"The more time you spend in one place the more of it you experience."
Who is Charlie Herring?
Charlie Herring is a fictional character made up by the father of founder, farmer and winemaker Tim Phillips. Tim’s father used to draw cartoons and sign them off with the name Charlie Herring.
So how did it all start?
Tim didn’t start out working in wine in fact he worked as an accountant in the oil industry. As part of his job he had to travel a lot. He found himself working in Rome for three years and it was in Italy that he fell in love with wine. Wine became something that stood for so much more than just a drink for Tim. He soon moved to the renowned Stellenbosch region in South Africa and learnt his trade.
What made Tim want to work in the way that he does?
By the time Tim had finished his winemaking studies, he had found a love in growing (viticulture) and headed to Australia to work a harvest with Castagna, a tiny biodynamic outfit in the Victoria region of south Australia, owned by ex-film director Julian Castagna. Julian loves the classical wines of Piemonte in Northern Italy and unconventionally uses some Italian grape varieties in his production of his Aussie wines. His time at Castagna taught him many important things that shaped the way he works today including his intuitive approach to working with nature and non-industrial farming methods. He then returned to South Africa where he made wine from 2006 to 2015.
How did Charlie Herring UK begin?
Whilst out riding his bike in Lymington, Hampshire where he is originally from, he cycled past a walled garden noticing a sale board outside. On closer inspection he found the garden was being sold as a separate plot from the estate it originally belonged to. It was wild, dishevelled and completely overgrown having been abandoned in 1970. Tim knew that walled gardens were created in England to create warmer conditions for growing and ripening fruit, herbs and vegetables over a longer period. He bought the plot in 2007 which he has now converted to a vineyard, planting in 2008.
What grapes are grown there and how were they chosen?
Tim didn’t follow the crowd when it came to grape varieties. Everyone was making champagne imitation sparkling wines with the same grapes used by the champenoise. Tim wanted to try something new so he planted Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to make predominantly single varietal wines (there is also now some young Pinot noir, watch this space!). Whilst Tim had an understanding of the climatic and geographic needs of grapes he was also going out on a bit of a limb. However, Tim believed intuition was just as important as scientific reason. This was the beginning of his deeper more intuitive relationship with the land.
So what is the approach of the artisan?
As we have mentioned Tim’s approach to farming is deeper than process and methodology. Tim feels somehow connected with the land. Tim explained that you can travel much further by car than walking for the same amount of time. However, the amount you are able to experience is the same. The more time you spend in one place the more of it you experience. Tim has found real meaning and solace in spending time in his little pocket of Hampshire. He may notice the smallest of things such as new plant and animal and insect species, a feeling for how the weather interacts with the microcosm of life situated in his walled garden and what it might need. He mentioned one lunch watching his chickens pecking around and he then noticed some ants. He became deeply interested in their behaviour and started reading and researching ant colonies. Its as if in one small plot of land the level of detail that can be found is infinitely complex if you are just prepared to take notice.
How is the wine made?
Tim farms organically without the uses of any chemical pesticides or herbicides. However, learning much about biodynamics means that Tim takes things much further. He claims a mere one hundred pounds per year costs on upkeep of the property. That is because all of the treatments and preparations used in the vineyard are provided for by good old mother nature. In the winery, there’s a plastic egg, some small stainless steel tanks and two barrels. Whilst Tim see’s the attraction of a library of oak or clay vessels, he remains practical. The project must remain workable for Tim on his own. He has a playful approach when it comes to wine making, working with skin macerations, solera systems and sparkling wine. Wines are fermented using natural yeasts and tiny amounts of sulphur are added before bottling.
What’s the cider all about?
Charlie Herring also makes cider. This began one year when the grape crop was lost to frost in 2016. Tim was creative in his response and decided to make use of the ancient apple trees growing behind the garden wall. Tim made some cider which was a partial success; it was clean but boring. The cider sat there until some month later Tim came across a cider/wine hybrid from Garagista in Vermont, USA, called Stolen Roses. He rushed down to the winery and took a glass of his cider and added a splash of his South African shiraz – BINGO! The red wine provides the phenols the cider lacked and was transformative. It is an age old practice in Italy either through the addition of wine or fermentation of the cider on grape skins, a practice Tim now follows.
He is often asked what type of apples trees are that make up the ancient orchard but he doesn’t know and doesn’t feel the need to find out. It won’t change his approach, or the end result, so what’s the value in obtaining this technical information? This is an approach taken by cider producer Find and Foster who have multiple apple varieties and don’t know what any of them are. They select and blend based on their human senses and nothing else. When Tim selects new apple trees to plant he asks elderly family and friends for recommendations of favourite varieties that can’t be found in the shops any more. That’s it. What further research is necessary?