New vineyard is a sparkling success

foodprod-langhamvinesDORSET has the perfect climate and soil for growing vines – particularly to produce champagne-style sparkling wines.

The success of a new local vineyard in the 2014 Judgement of Parsons Green underlines the growing importance of viticulture in the local food and drink industry.

Langham Wine Estate, near Dorchester, took the top prize with its Classic Cuvee 2010, the first time that owner Justin Langham and his wine maker Liam Idzikowski had entered the competition to find Britain’s best sparkling wine. The Judgement of Parsons Green takes its name from the famous Judgement of Paris, in which wine expert Stephen Spurrier famously pitched Californian wines against some of the great French wines in a blind tasting (the competition inspired a feature film, Bottle Shock, starring Alan Rickman.) Langham’s Reserve Blanc de Noirs was placed eighth in the competition.

Justin Langham runs the family’s mixed farm – sheep and arable – and was interested in growing vines. He decided about eight years ago that he “ought to put one of my mad ideas into practice” so he set out to find out about the UK scene.

He did a short basic course at Plumpton and visited various English vineyards. “The more I learned, the more I thought, actually it’s not a stupid idea.”

The most important thing was where the vines should be planted. Justin consulted two consultants who both identified the same site and in 2009 he planted 30 acres with 38,000 vines – the foodprod-langhamliamlargest vineyard in the south west. The vines are chardonnay (about two-thirds), pinot noir and pinot meunier, the classic champagne varieties.

Justin set out from the start to produce sparkling wines. “They are what suit the climate and the soil,” he explained. “We were always ambitious. We decided to specialise and we wanted to be the best. That is why we planted the biggest vineyard. If we are going to do this it is worth doing it on quite a scale and doing it well.

“We entered the competition to see how we would do, but I would never have dreamed that our first wine from the first year would win.”

They began to market the wines last year, making their public debut at the Great Dorset Chilli Festival in the grounds of St Giles House at Wimborne St Giles. That was a great success for them, as was the new Dorset Food and Drink Christmas Fair at Athelhampton House in November.

Wine-maker Liam Idzikowski joined Langham Wine Estate last year. He has a BSc in oenology and viticulture from Brighton and has worked on vineyards in the USA, Australia, South Africa and France. He says he has now settled down in Dorset, where he has married Louise, who also works at the vineyard.

foodprod-langhamfizzLangham Wine Estate is now producing 16,000 to 18,000 bottles and Justin and Liam are aiming to increase the production. The winery is housed in a restored early 19th century brick barn, with impressive wooden beams, and the wine is fermented in second-hand, five year-old oak barrels from Burgundy. “They add a bit of character,” says Justin.

Summer weather is critical to the success of sparkling wines. The terrible weather for most of 2012 meant a poor harvest, whereas the weather was good in 2013 and fans of sparkling wine are advised to look out for the 2013 vintage in 2016.

Classic Cuvee 2010, the sparkling wine which won the Judgement of Parsons Green, retails at £22 and was the cheapest of the top 30 wines in the competition. The challenge, says Justin, is to get people to take English sparkling wine as seriously as champagne. Many of the best known champagnes are produced using grapes from many growers, whereas wines like Langham’s are single estate wines.

“The English wine is just as good if not better,” he says, “but many people seem to think it should be half the price of the French.”

Look out for Langham wines at some of this year’s food fairs and festivals, including the Great Dorset Chilli Festival in early August. There are group tours at the vineyard from June to September. For more information visit the website,

Pictured are: Winemaker Liam Idzkikowski in the winery; some of the vines; the award-winning Classic Cuvee 2010.