SUGRUE SOUTH DOWNS
If English sparkling wine had its own hall of fame, Dermot Sugrue’s name would be written on it with golden letters. In fact, Sugrue takes credit for putting English sparkling wine on the map. It is under his guidance that Nyetimber became the benchmark for premium sparklers. The winemaker’s own project, Sugrue South Downs, is regarded as the top boutique producer in the country.
Dermot Sugrue, the man behind Sugrue wine, was once described by Steven Spurrier as “the best winemaker in England”.
Born in Ireland, Dermot Sugrue started his career as a financial consultant. Eventually, his passion for wine drew him to Plumpton College where he studied Viticulture and Oenology. Further on, Sugrue spent two years working at some of the top vineyards of Bordeaux: Château L’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol and Château Leoville-Barton in St Julien.
At last, in 2003, Sugrue brought this experience back home, taking on the role of the head winemaker at Nyetimber. Under his guidance, the estate became renowned for premium sparklers, earning prestigious international awards.
Photo Credit: Mark O’Halleron
Later on, in 2006, Dermot met husband-and-wife team Harry and Pip Goring. Together, they established a vineyard and winery in West Sussex. This was the start of Wiston Estate – which also gradually became one of the most acclaimed sparkling wine producers in England.
In the same year Dermot’s long time dream came true. He planted his own vineyard – a small one hectare plot in West Sussex, just a stone throw from Wiston estate. This was the start of Sugrue wine story. The first vintage, The Trouble with Dreams 2009, was released in 2013 to huge critics’ accolades. Further on, the 2010 vintage, scored the highest rating ever awarded by Decanter magazine for an English sparkling.
From Vines To Wines
However, winemaking in England comes with its challenges. The 2012 growing season was a disaster, with no grapes being picked. At that point it became clear that it was not wise to rely on just one small plot of land. As a result, Dermot made a decision to take a long lease on Mount Harry Vineyard near Lewes. Planted on pure chalk, the vineyard benefits from the south-east slope and the proximity to the sea. As such, the risk of frost is minimal. Since 2013, Sugrue wine has been predominantly made of the Mount Harry grapes.
Dermot Sugrue’s approach in the vineyard is largely sustainable: he does not use herbicides and keeps all treatments to minimum. The most important part, as Dermot himself puts it, is “always trying to maintain a good sense of humour when the weather wreaks havoc – which it always, always does – and having the nerve and patience to withhold picking until something near full ripeness is achieved.”
At the winery, the intervention is minimal, allowing nature to take its course. Extremely gentle pressing of the grapes is followed by slow fermentation and maturation in old Burgundian barrels and stainless steel.
Sugrue does not favour new oak, as the goal is to keep the primary grape aromas and to make fruit-driven wines that express the character of the terroir, not of oak.
The second fermentation of Sugrue wines happens in the bottle, and after an extensive period of ageing on the lees the wines are bottled unfiltered.
Incredibly complex, refined and elegant, Sugrue sparkling wines rival some of their top Champagne counterparts. Released in tiny quantities, these are real treasures of the English wine world, which is why they are always hunted by those in the know. While Sugrue wine is never released until it is ready to drink, it will continue to mature in the bottle for several years. For two years in a row, in 2020 and 2021, Sugrue South Downs won the prestigious Boutique Producer of the Year award by WineGB.