Meet the Winemaker: Brad Greatrix – Nyetimber
18th November 2015
Recently, we put our questions to Brad Greatrix, winemaker at Nyetimber and part of a great winemaking duo at England’s premier sparkling wine house.
He and his wife Head Winemaker Cherie Spriggs are the third couple that have had a major influence on the Nyetimber brand and consequently English wines in recent decades.
Nyetimber has perhaps the most interesting genesis of any English vineyard. Established in 1988, to gentle wails of derision by the English wine making establishment at the time, Nyetimber’s first vines were planted by a couple of displaced Americans from Chicago, who had a dream of creating a world class sparkling wine in southern England.
The husband and wife couple, the first big influencers, were named Sandy and Stuart Moss and they planted the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that make up the Holy Trinity of grapes familiar in Champagnes. The first to do so with the intention of making world beating fizz.
They worked quietly away, planting vines, buying in key advisors and expertise from Champagne, diligently making a perfect product, not releasing anything until they were perfectly happy that the product could compare to quality Champagne. The doubters, believing that all this time they were taking meant that they were right niggled and sniped, until the day came that proved them wrong.
We are delighted here at The English Wine Shop to be selling their 2010 Classic Cuvee, a citrusy, subtle, vivacious and great English Sparkling. You can read our review “The Classic of a Nyetimber Cuvee”.
Nyetimber Manor was of course already interesting, being an estate mentioned in Domesday and that was once owned by Anne of Cleves, the fourth of Henry VIII six wives. Moreover it is a place that since the late 1980s has seen passionate people, owners and winemakers alike, create something truly breath-taking on this 152-hectare estate that spans West Sussex and Hampshire.
Since 2006, Eric Heerema, a Dutchman, and his wife Hannah, have owned the estate (the second couple of influencers) and are driven to make Nyetimber a name synonymous with the finest sparkling wines in the world. They, along with Cherie and Brad, have achieved amazing things.
Onto Brad, now in his own words, responding to our questions.
How long have you been a winemaker?
My wife Cherie Spriggs and I both work for Nyetimber (Cherie is our Head Winemaker) and we both started our training in 2001 – in some ways that feels like a long time ago, but then if I put it into wine terms, ’01 seems like a recent vintage to me.
Where did you learn your craft and not just formal education but who influenced you and why?
Cherie and I have been fortunate to study at some of the most prestigious oenology institutions in the world. But I would say most influential has been the winemakers we’ve worked with along the way. Academic learning provides an excellent foundation, but most important is the time spent tasting and discussing with talented winemakers.
For me, my most memorable times were spent (glass in hand) with Paul Pontallier and Philippe Bascaules at Chateau Margaux, Jeff Sinnott from Central Otago and Tony Rynders in Oregon, USA.
Tell us about your winemaking travels and experiences?
After studies in Canada and Australia, I’ve spent time making wine in America (Oregon), Australia (McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley), New Zealand (Central Otago) and France (Margaux). I think those opportunities to see a lot of different vineyards and ways of working with vines and wine is important early in a winemaking career. I’ve carried something forward from each place I’ve worked.
Tell us a little something about the place you work and the vineyards there?
Nyetimber is an incredible place. The Estate has a wonderful history – mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and owned for a time by King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. We were the first to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in England, and the first to produce traditional method sparkling. From the first vintage in 1992 Nyetimber proved that special wines can be produced in West Sussex.
Since 2006 Nyetimber has been owned and operated by Eric Heerema, and it’s his vision that sets Nyetimber apart – I’ve never met a man more committed to quality. No detail is overlooked if it will help us produce better wine, and it’s most certainly the most exciting era in our winemaking history. A lot of the people that work at Nyetimber have been drawn here by the wines, so we all work hard to produce bottles that hopefully will create that same special moment for someone that we’ve all experienced.
Do you strive for a style or an ideal that people might relate to? Or are you your own sort of winemaker?
Nyetimber wines have that elusive combination of flavour intensity but with a lightness and elegance. The vineyards bring us that – we just nurture it in the winery to make sure it shines through. That means giving the wines adequate ageing time to develop gracefully, and making all of the key decisions along the way by tasting the wines.
What makes the grapes from your vineyards so special?
At Nyetimber we only use grapes from our own vineyards in our wines. But our vines are actually spread across eight sites in order that we could have plots of land that meet our exacting criteria. Therefore we only have vines in spots that we feel are perfect for the style of wine we are producing.
Are there special places or vines in your vineyards that really adds something to your wines?
All of our vines bring something special or we wouldn’t continue working with them. Some plots are better known than others – for example we produce a ‘single vineyard’ wine from our Tillington site, but there are many more that are integral to the other wines we produce (Classic Cuvee, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs and Demi-Sec)
Do you do anything special in your winemaking process that is just a little different and produces something a bit special?
Throughout our vineyards, any small parcel of grapes that has unique flavours compared to its neighbouring vines is harvested and fermented separately. We go to great lengths to seek out these parcels, and because we’ve been working this way for many years we’ve built up a lot of knowledge of the blocks. That means every year we can be fine tuning how we handle them in the winery to get the very best from them.
Although we only have 5 sparkling wines in our portfolio, we might produce up to 100 base wines at harvest, which gives us tremendous flexibility when it comes time to blending the wines during the winter.
What’s your motivation for making wines?
It’s immensely satisfying to work with nature and to produce something that speaks of a time and place.
What do you think the future climate holds for your vines and your wines?
There are certainly plenty of challenges ahead. Every year/vintage is unique, so creating great wines requires adapting to the seasons. It’s therefore a great advantage to only work with our own vineyards, as we get to know the blocks extremely well.
What in your personal view, do you think, sets English and Welsh sparkling wines apart from the rest of the world?
The best examples have a purity and a vitality that I don’t think you can find in sparkling wines from anywhere else in the world.
Dosage is sometimes a point of contention. Do you have a view? Is less more?
Dosage is all about balance. I’m not a fan of the zero-dosage style any more than I am for the more ‘obviously’ dosed sparkling wines. For traditional method sparkling wines that have spent several years ageing on their lees, the sugar from dosage interacts with yeast-derived compounds to create wonderful, complex flavours. So I believe that dosage is important to for quality sparkling wines, but it’s about much more than just sweetness.
What particular characteristics (or terroir) do you think your vineyards imparts into your wines? Do different parcels work a different magic on your sparkling wines?
It depends on the site. Some provide a wonderful, floral perfume, while others bring fruit flavours and power. Our Chardonnay plots in Hampshire have a wonderful elegance.
Any views or points you’d want to make on vintage vs. non-vintage?
Both are important styles. Vintage wines are influenced by the season, whereas non-vintage sparkling wines allow a house-style to come to the fore. We have a deep collection of reserve wines at Nyetimber so are able to produce both vintage and NV styles, though the first NV is still ageing in our cellars and won’t be released for a while. Plenty of patience is required with sparkling wine.
What would you like to communicate about you and your wines to the drinker?
We’ve started hosting Open Days at the vineyard and my favourite part of that is meeting people that tell stories of how they’ve served Nyetimber at celebrations and great moments in their lives. I love hearing about that, and it means a lot that people think of Nyetimber at such happy times. So if anyone reading this has had a special Nyetimber moment, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.
Duncan and I are passionate about ensuring you get the best wines and we’re delighted to be stockists of Nyetimber, and we work closely with them to ensure we are at the vanguard of promoting the best English sparkling wines. Take a look for yourselves and ensure you are drinking this great English product this Festive Season – Nyetimber Full Range
Glass of Bubbly
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