Roebuck Estates ready to build on Decanter win

When Roebuck Estates Classic Cuvée 2014 was named Best in Show in this year’s Decanter awards, it was yet more deserved recognition for the work of James Mead and his team at the West Sussex sparkling wine producer. Now the team are hoping to share their success with the independent trade by achieving new listings, not just for the Classic Cuvée but for their widely admired Blanc de Noirs

A young West Sussex wine producer is looking to boost its trade profile to match a growing reputation built on success in international competitions.

Roebuck Estates was founded by entrepreneurs Mike Smith and John Ball, and managed by James Mead, whose path to managing an English wine estate included spells with Threshers, Oddbins, Majestic, Bibendum and Corney & Barrow (Hong Kong).

Mead says the company’s ownership of three mature vineyards in West Sussex gives it valuable options on fruit selection and blending each year. The vineyards are planted with the three principal Champagne varietals, with the “jewel in the crown” its Upperton Vineyard (pictured) close to the village of Tillington near the town of Petworth.

“We really felt that what would give our wines greater finesse and quality was having multiple sites across West Sussex, so that we have a lot more blending components to choose from when it comes to finalising our blends following harvest,” says Mead.

“At the end of that wonderful growing season in 2018 we went into the blending room and had just under 100 tank, barrel and reserve wine samples, from all three classic varietals, from which to choose to craft our final blends. Having that choice is amazing and allows us to create the very best wines we possibly can.”

The fruits of the 2018 vintage won’t be seen by the outside world for some time as Roebuck’s wines spend a minimum of three years on the lees and a further lengthy spell maturing under cork.

It has just released the 2015 vintage Blanc de Noirs (RRP £45) – a single-vineyard, 100% Pinot Noir wine from its Roman Villa Vineyard – while the Classic Cuvée 2014 has won a Best in Show accolade in this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, the only English sparkling wine to do so, adding to previous success in the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition. Each exhibits its own personality while reflecting a house style that Mead describes as “elegance, finesse and richness”.

The 2014 Classic Cuvée (RRP £35) is a blend of 47% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, whole-bunch pressed with a small percentage aged in Burgundian oak.

As well as picking up its Best in Show prize, the wine has also been awarded a Platinum Medal by Decanter.

“We wanted to ensure that our wines had a richness and texture to them, which would elevate them over other English sparkling wines, and Burgundian barrels was one of the ways to do that,” says Mead.

“We’re quite careful about how we use the juice that’s spent time in oak because it can be very overpowering if it’s used too much, so we keep it to between 2% and 10% in any of our wines.”

The Roman Villa vineyard from which the Blanc de Noirs is made is planted with a mixture of Champenoise and Burgundian clones. “The 2015 fruit from the latter in particular was very small bunches,” says Mead, “which gave incredible complexity and something different to the Pinot Noir we get from other sites. 

“We decided to keep all the Pinot Noir from that site and that year for a vintage, single-vineyard wine that we felt would be quite special. 

“We tried to keep the dosage as low as possible while still using it to bring out the natural character of the fruit but without masking it. 

“We feel that our Classic Cuvée is perfect as an apéritif and is a real crowd-pleaser, while our Blanc de Noirs almost feels more gourmand. It would easily partner well with richer, heavier dishes.”

Roebuck is handling its own distribution and has listings with Sussex indies Hennings and South Downs Cellars, but is looking to expand its geographical trade footprint. 

A Rosé de Noirs 2016 launch is imminent and it’s planning to release some larger format bottles to extend its appeal to buyers.

Indies’ verdicts

CHRIS GOLDMAN, Hennings, Sussex

“Both wines are excellent quality, and certainly amongst the top flight of English sparkling wines at this level. We liked the look of both bottles. The name of the estate plus the imagery certainly appeals to our more countryside orientation.

“We would expect these wines to retail at their given RRPs and reflect the level of top-flight English fizz for this money.”

SAM HOWARD, HarperWells, Norwich

“The Classic Cuvée would easily meet our criteria for listing based on authenticity, value for money and overall quality.

“Bright citrus; toasted nose; a very youthful wine maturing nicely. Elements of brioche – a quality sparkling wine. The nose is not overpowering and the first sip is inviting and zesty. There is a sweetness that is appealing – we think this wine has broad appeal.”

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