CEO and Winemaker at Gusbourne – Interview with Charlie Holland

23rd June 2023

CEO and Winemaker at Gusbourne Interview with Charlie Holland

There is no denying that English Sparkling Wine is on the rise, becoming an undeniable contender to Champagne, and although it still has some way to go in convincing the rest of the world, to the English, it’s becoming a fan favourite and a go-to Glass of Bubbly, its quality is improving with each year and thanks to innovators and those willing to follow their dreams, the choice of English Sparkling Wine is expanding.

In this article we speak with Charlie Holland, the CEO and talented Winemaker crafting Gusbourne’s English Sparkling Wines, let’s discover a little about his time in the English Wine Industry.

How Did You Become Involved In The Wine Industry?

“I first became involved in wine whilst traveling after finishing a degree in Marketing back in 2000. I had the opportunity to work harvest in Maclaren Vale and immediately fell in love with winemaking – the passion and obsessive care I witnessed was infectious. A new career path beckoned.

After returning to the UK, I returned to university to complete a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College. I then spent some years gaining experience and honing my skills around the world with stints in the Languedoc, Napa, the Rheingau and New Zealand before returning to the UK as part of the winemaking team at Ridgeview in 2009.

I joined Gusbourne in 2013. After learning the trade in wineries around the world, two things were at the front of my mind. First, what every winemaker is looking for – a blank canvas on which to create a wine with a fresh identity. Gusbourne was still a young business, and here was a chance to build a new and exciting brand.

Second, this wasn’t a standard winemaking opportunity – every grape used at Gusbourne was, and still is, grown in our own vineyards, allowing ultimate control over the wines produced. And that fruit was consistently the best you could get in the UK. Jon [Pollard, Gusbourne’s Chief Vineyard Manager] was producing amazingly healthy fruit, in perfect condition and hugely expressive.”

What Has Been Your Hardest Obstacle To Overcome In Producing English Sparkling Wine?

“I would say it’s consumer awareness. That England produces not just exceptional, world-class quality wines, but also generally that England produces wine at all, is the lesser-known fact, which certainly poses a potential challenge. I see this much more as an opportunity than a challenge though – there are so many people out there we can convert to becoming English wine fans purely by having them try it! The best thing we can do is to open bottles of wine for people, and genuinely, nine out of ten times people try English wine and love it. Once they’ve tried it, they appreciate the quality and they’re happy to buy the wines.

In terms of the environment, it’s one of our biggest assets as opposed to obstacles. The terroir of our vineyards in southeast England is excellent for producing sparkling wine. We’re blessed with a very special terroir: our Wealden clay-loam soils in Kent combined with an exceptionally warm and dry maritime climate enables beautiful ripeness in our grapes whilst our proximity to the sea provides a distinctive salty tang to the wines. In Sussex, our vineyards enjoy slightly higher altitudes and flinty chalk soils which brings a signature freshness to these grapes. We only produce vintage wines and vintage is all about the expression of the conditions we encounter each year in our unique environment. There’s a story, a fingerprint, an imprint… and we celebrate that.”

What Part Of The Wine Making Process Do You Enjoy The Most?

“When I first started out in winemaking, I fell in love with the whole alchemy of making grapes into wine and that feeling still stands to this day. It’s especially exciting when we start to see grapes coming in from that year’s harvest and can gauge the potential of the wine we will make with such clean, high-quality fruit that our vineyard team tends to so expertly.

The blending process is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the winemaking year. This is the first opportunity to clearly see the quality and variety of the vintage and gives the winemaking team the opportunity to express themselves creatively. I am always keen to approach every vintage with an open mind and a blank canvas.”

How Do You See The Future Of English Sparkling Wine?

“It’s a really exciting time for the English wine scene. As a relatively new wine-producing region we are not restricted by many of the laws and legislation others are bound to. Whilst the focus must always be on quality, this freedom of restriction leads to creativity with more and more exciting new wine styles and winemakers.

We have unique growing conditions in England and these are reflected in our wines. We combine a very long ripening period with cooler conditions, which means we are able to produce wines that are packed full of flavour, but still retain the vibrancy and freshness that makes English wines so exciting to drink.

A huge growth area of English wine is also in wine tourism. We encourage visitors to come down to our vineyards in Kent to really experience and provide an illustration of everything we’re about. To see where the grapes are grown, where the wine is made, and to taste the full range of wines we produce, both sparkling and still. We call our tasting rooms The Nest, an homage to our heritage (the estate dates back to 1410 and the original family crest of the de Goosebourne family has three geese on it, something we’ve retained today in our logo and names such as The Nest to this day…), and over the past few years, we’ve seen a large and consistent rise in the number of visitors we welcome to the estate. We’re open year-round and even in the cold, dark days of winter we have people coming to our warm and inviting tasting rooms to enjoy the wine, food and views across the vineyards and to learn more about what we do and why it’s so special. This gives great confidence in English wine’s popularity and the huge growth potential as well.”

Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?

“The first glass we drank together as a team after our tasting room, The Nest, was built is probably my most memorable glass of bubbly. It was a huge undertaking and such an achievement. I have enjoyed many highlights over the past few years, but my favourite was perhaps the launch of that. Having a beautiful place to welcome people to Gusbourne has allowed us to share our vineyards, wines and enthusiasm with our customers.”

Thank you Charlie, for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Charlie Holland. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.