Ian Kellett, managing director of Hambledon Vineyard, has taken on the mantle of England’s oldest commercial vineyard but in no way is he stuck in the past
It does not take long after meeting Ian Kellett, managing director of Hampshire producer Hambledon Vineyard, to sense a heady mixture of heritage and ambition is driving towards a declared, specific target: making Hambledon one of Britain’s top ten brands. This, he is quick to affirm, means not one of the country’s top ten wine brands but simply a top ten British brand.
This is no idle ambition: to be a great top ten British brand, a product must have a heritage over the decades and produce a product that pleases palettes and purses. It is no stretch to say Hambledon ticks the boxes on all these points.
It is the heritage of the brand, produced from a vineyard established six years after World War II ended, that gives Kellett the confidence that he will, in time, create a brand that people will ask for simply by name. In one respect, he can be said to be standing on the shoulder of a giant: producing wine from an estate created by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, the industry pioneer responsible for what is considered a turning point in the history of winegrowing in Great Britain with the planting of Hambledon Vineyard in 1951. This makes it older than a number of Champagne houses.
If that wasn’t enough of a back-story, through the years the vineyard has been closely associated with noted Champagne estate Pol Roger, a favourite of Winston Churchill, and nestles in the village credited with being the birthplace of cricket. All of which delivers more story to a brand authenticity Kellett is keen to push.
One man brand
Ian Kellett is managing director and largest shareholder of Hambledon Vineyard, the business that nestles on the chalk of Hampshire in the shape of three main vineyards covering 20 hectares on the slopes of Windmill Down around the house. Each vineyard is planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the three grape varieties most commonly used in the production of Champagne.
He is an unlikely man to be heading a vineyard, as he admits he is no winemaker. What he is, instead, is a man who knows winemaking talents in others. This ranges from William ‘Bill’ Carcary, the Hambledon winemaker from 1966 to 1994 to Hervé Jestin, renowned as one of the most talented oenologists in Champagne, having been Chef de Caves at Duval Leroy for 20 years.
Yorkshire native and London University alumnus, Kellett is a bio-chemist by training with a City career as a food and drink industry analyst. It was during his work in the City in the drinks sector that he made the decision to invest in Hambledon in the first place. Having acquired the estate in 1999, a divorce six years later made him refocus on where the business was going and led to a root-and-branch examination on the estate’s vine stock.
Kellett, who was born in 1965, has an obvious pleasure in and knowledge of sparkling wines, from whichever side of the Channel they originate. Having taken on the mantle of “Sir Guy”, Kellett lost no time in applying his City acumen to Hambledon as he set about creating a private company with some 40 shareholders, able to raise £4 million to build a winery boasting England’s first and only gravity-fed production method.
The fizz so beloved of Winston Churchill that the house placed a black border around one of its labels when the wartime prime minister passed away, is deep in the DNA of Hambledon Vineyard. As long ago as the 1970s, Pol Roger and Hambledon were organising marketing events in London’s Liberty department store.
In the 1950s, family visits from France brought Pol Roger even closer to Hambledon – strangely echoing Kellett’s own residence in Bordeaux for a decade that gave him the distinction of being an Englishman living in France with a vineyard in England.
As a businessman in the English wine industry, Kellett must also follow the money to make a profit for his investors and draws on an unlikely current business trend to describe the present state of English wine in that demand far outstrips production. London restaurants are fashionably not accepting bookings at the moment. This means that would-be diners must queue outside the door, waiting to get in. This is how Kellett would describe English wine at present, producing a demand that Hambledon is only too happy to satisfy.
English Pol Roger
The father of three sums up where Hamledon Vineyard is heading by outlining his desire to make it an ‘English Pol Roger’. He considers the endless debate about the nomenclature ‘English Sparkling Wine’ to be irrelevant as he hopes to emulate the top Champagne houses – Krug, Moet and so on – where their products are ordered simply by brand name, leaving the ‘Champagne’ label for the NV lower level production.
He is clearly a man who is satisfied with what he and his team have accomplished at Hambledon. Spiltting his time between work in the City and weekends at the vineyard, he is noting a rising need for him to stay in Hampshire to show an increasing volume of visitors to the vineyard and winery.
Taking on the mantle of “Sir Guy”, Kellett has settled comfortably into the ‘Big House’ on the edge of the picturesque Hampshire village whose name his production bears. But he is not resting on his laurels nor is he finding the heavy land of history too much of a burden. Given the vineyard predates his birth by 14 years, it is not inconceivable that in his 86th year he will preside over the vineyard’s centenary. Given his evident enthusiasm for what he does, no-one should be surprised to see him raise a glass on that day in 2051.