Conducting an orchestra of sparkling wine

Amanda Barnes finds herself in awe at Corinne Seely’s ability to craft a Blanc de Blancs blend from a large ensemble of reserve wines at Exton Park.

“Do you have a big black book in which you write this all down?” I asked Corinne Seely in awe as she started to detail the hundreds of tanks, barrels and vats of reserve wines she keeps to hand to make her reserve blend sparkling wines at Exton Park. “I have one board with all the reserves [on it], but it’s like a big puzzle and it’s only me who can understand that. And I have a notebook too, but that’s in French!” she laughed.

Rather than making me giggle, it makes my head spin. I can barely remember my keys on a daily basis, let alone hundreds of wines that have been ageing separately for over a decade. As I wrote earlier this year, Exton Park is rather unique in English sparkling wine in working towards a reserve blend concept — using predominantly reserve wines rather than a majority of one vintage. But when weaving together some 45 different wines into a blend, as she has done with the latest release — the RB45 Blanc de Blancs, it must be somewhat dizzying. Although she says she makes notes of the wines as they evolve, the final blend is very much down to her intuition.

“Every year is a new game — there’s no recipe, there’s no secret,” she explains. “And every year is a different year, which is why I’m really keen to work in England because it’s challenging, and it makes the results more interesting.” But it isn’t just the different vintages that keep the reserve wines different to each other, but also the various micro plots she and viticulturist Fred Langdale split them into. And you have to keep a good eye on the wines’ maturation too — because sometimes the wines evolve in ways you don’t imagine them to.

“I’m thinking of the blends all year round,” she explains. “Sometimes you have an idea and when you try it, in reality it doesn’t work at all, and that confuses you because you have to go back to the start.” That actually happened last year during the height of the Covid pandemic. Corinne had made her final blend in theory, after a painstaking process of three to four months tasting and blending, but bottling was postponed because of the lockdown restrictions. “When I came back to taste it again, the blend I had succeeded to create a couple months before tasted completely different, and I had to start again.”

Corinne is clearly someone who is motivated by challenges and she isn’t afraid to be creative. “I have one single vineyard to work with, so my blends are really like music… I have my orchestra right here and my little plots are the instruments. My piano is the Chardonnay block 1, and the violin is Chardonnay block 3. It’s like a symphony and I like it very much… You start with your prime components, and then you build it up to reach a symphony.”

The Exton Park RB45 Blanc de Blancs is available from The Oxford Wine Company and  at RRP £49.00.