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Behind the brand: Talking wine with Emma Rice, head winemaker at Hattingley Valley Wines

Emma Rice has been with the brand since its inception in 2008 and brought with her a range of expertise.

By Natasha Heard  |  November 27, 2021
Hattingley Valley wine
Image Credit: The Electric Eye Photography

Before joining Hattingley Valley in 2008, head winemaker Emma Rice (twice winner of the UK Winemaker of the Year award, in 2014 and 2016) had an impressive career in the wine trade.

Emma’s passion for wine started, aged 19, with a taste of Krug 1979 from a double magnum, whilst working part-time at The White Horse Inn, Chilgrove. From there, she took a job at Oddbins before moving onto Burgundy importer and wine merchant, Domaine Direct. This led to her becoming editor of the highly regarded Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for three years. 

At the age of 29, already with substantial wine knowledge and experience under her belt, and having completed the WSET Diploma in 2003, Emma decided to study viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College. Throughout her studies she continued to work as a freelance wine editor as well as in the vineyard at Nyetimber and various independent wine shops in Brighton.

After graduating in 2006, Emma travelled to Napa Valley in California for the harvest, where she stayed for nearly two years as oenologist and laboratory manager at Cuvaison Estate Wines. Following this she completed a cool climate vintage at Tamar Ridge in Tasmania, before moving back to the UK and setting up Custom Crush UK Ltd – a wine analysis laboratory and consultancy – through which she met owner and chairman of Hattingley Valley Wines, Simon Robinson, just as he had planted his vines.

Emma Rice, Hattingley Valley Wines
Emma has had an impressive career in the wine industry and says the constant variety in her day to day work is what keeps it so interesting

Today, Emma’s role as head winemaker at Hattingley Valley is varied – she oversees the development of the vineyards, including producing Hattingley’s signature wines, manages the growing winemaking team and, as a director of Hattingley Valley, is involved in running the business at board level.

We caught up the Emma to hear all about the brand, her top picks and what makes a good wine.

Can you tell us a little about the brand and its origins?

Hattingley Valley is a family-owned winery based in East Hampshire, specialising in producing premium, award-winning sparkling wine. Since establishing our 600-tonne, purpose-built, eco-friendly winery back in 2008 we have always used the traditional method for producing our sparkling wines which now sit alongside some innovative small production still wines.

The core sparkling range includes the Classic Reserve, Blanc de Blancs, Kings Cuvée and Rosé, whilst our STILL range includes the Chardonnay 2020, Rosé 2020 and newly launched Pinot Noir 2020 and Reserve Chardonnay 2020.

What does a typical working day look like for you?

No two days are the same for me. I can start the day with blending trials, visit some vineyards in the afternoon followed by working in the laboratory the next day and then heading to London in the evening to do a dinner with one of our restaurant customers. The constant variety is what keeps my work so interesting!

Hattingley Valley Wines
Emma says, for something extra special to see in the New Year, the Kings Cuvee 2014 is the perfect choice

What would you say makes Hattingley Valley wines stand out from the rest?

I want to make wines that people really enjoy drinking and don’t have to think too hard about why. The use of old oak barrels is a signature of our wine style; the older mellow oak influence is more for mouthfeel and texture than an overt flavour.

What Hattingley Valley wines would you pair with a traditional Christmas Day turkey lunch; a seafood feast; a cheese board and finally for celebratory toast on New Year’s Eve? 

To accompany your roast turkey on Christmas Day, I would say our Classic Reserve is a must. It feels a little special, as it should on the big day, and the fine bubbles and delicate aromas of green apples and creamy nougat will perfectly complement your meal. The Blanc de Blancs 2014 would go beautifully with a seafood feast – aged for more than six years and made from the finest parcels of Chardonnay grapes, its refreshing acidity will balance out rich sauces, and would also work brilliantly with a cheeseboard, as would our new, silky smooth STILL Pinot Noir 2020.

For something extra special to see in the New Year, the Kings Cuvee 2014 is the perfect choice, created by blending a few select barrels of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Winner of the ‘Best Sparkling Wine in the UK 2020’ at the WineGB National Awards, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Hattingley Valley Wines
Hattingley Valley is a family-owned winery based in East Hampshire, specialising in producing premium, award-winning sparkling wine

What’s the secret behind producing an excellent bottle of Hattingley Valley?

Patience! It takes time to make great sparkling wine, and there are no shortcuts. In order to create excellent bottles, you have to get the blending right at the beginning. Getting to know the vineyards and wines they produce is key to perfecting the blend.

Which are your top three bottles and why?

I love the sparkling Rosé 2018 – the fruit is vibrant, the texture soft and the intensity of flavour really sings. The Blanc de Blancs current vintage is 2014 and nothing can rival it for the depth of flavour that has come from so many years aged in the bottle.

The Kings Cuvée 2014 is another favourite. Subtle oak flavours that keep on giving long after you’ve swallowed your mouthful. Soft bubbles that bring the intense flavours to the fore. This is a wine that could continue to age for many years to come, developing nuances along the way.

According to you, what is good wine determined by?

You have to have good grapes and for me that means having a variety of sources from various parts of the South-East. Each region offers something different to the blend and I couldn’t make the wines I do without the fabulous grapes grown in our vineyard and those of our partners.

Hattingley Valley Wines
The STILL range is a selection of still wines, from Rosé to Chardonnay to the newly-launched Pinot Noir

If we walked into your house right now, what bottle would you have sitting next to you?

A bottle of our newly released 2020 STILL Pinot Noir. Say I’m having friends over for Sunday lunch, this will go brilliantly with the roast chicken we will be eating.

You’re having friends over for dinner, what are you making and what are you pairing it with?

The Kings Cuvée 2014 is fantastic with pan-fried scallops wrapped in pancetta, followed by a rack of lamb with a red burgundy, preferably Gevrey-Chambertin. For occasion dinners, I opt for food that is delicious yet simple to cook, and that will complement the wines.

What’s next for Hattingley Valley?

This November we have launched some wonderful new still wines: the 2020 STILL Pinot Noir and Reserve STILL Chardonnay 2020. The Pinot Noir is perfect for cosy winter evenings as it bursts with aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate, and is accented with rich hints of toast and dark chocolate. The Chardonnay is a lovely white wine for the colder months with its aromas of ripe orchard fruit, and creamy oak texture, perfectly balanced with its natural bright acidity.

Factbox

Address: Hattingley Valley Wines, Wield Yard, Lower Wield, Nr Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9AJ
Website: hattingleyvalley.com
Twitter: @Hattingleywines
Instagram: @Hattingleywines