Interview With James Snowden – Winemaker at Balfour Winery

26th May 2023

Interview With A Winemaker - James Snowden

Wine isn’t just made, it’s crafted by the unwavering expertise of a Winemaker, sometimes old traditions are passed down by generations and on other occasions, new people venture into the industry, introducing us to new creations. This series of Winemaker Interviews will help you uncover the vast world and skills of how the artists passionate about wine make the world a bubbly place.

In this feature we speak with James Snowden, an amazing Winemaker from England, let’s discover a little about his time in the English Wine Industry.

Tell Us About Yourself

“I am a 29-year-old British-Finnish dual national currently making wine at Balfour Winery in Kent, England, having previously made wine and farmed vines around the world in regions such as Napa, Hemel-En-Aarde, and Burgundy.”

How Did You Become Involved In The Wine Industry?

“I found a natural segue into the industry after an undergrad in which I specialised in climatology, ecosystem dynamics, and sustainability. Winemaking united a love for wine with science and provided an opportunity for a creative outlet. My involvement in the industry is fuelled by the understanding that agriculture sits at the coalface of man’s interaction with nature, and through responsible land stewardship, you can create a local, lower-impact product which people buy into. This industry also presents an opportunity to create a product that can be temporally transcendent, working with old vine material and creating age-worthy cuvees, crystallising the growing season in liquid form. To this end, I studied an MSc in Viticulture and Oenology to build an academic and intellectual foundation before learning my craft and developing my philosophy at producers such as Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault.

As A Winemaker, What Has Been Your Hardest Obstacle To Overcome In Producing Wine?

“The most difficult obstacles I have faced have been the impact of macro-scale problems, such as climate change and global geopolitics. For example, throughout 2021 I made wine in Burgundy during an unbelievably difficult growing season. We faced a deluge of climate and meteorological challenges. However, with a great deal of hard work and application from vineyard to winery, we created some fabulous wines that defy the challenges we faced. This is not to dismiss the challenges as it is the reality we face, and of course, it would be far better not to have them. Rather, when united, the industry and its people can be a tremendous force in countering these challenges.”

How Do You Determine When Your Wine Is Ready To Drink?

“This depends greatly on so many factors and it is so often a moving target. Despite being in different stages of its life, you can look for similar things in both bottle and in tank/barrel, which give you an indication of when a wine is ready. Fundamentally, for me, this is the harmonisation of the integral elements of wines: aroma and flavour profile and the structural components of acidity and tannin, all encapsulated in a pure expression of time, place, and varietal(s). Whether this takes 1 year or 100 years, of course, depends on the wine in question, but this is the centre of the argument. The readiness of wine is not temporally fixed, but changes, and as a winemaker and wine lover, that is what makes it very captivating.”

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

“Again, a difficult one to nail down. Harvest is thrilling, as it combines an intense and physical challenge with an intellectual and emotional dynamic. At no other time are you as close to the wine as when you are there at its genesis. You experience an explosion of aromas, flavours, and colours during fermentation, working with the fruits of the season’s labours. Elévage is also very enjoyable. Through this period, we aim to identify where the wines currently are in their developmental trajectory and envisage where they may go, so that we may guide the wine through. It isn’t a case of forcing the wine to be something it’s not, it’s a matter of observation and stewardship, whilst being ready to intervene if necessary. Should we take the right steps, without excessive manipulation, the wine can become truly great and reflect of the vintage, the vineyard, and the grapes. Seeing wines evolve from a juvenile, post-fermentative phase to something balanced and harmonious is a testament to the hard work during harvest and the growing season.”

Thank you James, 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 James Snowden. 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.