A Friday Chat with Mike Wagstaff, Managing Director of Greyfriars English Sparkling Wine15 April 2022
Fizz has been an important part of Searcys since the company started 175 years ago, but 2022 marks a very special landmark in our drinking history: our first-ever own-label sparkling English Sparkling Wine Brut. The fresh, fruity bottle is an elegant wine blended from the three traditional Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – grown in the Surrey hills. This week we sit down with Mike Wagstaff, owner of Greyfriars, who has created this new Searcys Classic Cuvée for us.
Hello Mike! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and the Greyfriars vineyard?
Greyfriars is an English vineyard near Guildford in Surrey, and we specialise in making English Sparkling Wine. Our grapes are grown on the sunny, south-facing chalk slopes of the Hog’s Back at Puttenham, on a 40-acre vineyard originally established in 1989. My wife Hilary and I took over the vineyard in 2010, and have expanded the area, and built a state-of-the-art winery.
Our vineyards are predominantly planted with the three classic Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. We produce a range of delicious sparkling wines reflecting the unique local soil conditions, climate and heritage of the Surrey North Downs. The chalky soil is perfect for producing wine, with the same geology as the Champagne region in France. The vineyard is open for visitors all year round and offers an exciting range of wine tasting experiences – so do come along and visit if you’re in the area!
What prompted you to go into winemaking and what started your passion for English wines?
I am a fairly late arrival to winemaking, having spent most of my career in the oil and gas industry, but I remember being amazed by a sparkling rose from Camel Valley in Cornwall, which opened my eyes to the potential of English sparkling wine. Having a geological background, I was fascinated by the geological similarities between the chalk Downs of southern England and the Champagne region for many years. So, when the chance to acquire a small vineyard close to where we lived came up, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s been a fantastic but steep learning curve ever since.
What are the three things few people know about English wines?
There have been commercial vineyards in England for almost 2,000 years and were originally established by the Romans. As the climate has fluctuated over the centuries, it has not always been possible to grow grapes successfully. We are now in the third significant period of English wine production and there are now over 750 vineyards in England and Wales, which sounds a lot, but most are fairly small. While wine production in England has increased significantly in recent years with a total annual production of about 10 million bottles – a drop in the ocean compared to the 2 billion bottles of wine we consume annually in the UK.
And what about your partnership with Searcys to launch a sparkling wine?
We have been working with Searcys for nearly five years, and we were delighted to have been asked to create our own label Searcys English Sparkling Wine to celebrate their 175th Anniversary. This new collaboration not only marks the occasion but also celebrates the exceptional quality of wines produced in this unique area. Together, we’re proud to be putting Surrey on the map as a premium wine region. Nurtured on the chalky limestone hills with the same geology as that of the Champagne region, our vineyards represent the very pinnacle of quality in the increasingly successful English wine industry – aligning with Searcys’ values on uncompromising quality and excellence.
And tell us about this specific wine that you’ve created for Searcys?
It’s called Searcys Classic Cuvée, Brut, English Sparkling Wine, NV, and it’s basically an expression of all the good things that make English sparkling wines some of the best in the world! It’s a vibrant and elegant wine blended from the three traditional Champagne grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The wine is yellow-gold in colour; the pour encompasses fresh and fruity with notes of peach and zesty lime on the nose and aromas of green apples, freshly baked brioche and citrus on the palate.
What are the traditional production methods you use to produce your wines?
The grapes are all lovingly handpicked, and the wine is sustainably produced using the traditional Champagne method. Bottles are then aged in our natural chalk underground cellar for ageing for four years before release.
What are some ideal food pairings with Searcys sparkling English wine?
The wine is dry, soft and carefully balanced flavour with a crisp finish. It would work very well with Searcys smoked salmon as a starter, or with seafood and shellfish more generally. It’s a great aperitif or celebratory tipple, and of course, there is nothing more indulgent than having an English Sparkling Wine with your afternoon tea.
And finally, what is your birthday wish for Searcys as we celebrate our 175 anniversary this year?
It’s amazing that Searcys is celebrating the 175th Anniversary. My birthday wish is that you continue to become a champion for homegrown food and drink.