A Visit To Charlie Herring Wines
Have you ever read ‘the Secret Garden’? A magical story of how a young girl, Mary, discovers a beautiful, hidden walled garden and through tending it back to life gains meaning and transformation in her life. Well, our visit to see Tim Phillips of Charlie Herring fame - a superb, small batch wine producer based near Lymington, Hampshire - reminded me of this story. In our story it’s difficult to judge who was Mary and who was the reclusive old widower, let alone the friend she makes of the crippled cousin hidden in the big house…...but there was a beautiful walled garden, tended to and brought back to life by Tim and transformed into a magical space where amazing English wines are produced. I feel Tim would laugh at the romantic notion comparing his story with a Victorian novel (is Tim Mary?) as he is grounded in reality, hard work and a pragmatic sense of adventure. Nothing is random and everything is done with a sense of direction, even if some of the results are wildly different to what he originally set out to achieve. To the visiting observer, however, it is a truly wonderful experience and one that we felt privileged to be a part of.
Tim was generous with his time and knowledge and showed us, in great detail through his walled vineyard and winery. He has extensively researched how the victorians would have used these spaces and is USING similar methods to achieve similar results. Walled gardens are practical spaces that utilise the constructed microclimate to achieve improved growing patterns and even the compass alignment of the space is set to achieve the best sunlight hours for the plants. All this allows him to grow grape varieties that are less prominent in England. He has Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and is in the process of growing some Pinot Noir as well.
Taking us beyond the walled garden into a wilder and more open space, we were shown to his ‘orchard’, a space that once housed a tennis court that served the large house, within which grounds he has leased his small vineyard. This was an intriguing and entirely different experience. The apple trees were discovered as part of the clearing of the space and his journey into cider making had begun. This part felt much less regimented in design, with its long grass meadows, windswept pines, lining an old avenue and these old apple trees, some left growing where they had half toppled over - he only uses the apples that he has picked from the trees, none that have fallen and there was a lovingly unkempt, almost Wuthering Heights feel to the vistas and surroundings (what is it with all the period novels!).
We then returned to the winery, a short 10 minute walk along a road, through a couple of fields and around bluebell carpeted coppice, to taste some wines and ciders. We tried a plethora of varieties, some from demi-john’s, some from steel, some from semi-porous ‘eggs’ and some from the bottle. We tried wine, we tried cider, we even tried cider/wine. We left overwhelmingly happy and excited to try the next vintage.