Owen Elias is the consultant winemaker for the Hush Heath Estate and has made Balfour Rosé since its inception. For ten years he was Director of Winemaking and Head winemaker at Chapel Down. He has been the UKVA winemaker of the year four times. Owen is interested in terroir-based wines and through his company English Terroir advises and works with growers on all aspects of wine production from vineyard establishment, winery construction and equipment to winemaking and marketing.
How old were you when you first tasted wine?
Probably about 10. Christmas dinner so being of a certain age. Piesporter Michelsberg and Niersteiner Gutes Domtal, not forgetting Mateus Rose and Bulls Blood. Perhaps becoming an English winemaker was inevitable. People a bit sniffy about German wines but away from the bottom shelf Riesling makes great wine.
Worst winemaking decision?
Trying for 10 years to make decent wine out of Seyval Blanc, which strangely leads me to my best winemaking decision: this was to persuade Chapel Down to ban Seyval Blanc from the winery and replant Tenterden,Lamberhurst and Sandhurst vineyards with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Bacchus. The rest, as they say, is history.
In a restaurant is it New or Old world?
Recently it has been ‘new’ Old world; there are some very interesting wines (reds) from the south of France. I usually ask the sommelier if I am somewhere like Hotel du Vin as they really know their stuff. Much more exciting.
Ever opened wine with a sword?
Yes, it’s really quite easy. Usual H&S rules apply.
Minimum pricing unit – good or bad?
Complete waste of time. It would be more interesting to see the current licensing laws on those who quite knowingly serve underage and drunken people enforced.
Dream bottle of wine?
Of course I live the dream every-day, preferably made by myself or from the tank. Twist my arm and it might be a 2003 Barolo.
Off license choice – Old or New?
Not really fussed, the most interesting wines seem to be a mix of the two, I am currently on a bit of a Grenache phase (white and red). I very much enjoyed an Australian Grenache recently, high in alcohol and Brett free.
Favourite chain or independent?
Tenterden, considering the wealth of the area, is not over indulged for wine lovers; Waitrose although small has the most interesting selection; Tesco is dull, surprisingly expensive and limited.
Cork or screw cap?
I am a fan of Diam (technical corks) which are taint free and work very well. Screw-caps I find are a little inhibiting and unforgiving.
How many hours a week do you commit to your wine?
Seven days a week
Before your work as a winemaker, what was your day job?
A degree in Fine Art and film-making at Chelsea School of Art led naturally to becoming an early pioneer of the world music scene. I had a record label that released such diverse acts as the late lamented Bhundu Boys, (Zimbabwean pop); Champion Doug Vietch (Caledonian Cajun swing); and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. This was closely followed by a short career as a dry stonewaller and grave digger.
How long have you been a full time winemaker?
What is your annual production at Hush Heath?
2011 was the first year of operation at the new winery at Hush Heath. We processed a modest 35 tons; this will rise to an annual production of around 100,000 bottles in the next 2-3 years as the vineyards come into full maturity.
Where do you obtain your grapes and raw materials?
The grapes are from the Hush Heath vineyards in Kent. The Balfour Rosé and Nanette’s English Rose are available through Bibendum.
Hush Heath, The Winery, Five Oak Lane, Nr Marden, Kent TN12 0HX
01622 832 754
English Terroir Ltd, Spots Farm Cottage, Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent TN30 7NG
Nutbourne Redfold Winery, Nutbourne Vineyard, Gay Street, West Sussex RH20 2HE. www.nutbournevineyards.com 01798 815196.