciting sparkling wines we can.”

  • Langham Wine Estate hosts regular events, tours and tastings. Visitors can also buy wine from the cellar door shop and relax with a drink or a meal at the Vineyard Café.