Interview With The Founder of Charles Palmer Vineyards

24th February 2023

Interview With Charles Palmer Vineyards

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, it’s 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 Charles Palmer, the incredible mind behind Charles Palmer Vineyard and the talented Winemaker crafting their English Sparkling Wines, let’s discover a little about his time in the Wine Industry.

Tell Us About Yourself

“I was born in New Zealand where my father and mother farmed together. My family came to England in the 1960s to farm in Sussex, where my father Charles was born and had grown up as a young man. I trained as a mechanical Engineer but after my father’s death, I joined my brother Graham to farm in partnership with him.

In the late 80s, my brother returned to N.Z., and I continued to farm with my wife Sally. Sally and I along with our two young children, Catherine and Robert, moved to Wickham Manor in 1998, to farm sheep, cattle and crops on 300 ha of mixed farmland.”

How Did You Become Involved in The Wine Industry?

“In the early 2000s, I had a casual interest in wine and wine production. I then noted the success of Ridgeview, Nyetimber, and Chapel Down in producing world class traditional method sparkling wines here in Sussex, and Kent. It was after some lengthy discussions with a friend of my daughter’s, who at the time was studying for a degree in oenology and viticulture, and after having carried out some site surveys we agreed that a particular part of the farm might be suited for wine production. This was the basis for planting our first 2 ha of vines in 2006. Today this has expanded to a total of 14 ha.”

What Influenced You To Create Charles Palmer Vineyard, and Start Producing Your Own English Sparkling Wines?

“As a family run business, I felt it important to have the family name as our brand. This is the way most French producers do it, and I have great respect for that, as it shows a sense of history, but more importantly the desire to stand behind their brand.

Originally our brand was to be “Palmer”, however, objections were filed at the Intellectual Property Office, by both Chateau Palmer in Bordeaux and Champagne Palmer in Reims. This meant the only way around the problem was to use both my first name Charles and the family name Palmer. The Charles Palmer brand shows a Greyhound, or sighthound as it was known in the medieval era, as its emblem. The reason for this is that it is the prominent element on the Palmer family Coat of Arms.

It was after winning a gold medal in 2014 for our first vintage, which was our 2009 Classic Cuvée, that we were encouraged to expand the vineyard and invest in a winery to bring production of our wines in house. Previously we had engaged the skills of renowned organic winemaker Will Davenport to make our wines, with our input in terms of style.”

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

“The hardest obstacle to overcome was the amount of time, money, and effort we have had to put in to producing wine that needs at least 3 and up to 6 years on lees before it is ready for sale. I don’t know of many successful business models that give no payback for at least 7 to 8 years. This means there’s always a lot of stock and risk to carry.”

How Do You See The Future Of English Sparkling Wine?

“I am glad we took the risk of planting when we did, as it has turned out very well in terms of the improving climate for grape production here in Southeast England. This comes at a time when other major wine regions of the world are seeing deteriorating climatic conditions for wine growing. This gives us an advantage in terms of supplying a market that is already becoming undersupplied.”

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

“In terms of our sparkling wines, I enjoy making our Rosé the most as we cold soak it on the skins for 24 hours and during that time we punch down to extract colour and flavours from the skins before pressing. The process takes more patience, leaving the fruit on the vine that bit longer to allow more phenolic ripeness so that the tannins in the grape skins have a chance to soften more. This wine has the most hands on requirement as well, in terms of cold soaking and punching down to extract just the right amount of flavours and tannins from the grape skins before we press. Working in the winery alongside my son Robert, daughter in law Chantal, and wife Sally, and putting the physical effort in to making something special, is what defines us as a family run business, linked to the land going back for generations, somehow this all combines to reflect what goes into the glass.”

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

“The most memorable place where I have enjoyed a Glass of Bubbly, was in a restaurant in the Champagne village of Sacy a few miles south of Reims. In October 2017 we were invited to take part in a celebration of Champagne Day and the theme was the Moyen Age (medieval age). The interest from the Champagne producers Damien-Buffet family was because of our emblem, and after a weekend of celebrations we all ended up in the local restaurant drinking at first some wonderful Damien-Buffet Champagne, and then toasting one another with our Classic Cuvée 2013. This was amazing for us to be sitting in the heart of Champagne and drinking our own English sparkling wine with our French friends. Our wine was so well received that the restaurateur even bought a bottle for himself!”

Thank you Charles, 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 Charles Palmer. 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.