Founder & Winemaker Of Hundred Hills – Interview With Stephen Duckett

7th June 2024

Founder & Winemaker Of Hundred Hills Interview With Stephen Duckett

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 exclusive feature we speak with Stephen Duckett, the incredible Founder & Winemaker at Hundred Hills, in South East Oxfordshire, England, let’s find out a little about his life in the English wine industry.

It’s Great To Speak With You, Stephen, Can You Tell Us A Little About Yourself & What Inspired You To Become The Founder Of Your Own English Winery, Hundred Hills?

“I grew up in a farming family that had farmed the Somerset levels for generations, and while I left the land to pursue a first career in technology and the internet, it was always only a matter of time before I returned to the land. For me agriculture is all science and as Southern England warmed it became clear that we would definitely be able to make beautiful, world-class, sparkling wines in the chalk valleys here over the course of the 21st century. Not only did we have the same climate and soils as Champagne in the 1970s and 80s but we knew from their history exactly which clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would create the most beautiful, long aging, sparkling wines. Every year would be different but over time nature would be certain to present us with some extraordinary winemaking opportunities.”

How Rewarding And Challenging Is Managing Your Own English Winery?

“We are fortunate enough to have a state-of-the-art winery and beautifully clean and ripe grapes year after year so managing our ultra-low intervention winemaking is relatively stress free. This is ‘modern craft’ so we’re using high precision technology to allow us to do very little to the musts and wines. No fining, additive-free stabilisation, often no or only very course filtering, the same wine being used for dosage liquers; all allow the grapes to speak for themselves. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is in the art of assembling vintage sparkling wines year on year from an array of very young base wines, imagining from well over a decade of training and experience how they will mature through second fermentations and then many years of aging, first on lees and then on cork.”

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

“For me it’s all about the grapes, it has to be. Each of our ten parcels of high quality, low yielding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are managed, picked and vinified separately, with the focus being to keep the grapes healthily on the vine for well over 100 days from flowering. It is this that brings the complexity, intensity and richness to our cool-climate wines. Without the intensity and precision we bring in the vineyards everything else would be pointless. I love helping bring this intensity and precision together with the outstanding viticultural team we have at Hundred Hills.”

When It Comes To Pairing Sparkling Wine With Food, Do You Have Any Favourite Combinations That You Would Personally Recommend?

“We have been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of Michelin starred chefs in the three years since we released our first wines. From day one Raymond Blanc in particular was creating beautiful dishes to pair with each of our single parcel, vintage-only sparklings. Perhaps my favourite so far has been Le Canard, a beautiful roast duck, cherries and almonds dish he paired with our unique 2018 rosé de saignée, bringing a fresh spine of acidity, intense spice notes, pomegranate and orange citrus to the most concentrated and rich duck you could ever imagine. But our ‘On-the-Pass’ pages feature an ever-changing selection of beautifully created dishes from the country’s very top chefs, from Ed Cooke and Karl Jacques at The Fat Duck, through Jean-Philippe Blondet at Alain Ducasse, to Marco Zampese at Hélène Darroze; all of whom have created the most extraordinary dishes that have been paired beautifully with our wines.”

What Future Plans Can Enthusiasts Of Hundred Hills Look Forward To In The Coming Years?

“We have no intention of ever expanding our vineyards or winery so regular buyers of our wines from around the world, who love what we do today, can simply expect an ever-changing kaleidoscope of vibrant, intense, crystalline and carefully structured sparklings. Fiona and I created Hundred Hills after a long three-year search to find the perfect spot in the English countryside from which to take on the world of fine wine. Each vintage will continue to sustainably showcase different aspects of our unique Stonor Valley terroir through a subtle, complex and generous array of primary, secondary and tertiary notes that always allows the sheer quality of the grapes to shine through.”

Can You Share With Us One Of The Most Memorable Experiences You’ve Enjoyed With A Glass of Bubbly?

“Our journey with Hundred Hills has brought so many it’s very hard to choose one. I’ve always been a wine lover and over the years read so many of the words Jancis Robinson has written, featuring wines and stories from all corners of the wine world. So, to sit down with Jancis in 2022 and taste through a dozen or so of our wines together with her was special. Jancis is the ultimate wine professional and gives very little away when tasting with producers, so I think the moment when she paused over our 2019 Blanc de Noirs and said simply ‘this is lovely’ is a moment that will stay with Fiona and I for a very long time.”

Thank you Stephen, for sharing your story and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Stephen Duckett. 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.