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An interview with WILL PERKINS, ASSISTANT WINEMAKER for HATTINGLEY VALLEY

November 29, 2017

Will Perkins grew up in Hampshire and began helping at Hattingley Valley during his school holidays, in the company’s formative years. At 18, Will went off to University in South Africa and studied Spanish, History and Politics at the University of Cape Town. Whilst in South Africa, Will’s interest in wine blossomed and he was fortunate to work as a Wine Tasting Co-Ordinator for Constantia Glen. Will has been back at Hattingley Valley since 2013 as an assistant winemaker whilst also studying BSc. Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College – England’s centre for excellence in wine, providing access to first class training, education and research.

Will’s journey as a winemaker has taken him overseas to participate in vintages with other wineries, to expand his knowledge and learn valuable skills from other winemakers. Most recently he worked at Raventós i Blanc in Spain in 2016 and with Graham Beck in South Africa in 2015.

Will’s contribution to Hattingley is invaluable and he plays an important role in producing the high quality sparkling wines that Hattingley Valley has become renowned for. Will attends many consumer shows on Hattingley’s behalf and is both confident and charismatic when explaining sparkling wine production with wine connoisseurs and novices alike!

Hattingley Valley was created by Simon Robinson, a successful, retired city lawyer who recognised England’s potential for premium quality sparkling. In a very short period of time, the winery became one of the UK’s largest, has won multiple trophies and medals and exports 40% of its wine around the globe. Simon is also a well-respected figure in the industry and is the Chairman of English Wine Producers. His head winemaker Emma Rice is the first woman to win the UKVA best winemaker of the year on two occasions.

We had a few questions for Will, he was happy to oblige:

What are the best glasses for red, white and sparkling?
All five senses are used to taste sparkling wine; sight for the depth of colour, hearing for the crackle of the bubbles, smell for the wine’s ‘nose’, taste for the palate and touch for the overall sensation of the wine in your mouth. Glassware is an often overlooked part of the tasting experience. It depends largely on the wine itself, but for sparkling wines there are movements away from traditional flutes. Riedel Veritas is the glassware we prefer at Hattingley Valley. A glass with a curved bowl can unlock and bring the aromatic appeal of sparkling wine to life, whilst a tapered rim can enable the bouquet to reach the nose better.

Where are the best value wines coming from?
Swartland region in South Africa. There’s an amazing New Wave generation of young, progressive winemakers in South Africa, pushing boundaries in regards to production methods and varieties. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ is a mantra that seems to encapsulate the energetic, creative and knowledge-sharing nature of this group of winemakers and is a school of thought that will continue to benefit the English Sparkling Wine movement as well.

What wine should I serve at a party?
A Magnum of our recently awarded World Champion 2011 Hattingley Valley Blanc de Blancs, of course…

Should we decant our wines?
Depends how thirsty you are…

Does wine need to be stored in a temperature controlled area?
Not necessarily ‘temperature-controlled’, but certainly somewhere dark, without large temperature fluctuations and at about 75% humidity. Incorrect conditions can completely ruin a bottle of wine and the last thing you want is to pull out a bottle for a special occasion to find that its spoilt due to bad storage.

Why did you become a wine maker?
Having grown up locally and as part of the team that planted our first vineyard in 2008, I’m fortunate enough to have seen the Hattingley Valley project from the very beginning. My interest in wine began then and has continued from that point onwards. After a number of years in Cape Town, I returned to the UK, and the chance to come on board full time in 2013 presented itself as a very exciting opportunity and one that I’ve not looked back from. To have seen the product from root to cork is incredibly special to me.

What do you look for when making wine?
Enjoyment. As with anything, if you enjoy what you’re doing, your creativity and enthusiasm translates through the product to the consumer.

How do you know when you have a good vintage?
The capricious climate in the UK means there is huge variation from vintage to vintage, but that’s what makes it such an exciting place to be making wine; we’re constantly learning. We benefit from a long growing season in UK, so ideally a dry flowering period followed by a warm August and September helps us reach the sugar:acid balance that we need for sparkling wine. But the Weather Gods don’t always play ball…

What do you like best about your job?
Working with like-minded people in our extraordinary journey of discovery in pursuit of the perfect bubble. We really are winemaking ‘on the edge’, both geographically and innovatively.

What is the most difficult aspect of wine making?
Long hours during harvest, but the hard work and dedication invested by all during this period allows us to guide the wines on the next part of their journey.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?
The reality that one minute you could be fine-tuning the blend of a potential World Champion wine to cleaning winery drains the next. It certainly gives you a reality check and keeps you grounded. You would be astounded at the amount of cleaning and hygiene that goes in to producing high-quality wine.

What is your favourite wine?
La Fusta by Celler la Salada (Cataluña)

And why?
Toni Carbó, the winemaker, is contagiously optimistic and it’s a wine made with so much artistry and passion. It put an instant smile on my face when I first drank it. Sticks long in the memory.

For people who want to learn more about wine what would you recommend?
Come and pay us a visit on one of our tours.
Wine doesn’t have to be a snobby, pretentious topic. Start enjoying wines for what they are, the people you can meet through them and the conversations had over them.
Seek out local Wine Tasting events and enrol in a wine course with WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust), they cater for all levels and are great building blocks for deepening your knowledge and interest.

How long is the harvest process? What are the steps from harvesting to bottling?
Harvest in the UK normally spans a 5-6 week period, from late September until the end of October.
Grapes will be hand-harvested and brought to winery where they will be pressed and fermented by selected yeasts, converting sugar to alcohol and thus juice to wine. The New Year sees us conducting extensive blending trials and then physically blending the wines before they are bottled with additional sugar and yeast to carry out secondary fermentation. Then the magic of ageing takes places.

And there you have it, valuable information, straight from the horses mouth!

A: Hattingley Valley Wines Limited, Wield Yard, Lower Wield, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9AJ, UK
T: +44 (0)1256 389188
W: Hattingley Valley

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