“It would be nice to think that career advice has moved on since I left school, but winemaking definitely wasn’t on the radar of my careers teacher,” he says. It has taken several years and a few diversions along the route, but now Jacob, who grew up in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in North Yorkshire, is chief executive and winemaker of his own English wine company, Black Chalk.
In addition he has attracted £1.5m investment which has enabled him to acquire 12 hectares of established vineyard on some of the best chalkland in Hampshire and build his own winery.
Launched in 2018, with just two wines, Black Chalk wine has collected several national and international accolades and medals. The Classic, a white Sparkling wine from Hampshire, won Silver medals at the International Wine Challenge for the 2015 and 2016 vintages, while Wild Rose 2016 won a gold in the 2019 Champagne and Sparkling Wine Competition as well as a Silver in the 2019 Sommelier Wine Awards.
“I suppose it was during our travels in South America when I started to get interested in wine, but I didn’t know anyone in the industry. When we returned to England I rang Plumpton College, near Brighton, to find out more about possible courses. This is the best place in the UK to learn about establishing vineyards and wine production.
“I spoke to the head of wine, Chris Foss, and he did his best to put me off. In fact he told me to go away and do some Wine and Spirit Education courses first, so I did.
“After getting some WSET courses under my belt, I went back to Plumpton and signed up for a two-year full-time course.
“This was a really difficult time to give up my job. We were expecting our first child and the budget was tight, but we got through it and at the end I started job-hunting. That was when another dilemma came up. Someone from my previous finance company rang and offered me a job which would have solved all our money problems, but I didn’t take it. Instead I carried on job-hunting within the wine world and landed a job at Hattingley Vineyard in Hampshire.”
He ended up staying in the wine trade. “I got the chance to travel to New Zealand to work a harvest, and met several people who have remained friends and colleagues. I also worked in Champagne and that, too, has opened many doors as well as improving my rather poor French language skills. That is the best part of being in the wine business, the contacts you make stay with you.
“I have always wanted to create my own wine and having worked in Hampshire for so long I really want to make wines that typify Hampshire’s chalklands.”
Jacob’s wines are blends of the classic French grapes, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. “I believe that Pinot Meunier is ideally suited to chalk-based soils and so I use a high proportion of it in the blend.”
The sparkling winemaking process uses some oak for a proportion of the time and extended lees contact to build complexity and flavour.
Then comes the second fermentation process to create a sparkling wine. Black Chalk Classic 2016 is left on its bottle lees for at least two years and achieves honeysuckle aromas with a textured palate of white peach and lemon, toasted hazelnuts and a clean-as-a-whistle definition. Wild Rose 2016 is pale in colour, with a definite wild strawberry note, a creamy palate with defined freshness and harmony. I have tasted both wines on several occasions and have been seriously impressed by them.
The recent investment, which has come from private individuals and from an European Union fund which was signed off just before the UK left, marks the start of a new phase for Black Chalk. Until now the wines have been made using bought-in grapes. Now Jacob has 12 hectares of vines, which were planted by an estate called Cottonworth. What makes these vines so interesting is that there is a wide mix of Pinot Noir clones which will add diversity into the mix.
The new winery is already well under way and will be finished in the next couple of months. “Meanwhile I am spending a small fortune on winemaking equipment,” said Jacob.
Obviously not one to cut corners, he has a Coquard press on order. This is a specialist machine for pressing grapes which is the same as those used in the very best Champagne houses. “This type of press makes a massive improvement to the final quality of the wine,” he added.
Built in France, it is almost ready to be shipped to Black Chalk. “I have also ordered a 2,000-litre wooden vat, known as a foudre (cost around £10,000), as well as some burgundy barrels, all of which will add nuances of flavour to the wine. We might need to season the foudre with a still Chardonnay wine for the first year of operation.”
Another new acquisition is a clay amphora which is the latest fashion in winemaking. These clay pots are used for a natural style of winemaking and also add dimensions to the final flavours.
As chief executive and winemaker, Jacob will be in charge of the whole business, but he has help too. Zoë Driver, who used to work at Hattingley Valley, has now been appointed assistant winemaker.
He is currently looking for a vineyard manager, so if there are any careers masters reading this, consider passing on the idea of a career in wine, vineyard management and winemaking to your students. I am sure Jacob would be happy to receive some applications from Yorkshire.
So far, no-one in Yorkshire is stocking Black Chalk wines but you can buy direct from the company’s website, www.blackchalkwine.co.uk
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