We slowly sliced a lemon and polished some glasses….

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Thank God it’s Friday, we’ve worked really hard this week!  Ok, it may not actually look like that to you, having been closed Monday and Tuesday but trust me; we were putting our livers on the line for the greater good!

So, as mentioned, we were closed Monday and Tuesday to travel to the very north of the country to visit the fine folk on the moors at Hepple.  We have sold the high fidelity gin from Hepple pretty much since they started to share it with the world, I think Fortnum’s were the only people to pip us to the post and frankly we don’t mind coming second to Piccadilly’s finest…

Anyway, having sold their Gin for such a long time (October 2015 to be precise) we finally managed to save up enough groats for the return trip to Alnmouth in order to go visit these distilling deities and Monday was the day.  Emerging into the blistering sunshine we were met at the station by Walter, the major-domo of the Moorland Spirit company, who whisked us the 45 minutes inland to the Northumberland National Park and the home of Hepple, assuring us on the way that we should not get used to having to wear sunglasses and in fact Wayne was sensible to have bought waterproof trousers.

This was sound advice from a local we soon discovered.

Walking on the moors having had a restorative martini, we saw sunshine, we saw horizontal rain, we saw heather, then some more heather and just round the corner from that, some heather.  We also saw, more importantly some of the Hepple botanicals in their element. 

Douglas Fir, Bog Myrtle and Juniper all grow on the moor here and as a result are at the front of the Hepple story, as is blackcurrant but these bushes were having a sleep.  To be honest, raw Bog Myrtle of the branch is an acquired taste, Douglas Fir has a strong citrus element that surprises us still and the Juniper cones are just delicious and spicy.  The fact that Hepple has its own Juniper makes it unique amongst British Gin producers and allows them to add a different nuance to the blend.  The bushes are old, old, old and are referred to as ‘the ladies’ since they are all named after Aunts in Walter’s family tree – names like Phyllida, Miriam and Tamsin are less often heard nowadays but are alive and kicking in the hills of the Coquet Valley!

The darkness was falling, as was the rain so we repaired inside for some refreshment and sleep – Gin was perhaps sampled but purely in a professional manner – what goes on tour etc etc…

Tuesday morning brought a tour of the distillery and a chance to meet Chris Garden, who has quickly become a big name in the world of craft Gin.  He was the distiller at Sipsmith’s until 2014 when he elected to move up to Newcastle where his wife’s family live.  As a result of his career in Hammersmith, and now the 5 years at Hepple, it is likely that nobody has greater experience in small-batch distilling than Chris in the UK and as a consequence his role is vital to the operation.

And boy does he know what he’s talking about.  His enthusiasm is infectious, his chemistry lesson was the clearest I’ve ever experienced and might have helped my GCSE’s and his clear joy in the juniper just makes you want to give up drinking anything else – so we slowly sliced a lemon and polished some glasses….

I won’t bore you much longer apart from to say the Hepple story is not just one story but a whole panoply of riches that many other Gin’s would give their right tentacle for, too many stories almost but I’ll list them here in no particular order:

  • They have their own juniper
  • They have Chris Garden
  • They have Walter and his lovely wife, Lucy, to tend the Juniper and in fact to plant out more as part of their Juniper Project to try to regenerate growth on the moor
  • Wayne and Alex have also planted juniper now but as neither of us are Walter’s Aunt we fear for our long term future
  • The other partners in this venture are famous foraging chef Valentine Warner and legendary barkeep Nick Strangeway who both bring decades of flavour experience to the table for the renowned distilling and flavour developer Cairbry Hill to turn into liquid magic – some sort of dream team!
  • They don’t just make a London Dry, London Dry is their base and they then go beyond that
  • ‘Beyond that’ involves using vacuum distillation for freshness and then a supercritical extraction that draws out flavours from the juniper that cannot be found using other means.

There are, I’m sure, things I’ve missed out but suffice to say a Gin that we already knew we loved has just reminded us why we love it so much!

Hepple Gin £38

‘it might just be the best Martini Gin I’ve ever tasted’ – Victoria Moore, Daily Telegraph;

‘by revealing the hidden complexities of the ancient, overlooked and natural, it encapsulates the pulse of the place’  – Dave Broom

Back at the ranch

Our sojourn in the North had to come to an end, not because Wayne had finished all the Gin as reported elsewhere, that’s an unfair rumour and Alex feels that all his efforts have gone unnoticed but because we had a shop to run.  So, back at the ranch we now are and after a few days of glorious escapism in England’s least populous county, London feels a bit busy and bright but it’s nice to be back and see what has been going on.

Trump got off, as expected, and is taking it all in his stride like the grown-up that he is.  Whilst on the subject of Darwinism, a bodybuilder claiming a fear of heights and an inability to lift weights due to an accident, was caught out when he posted multiple photos of him weightlifting and riding a 33 metre waterslide that amazingly the insurance company saw on his social media accounts – numpty!  Speaking of numptiness, Alex has decided that England will win on Saturday and has even bet one customer a fiver to this effect – did he not watch the game last week?  Still, at least all his predictions can still pan out, especially when Italy whip France on Sunday – although I’m not sure if he’s taking bets on this!

Got your backs

If it’s Friday 7th February today that means that next week is the 14th – just saying…

So, you might be needing some pink fizz to celebrate and with this in mind can we recommend one of the following:

Domaine du Landreau Cremant de Loire Rosé – £15.99

Hailing from Anjou, Domaine du Landreau has passed through four generations of vine growers.  This is made from Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, hand harvested fermented in the traditional method and then aged for 3 years on the lees.  A cracking sparkler with raspberry fruit character that is an absolute joy.

Hawkins Bros. Rosé Reserve – £29.00

These English wine producers are based just south of Guildford, growing and making wine on the south-facing chalk of the Hogs Back.  Made in the Traditional Method from 95% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier, this is a supremely elegant rosé with a subtle flavour of summer berries, a delicate pink hue, notes of strawberry, and fresh brioche from 30 months pre-release ageing.

Champagne Delavenne Père et Fils Grand Cru Brut Rosé – £45.00

Based in the aptly named village of Bouzy where the Pinot Noir grape is the King.  Made entirely from Grand Cru grapes, this is a lovely elegant style with strawberries and red berries on the nose and perhaps a hint of rose petal.  The palate is juicy and creamy with a persistent mousse from start to finish.  This oozes class, much like that special one in your life!

Knocking it back and kicking back

As suggested above, it’s Friday and thus the end of the week – time for some much needed r’n’r.  To aid this we’ll have some wine open this evening and tomorrow to lubricate your journey home which will be a pair of Kiwi’s I believe:

Southern Dawn Sauvignon Blanc 2019 – £11.99 – an excellent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with all the trademark passionfruit, citrus, nettles, cut grass and hints of capsicum that you would hope for.  These aromas light the path to a soft, well rounded palate with a luscious mouth feel and pronounced fruit characters.

Southern Dawn Pinot Noir 2013 – £14.49 – this is a wine we have had on the shelf pretty much since we opened.   I could give you all the guff about the soil in the vineyards, the angle of the slope the vines are planted on and the winemaker’s collection of 19th century corkscrews, but none of that is really relevant.  We sell this wine because we think it tastes brilliant: light with red cherry fruit character, a nice bit of age and a lovely fresh finish.

Of course we will also have the Hepple open, if there’s any left after our midday martinis, so do swing by and say hello!

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