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Hush Heath Winery: making wine fun

PUBLISHED: 16:56 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:56 15 May 2017

Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn with their rolling Kentish estate in the background

Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn with their rolling Kentish estate in the background

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

What started as a hobby for entrepreneur Richard Balfour-Lynn quickly became an expanding family based wine and cider business

Rows of finished product line the visitor centreRows of finished product line the visitor centre

Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn first came to Kent in 1986, just before they got married and were in search of a family home.

They found the perfect one in Tudor-framed Hush Heath Manor, nestling into a hill, with magnificent views across the Weald of Kent. Built in 1503, the manor served as a pair of wealthy weavers’ cottages, in an era when Kent was the centre of Europe’s textile industry. By the 1980s, however, it was in need of extensive restoration and the next four years entailed a full restitution, inside and out.

Richard takes up the tale: “In about 1870 the manor owned all this land but they ran out of money and sold it to the Days, a big Kent farming family, who owned it right up to 2001.

“The Day children had farms all over Kent but the child who owned this farm decided to sell it as a series of lots. We went to the auction and ended up buying the land simply because it surrounded our house. Then a year later Leslie said to me ‘why don’t you plant a vineyard?’ – expecting a few rows…”

Richard, who has been in the property industry for more than 30 years, wasn’t going to be put off by the challenge, although he admits: “When you plant your first vineyard you really don’t know what the microclimate is going to do.

Richard leads a wine tourRichard leads a wine tour

“We are very fortunate that we are almost in a valley surrounded by woods and have a really great microclimate because it’s so protected and sheltered.

“It’s luck, I can’t say we planned it, but what I can say is that we are in the Garden of England and this is a major fruit-growing area and we have this wonderful Wealden clay.

“Our first harvest was 2004 and we 
were very fortunate,” he adds, with massive understatement. “We made 10,000 bottles of Balfour Brut Rose, which was what we made exclusively for the first 10 years and it’s still unquestionably our favourite drink.

“We entered the International Wine Challenge with our first harvest where 20,000 wines are tasted blind throughout the world and we won the first Golden English trophy, so suddenly everyone was talking about Hush Heath.”

Today, the hillside on which Hush Heath Manor sits overlooks 400 acres of vineyards, apple orchards and the winery they built in 2010 – eight years after planting those first vines. The Balfour-Lynns host an array of winery events all year, from harvest parties to tasting dinners, welcoming some of the world’s most-admired wine critics and personalities.

SamplingSampling

In 2015, when Hush Heath Estate’s non-vintage cuvees were in their final stages of development, the decision was taken to name the new range after the manor itself and the label, Balfour 1503, was born. The names Balfour 1503 Classic Cuvee, and Balfour 1503 Rose relate back to the wines’ provenance and ties them into the rich heritage of the estate.

As the business grew, the family grew too and Richard and Leslie’s four children have also lent their names to the expanding range. Look out for eldest son Luke’s Tree Pure Russet Apple Juice, made from Egremont Russet apples grown on the estate’s 30 acres of environmentally friendly orchards. Then there’s Skye’s English Chardonnay, named after the producer’s eldest daughter; her younger sister Nanette lends her name to the new still wine English Rose 2016, while Jake’s Orchard cider range carries a number of varieties. Leslie’s Reserve, a traditional-method English sparkling wine, is named in honour of Richard’s elegant American wife.

Leslie’s influence is also seen in the two Kent boutique pubs the Balfour-Lynns now own, The Goudhurst Inn and The Tickled Trout. “They act as our restaurants and boutique hotels,” explains Richard. “We didn’t want to build here – it’s such a tranquil setting, and it’s our garden too.”

Leslie has been responsible for the interior design in both nearby establishments, having cut her teeth on their two London properties.

Both are quick to acknowledge the support of their long-serving team, who include winemaking professionals Owen Elias (ex-Chapel Down) and Victoria Ash, plus Steven Skelton, a Master of Wine who has advised the Balfour-Lynns since they first set out.

Hush HeathHush Heath

And in the wider county Hush Heath has formed a Kent Wine Producers Group with estates including Chapel Down, Biddenden and Tattinger, the aim being to promote wine tourism into Kent collaboratively.

Further afield, wines are being exported in small quantities to America, to Germany, Hong Kong and Japan. The Brexit effect has been a largely positive one, according to Richard: “We’re living in a world where nationalism is growing which is not bad for us an English brand of wine, it reflects a trend towards pride in what we do. From a purely business perspective the drop in sterling helps export.”

Hush Heath can even claim London’s only vineyard: “Coutts Bank in the Strand asked us to plant some vines up on their roof, which we did; they ripen about three months earlier than down here!” smiles Richard.

On a bigger scale, he hopes to grow the current 100,000 bottles of wine a year to 300,000 by planting more vineyards to reach 100 acres – more than trebling the original acreage. The winery and business facilities are being extended and a new Wine Club has been launched, but Richard assures me: “We will always remain a small boutique winery, we are never going to get to be a very large commercial organisation.

“Hush Heath has got a great feel, it’s not intimidating and as a brand we try to be very generous and want people to enjoy themselves. Wine has had a history of being exclusive and intimidating and our whole thing is to make it fun. If you can’t smile when you’re drinking our pink fizz, when can you?”

Get in touch

Hush Heath Winery, Five Oak Lane,

Staplehurst TN12 0HT

For details of tours and tastings, call 01622 832 794 or visit hushheath.com

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