Discovering Polgoon – Interview With A Founder – John Coulson’s Story

23rd May 2024

Interview with the Founder of Polgoon John Coulson

There is no denying that English Sparkling Wine is on the rise, becoming an undeniable contender to Traditional Method Sparkling around the world. To the English, it’s becoming a fan favourite and a go-to Glass of Bubbly, its quality is improving year on year and thanks to innovators and those willing to follow their dreams, the choice of English Sparkling Wine is expanding.

In this feature we share John Coulson’s story, the talented Winemaker and creative Founder of Polgoon, in Penzance, Cornwall, England, let’s discover a little about his time in the English Wine Industry.

“My wife Kim and I had dabbled a bit in doing property up around 2,000 and were always on the lookout for a project, this was on top of running a wholesale fish business and too many kids to remember. One Sunday we stumbled across a derelict farm on the edge of Penzance that was up for sale. There was a beautiful run-down granite farmhouse built in 1803 and various barns and outbuildings associated with the farmhouse and 21 acres. We begged, stole and borrowed from family friends and any bank or building society that would help fund this project to renovate the farmhouse and bring the farm back to life.

So we started on the journey of renovating and improving the buildings and space here to make a family home for us all. Then what do you do with land in Cornwall, bulbs, cauliflowers or potatoes seemed to be the main choices, none seemed exciting, so we came up with the idea of a vineyard and off we went, south facing land well-draining sandy soil all based on granite. So we planted a variety of the usual suspects favoured at the time planted by English vineyards, Rondo, Pinot Noir précoce, Seyval Blanc, Bacchus, and Pinot Noir. There was an old barn that had been insulated to be a fridge in the 60’s and that would be our winery.

This gave us a good base of grapes to make both still and sparkling wines and not be totally focused on sparkling like lots of English vineyards have become. So, we planted in the next 2 years about 12,000 vines, and then we had the job of getting a crop. This proved more difficult than we thought it would down here in Cornwall, mainly due to the large amount of rainfall we get, and so we had to adapt our spray programme for the climate rather than follow what suited other areas of the UK. Also, there was so much to learn about soil and its complexities, pH adjustment, and magnesium and boron deficiencies that needed to be addressed either by fertilisers or foliar feeds.

Then in 2010, we had our eureka moment I came across a raspberry farmer close by growing in Spanish polytunnels, what a great idea to keep the rain off the crop and reduce the disease pressure brought about by having a damp wet vineyard canopy from all the rain. So with some outside investment, we covered our first vines and this gave us a healthy crop each year. Then once we had a regular crop it became clear that we needed to increase the quality of our wines and so again we invested in refrigeration on the back of advice from the UKVA Wineskills programme. This chilling slowed ferments down and allowed us to make great fruit driven award-winning wines.

Harvest is the most special part of the job to my mind, it is when you decide when to pick the fruit and what you can make from that fruit, ie is the Rondo and Pinot Noir ripe enough to make an English red, or is it more suited to be rosé this year? It’s also the most challenging deciding what’s going for still wine and what’s going to sparkling looking for higher acid for sparkling and lower acid for still and tasting the fresh juice, it never fails to amaze me how sweet and good that freshly pressed juice tastes.

Our sparkling wines made from single variety Pinot Noir (rosé) and Seyval Blanc are made in the traditional method and have in the last few years become very popular down here in Cornwall. They are aged normally for 4 to 5 years in the bottle before being disgorged and sold either to local hotels and restaurants or from the shop and restaurant here at Polgoon. Our Seyval Blanc is less traditional in taste than the sparkling and because of the yeasts used tends to be more fruit forward than most, making it quite different.

In 2015 we planted another 2,000 Sauvignon Blanc vines which has created a bit of a buzz, a Cornish Sav Blanc, this creates a bit of debate as to whether it follows New Zealand or French styles of Sav Blanc but this delicious still wine is Cornish and unique in that.

There is nothing like having a glass of your own wine that I have now put 20 years of my life trying to perfect, it makes it even better when you can take the family out for dinner, and somebody offers you a glass of Polgoon still or sparkling.

Thank you John, 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 John Coulson. 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.