Our History

We started planting the 21 acre farm site with vines in 1971, converted part of the farm buildings into a house and the rest eventually became the winery, shop and bonded warehouse. As time went on and demand for the wines grew, we planted an adjacent 16 acre site in the early 1990s, bringing the total area of vineyards to its current 37 acres.

Over the first six years, from 1971 to 1977, the initial 21 acres were gradually planted up with modern German varieties chosen for their ability to ripen in our cool climate. The majority of the grapes are white, but some Pinot Noir and German red varieties such as Dornfelder were also planted. (For more information on the varieties, see grape varieties.)

It was in the glorious summer of 1976 that the vineyard produced its first commercial crop. Our current winemaker, Alex, was then only 7 years old and remembers the buzz of excitement as it was very much all hands on deck – friends and family were roped into picking the grapes at weekends, for payment in wine months later when it had been fermented and bottled, and a record-breaking 2 tonnes were picked that year! (Average crops have since been 40-50 tonnes with the most prolific crop being 150 tonnes in 1983!) However, although the crop was not large the quality was already very good.

Initially the grapes were sent up to Lamberhurst in Kent (for whom we ended up making wine for a brief spell) to be made into the first Carr Taylor wines. David had been continuing the engineering business alongside the vineyard, and Linda had been teaching music. However, after five successful harvests, they took the bold decision to commit to the vineyard as their main concern. By this time, the scale of things had increased to the point where it would have been more expensive to continue to have someone else make the wines, so a winery was installed in one of the former stables.

“In 1984, following the biggest crop the vineyard has produced, we decided to take another pioneering step and were the first commercial vineyard to produce traditional method sparkling wines that have a second fermentation in the bottle (Champagne in all but name).”

As our experience ‘matured’, the wines started developing their now distinctive English character; crisp and aromatic, with delicate citrus, apple and pear notes. It wasn’t long before they started winning a variety of prestigious awards. The awards started with our 1981 Gutenborner winning a silver medal in the 1983 International Wine & Spirit Competition, the 1982 Kerner Huxel winning Bronze at the English Wine of the Year and the 1982 Schönburger winning a Medaille D’Or in the Challenge International de Vin. Since then we have won over 130 awards!

Carr Taylor montage

 

In 1984, following the biggest crop the vineyard has produced, we decided to take another pioneering step and were the first commercial vineyard to produce traditional method sparkling wines that have a second fermentation in the bottle (Champagne in all but name). Like many aspects of wine making, this is a long term project as it takes several years before the wines are ready for consumption. They lay on the lees for a minimum of between 18 months to 3 years in order to maximise their quality and flavour.

Once again the wines were immediately successful and in 1988 the first year’s release of sparkling wine, the Vintage Sparkling Wine, was awarded a gold medal at the prestigious Concours European des Grands Vins beating 1,800 Champagnes and traditional method wines from around the world. We won a bronze in 1991 and our 1996 vintage was awarded gold in 1999, this time out of 4,300 entrants!

“In a period when new vineyards are being planted across the South East of England, we find ourselves in the fairly unique position of using our experience to replant old vineyards, which we all find extremely exciting”.

Although we use the same method as Champagne for our sparkling wines, we use different varieties grown in a different soil. The way we make the wine concentrates on maximising those differences to produce a fruitier, more flavoursome wine rather than trying to emulate Champagnes. However, the traditional Champagne varieties have done extremely well, and there are many consumers who like the idea (and taste) of more traditional sparkling wine. It was with this in mind that we chose Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for a large part of our recent replanting, with a view to produce a more traditional Champagne when these come into production.

Linda and David’s son, Alex, became the winemaker from 1992 after getting first class honours in Agriculture at Reading University. In 2001 he and his wife, Jacqie, worked a vineyard in New Zealand and then in Oregon, in the States. On their return, Alex studied for a Diploma at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust in London, and was awarded the Vintners’ Scholarship, traditionally awarded by the Vintners Company to the year’s top scholar.

Alex’s overseas experience brought new outlooks and inspired new ideas in his wine making. If climate change delivers a consistently warmer climate, Alex would love to be able to branch into the production of red wines, but realistically it is likely that the climate will remain best suited to the deliciously fruity, crisp, fresh whites, and particularly sparkling wines, that we can make so well here.

Ours is very much a family business, and Alex’s wife, Jacqie, joined the business in 2008 to help promote and evolve the business. There are plans afoot to modernise different aspects of the shop, winery and office. In a period when new vineyards are being planted across the South East of England, we find ourselves in the fairly unique position of using our experience to replant old vineyards, which we all find extremely exciting. For more details, see the vineyard section.

Mark HuntleyOur History