A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to drop by to see Tim Phillips for a couple of hours. We met at his walled vineyard which he rather aptly calls “Clos Paradis”, a short drive from Lymington in Hampshire. As I rarely have time go there more than once or twice a year these days there’s always quite a lot to see. We then retired down the road to the winery for a bit of tasting.
Tim always gets my brain going, and he likes to explore similar subjects, and perhaps that’s why we get on well and he values my comments on the wines he’s making. I think we would not exhaust the conversation over a whole day, but on this occasion an early dinner engagement cut short our fascinating time together.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Tim began his career in South Africa, producing some very impressive wines made under his Charlie Herring Wines label (some still available and they are crackers). On returning to the UK, he was the recipient of some amazing luck when the walled garden of a large 19th Century house came on the market. Originally for a ridiculous price, seeing as there was no house attached, but later the owners saw sense and Tim had himself a vineyard.
The winery is housed in a small agricultural building a short drive away, but with enough land for Tim to develop along ecological lines, with a large pond, a coppiced bit of woodland (with a family of deer) and, now, an adjacent field which Tim is planting with some trees. He seems to have a lot of help from the local Jay population, with a good number of oak saplings springing up.
Last time I visited the vineyard Tim was considering lowering the trellising for some of the vines and this is now underway. His Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have now been joined by, I think Tim said, around 100 Pinot Noir vines. They had a difficult start last year, due to lack of rain, but this year they appear to be thriving. It will be a few years before we see any wine from them and whether Tim will make his first “English” Charlie Herring red wine, or whether they will go into a sparkling wine, we can’t say. Whichever it is, it will be exciting.
After a good look around the vineyard and, I must say, spending a while allowing the new chickens to befriend us (so tame), we headed through into the orchard. The old ladies are still resplendent, looking straggly but majestic. Tim is adding new apple trees as well as other non-fruit species to enhance the space, and the tennis court is slowly disappearing under nature’s advance.
Tim has been very much taken with the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, especially that part of his philosophy which advocates leaving cuttings, or otherwise returning their nutrients directly to the soil. It’s part of Fukuoka’s natural farming (shizen nōhō) method, a subject about which we both feel passionately interested. Of course, viticulture is a balance, and there are risks involved in leaving cuttings on the ground, but being in the vineyard twice a day, early morning and evening, allows Tim be in very real contact with his plants and the terroir/microclimate. It means he can spot any problems and deal with them swiftly.
The last of the bottled cider (2017) has gone. Les Caves sold it through in a matter of days and if there’s any in retail you will count yourself lucky to find some. I tasted the 2020 cider which has been on Chardonnay skins, six months in the egg. It remains as refined as the red wine-infused bottles, Tim clearly making all his cider to taste like an apple version of Champagne. The Chardonnay skins impart an uncanny, well, Chardonnay flavour…and a little texture, at least right now. This is one to look forward to.
For the first time Tim is making a still wine from his Riesling (rather than sparkling). 2020 saw a third pressed off the skins and two-thirds crushed, with the following three months on skins. It’s in a barrel now (old wood, from 2012). At the moment it has amazing depth but Tim will know intuitively (and by constant tasting) when it’s ready.
A bit of a treat was to try the wine Tim has made from the fifty-year-old Seyval Blanc vines of a near neighbour. I’ve written about the variety recently. Breaky Bottom in Sussex makes the benchmark sparkling wine from this variety, a wine which is remarkably refined. It was the first variety I made wine from but it was a pretty poor effort, largely because for a variety of reasons (weather and the vines not having been pruned to fewer bunches) the alcohol level was too low and the acids way too high. Naturally I wasn’t going to chaptalize.
Tim’s wine is lovely. Right now, there is no dosage. With 5g/l, which Tim proposes after it’s had 24 months on lees, it will give it a bit of breadth on the tongue, and probably take away some of the tarter acids which my wine was plagued with.
Now to releases. There will, of course, be more cider ready for sale at some point as disgorging of the 2018 is underway. Expect availability from December, says Tim. The 2020 Sauvignon Blanc looks promising, perhaps a little different to some of the previous releases. I drank a bottle of Tim’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc last week and it went very well with, of all things, a spicier than usual paella.
The Seyval Blanc will I imagine be a micro-release when it comes, as the vineyard owner retains the majority of it. Tim also promised a tiny release of sparkling Riesling in September of this year, but it will be truly limited. He promised I’d get one bottle…one bottle…for which I should probably be grateful, though two bottles would more than double the joy.
There was another TP treat in store. There’s an experimental sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from the 2015 vintage. Not sure what is planned for that, but I truly hope it sees the light of day [a day after I wrote this, I saw a post from Tim on Instagram, followed by a message to me where Tim said it won’t. It failed to make the grade and “is now compost”. I still wish he’d bottled some for me to judge in a couple of years].
All of Tim’s wines are remarkable, and I really don’t care much what’s in the bottle so long as I get one. However, in the years that I’ve known Tim I have seen his fan base grow from a number of locals to a truly national following. The battle for bottles can only get ugly. If you follow Tim on Instagram you’ll see that between my visit and publishing this piece, quite a few people have been visiting, no doubt staking their claim. I’m not at all surprised. The secret has been out for a while. These are remarkable wines from a magical place made by a very fine winemaker. One of our best.