Gerry and I first met in 1973, when I was 22 and Gerry was 18. We worked together for a company of Licensed Trade Stocktakers, helping publicans and hoteliers maximise their profits and prevent them from being diluted by sticky fingered staff. These were the days when cash was still king and the debit/credit card was in its infancy so there was plenty of opportunity for unscrupulous workers to fleece their bosses.
Neither of us had any particular interest in wine. Those that were widely available in the Off Licence at that time were mostly brands like Corrida and Hirondelle, very easy to drink in volume, which was the name of the game at that stage in our lives. Our job kept us both really busy, without great monetary reward, but we really enjoyed being able to help our clients retain their profits while they got on with spending them.
It wasn’t until the nineties that we became aware of the phenomenon of ‘grower champagne’.
It was on a tour of the Champagne region with a company called Tanglewood Wine Tours, whose owner we knew very well. They would take coach parties of wine enthusiasts to all the famous European wine regions to discover the growers and taste and buy their wines. It was on one of these trips, in the early nineties, that we first met Laurent Champs, whose Vilmart brand has since become synonymous with quality in champagne. It was something of a pivotal moment for us and we also went on to meet Christophe Mignon and Emmanuel Pithois, all of whom were making exceptional champagnes at the time and have continued to do so.
Christophe Mignon had a bit of a reputation and we were introduced to him on the wine tour as ‘The Lunar Man’ because of his use of the ‘Lunar Calendar’ in the vineyard and the winery. Everything he does is in accordance with the lunar calendar and he also uses biodynamic preparations in the vineyard. Laurent Champs received due recognition when the British wine journalist Tom Stevenson declared Vilmart to be ‘the greatest grower champagne I know. And Emmanuel Pithois…well, he’s just a larger than life character with a very English type of humour that we just loved. His champagnes were just lovely as well.
Ten years passed and we couldn’t understand why British wine lists were still so sparsely populated with ‘grower champagnes’ and it was then that we decided we’d do something about it. That’s when Henry George Wines was born. ‘Henry George’ is a name that conjures up age, tradition and expertise gained over many years. Actually it’s our middle names put together.
The 3 aforementioned growers formed the backbone of our offering and In the early days we would spend at least a couple of days every month travelling back and forth from England to the Champagne region, meeting new winemakers and tasting their champagnes, always in an effort to expand the portfolio. As it happened it was only a very small percentage that made ‘our’ grade.
Very few of the growers spoke much English and despite our reasonable grasp of the French language we had some very entertaining tastings, for the most part conducted in pidgin versions of our respective languages. We got by though and we managed to put together a great range for you to choose from, one of which we are extremely proud and privileged to offer!
Today, our portfolio continues to grow. New generations of winemakers are eager to make their mark and we can't wait to get back to Champagne to meet them.
So watch this space…
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