Zam Baring admits he was lucky. The son of the late Lord Ashburton of The Grange and his siblings already owned the 30 acres of downland just outside Winchester that would become Burge’s Field Vineyard in 2011. The flinty south-facing slopes have proved ideal for achieving the perfect balance of acidity and sugar in the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes they wanted to grow.
But turning that land into a profitable business in a hugely competitive industry has required hands-on hard graft, including many sleepless nights. “Faced with frost at a critical point in the growing season, you realise what commitment to your crop is all about,” he says with a smile.
At the peak of a successful career in television in London, Zam’s decision to farm the land of his forebears as a winemaker came as something of a surprise to colleagues. “I think some of them thought I was a bit mad,” he adds. “But it felt like the right time to look for something new, and what started as a discussion around the table with my brother and sisters has, amazingly, led to us creating a wine that in August 2020 was judged as one of the best sparkling wines in the world.”
National and international awards for The Grange sparkling wines have certainly been forthcoming. Highlights have included a gold medal in the 2020 WineGB Awards for the 2016 Classic NV and the 97-point platinum medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards last Summer for the 2015 Pink NV. The latter was one of only three platinum medals for pink sparkling wines that year, with the two others awarded to champagnes that cost significantly more.
Zam heads a skilful team with expertise in growing, making and, critically, marketing. “My two sisters have both built successful businesses in the luxury lifestyle industry, while my brother spent many years in finance,” he says. “That gives us a great skill set collectively but we’ve also been lucky to find great people in vineyard management and wine-making to work with. Hattingley has been making our wines but we will be making them ourselves in our new winery from next year.”
It’s an exciting development for a business that regularly sells out when new vintages are released. “I think, at the start, that people thought the vineyard was a bit of a vanity project,” Zam says. “But it’s become very clear that we have a great opportunity here. And that our wines are seriously good.”
Not everything has run smoothly. There have been poor harvests, and May frosts remain a challenge. “Our weather station sends out an alert when the temperature dips, resulting in a very early morning wake-up to light flares across the vineyard to warm up the vines,” Zam says. “Typically, that’s 3am. You have to be committed to do that.”
Sustainability is important across The Grange estate, with herbicide and pesticide use in the vineyard being phased out: “We were one of the founder members of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain, which means regenerating the soil we farm – in part by using complementary planting methods to enrich it.”
Zam doesn’t own a tweed jacket. But he does sport a straw hat from time to time and is usually found in a pair of muddy wellies. It’s a far cry from the fast-paced world of television. “I think the biggest lesson for me was accepting that nothing happens speedily in wine-making,” he says. “It’s all about waiting and tweaking and then waiting again for the results – often for years. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as connected to the soil beneath my feet as I do now.”
01962 458069 www.thegrangewine.co.uk