Exton Park to Release the First English Sparkling Wine Aged in the Sea

A bottle of underwater-aged Exton Park. 

Photo provided

underwater-aged-Exton-Park

A bottle of underwater-aged Exton Park. 

Photo provided

The 60-acre estate on the chalklands of Hampshire prides itself on using only estate-grown fruit and on having built up a substantial library of reserve wines, dating back to the first vintage in 2011. Most of the production of Exton Park is thus multi-vintage blends based on a large proportion of aged reserve wines.

Chardonnay on chalk

Corinne Seely, winemaker at the estate, is a particular fan of English-grown Chardonnay: “I always believed that the terroir in England has got fantastic potential to grow Chardonnay – especially in Hampshire and at Exton Park Vineyard,” she says. “Until recently, I did not have the chance to give give evidence for that. For years, I have been talking about this and you have been witnessing it. The secret of England is in the acidity, because it lifts the flavours and keeps the wine alive for many years.”

Pushing the envelope

Seely is keen to push experimentation further. But not in the usual way. She thus decided to age some bottles of the Exton Park Blanc de Blancs vintage 2014 under the sea. Champagne houses have done this – but by appellation rule they are obliged to age and disgorge in situ – otherwise they will lose the right to label their wines as Champagnes. In England, there are no such obligations and Exton Park was thus able to age the sparkling wines undisgorged, still on their lees, under a crown cap sealed with wax. “We have spent the last ten years experimenting and innovating in our winery,” she says, “The English wine industry is still a relatively young one, but we are not constrained by the same regulations that the Champagne houses are. The ‘under-the-sea’ project is an opportunity for us to really push the boundaries and test how our wines respond to ageing in different conditions.”

The sea, the sea

Seely wanted to age the wines in the sea because “Exton Park is on chalk. The chalk comes from the sea,” she says. The bottles were thus put into a caisson, a large steel cage patented for the purpose, which was then submerged 60m/197ft below the sea off the coast of Brittany, France. Denis Drouin, co-founder of Amphoris, the marine project specialist who submerged the bottles, explains that the depth was necessary to guarantee “complete darkness, a constant temperature and specific sea bed current and swell characteristics.” At that depth and at that latitude, the Atlantic has a constant temperature of between 10-14°C. Seely adds that she wants to know the “effect that the constant and gentle movement of the sea has on the ageing of the wines, as well as the similar pressure outside and inside the bottle.” At that depth, the pressure is 6 bars – the same as inside an undisgorged bottle of sparkling wine. I think this brings something. The wine spent 12 months under the sea, then continued ageing in the cellar at Exton.”

An exclusive release

Just 185 bottles of the sea-aged vintage wine will be released later in the year, in time for Christmas, Kit Ellen, managing director of Exton Park confirmed. The price is still to be determined.

In order to set the scene for the tasting, and for English Chardonnay, Seely also presented a special wine, just 400 bottles of it were made in the inaugural 2011 vintage from 21 rows of the Chardonnay vineyard at Exton Park.

Read the tasting notes here.

Exton Park Malcolm Isaac Blanc de Blancs 2011

Exton Park 60 Above Blanc de Blancs 2014

Exton Park 60 Below Sea Aged Blanc de Blancs 2014

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