Our story began in 2012 when Caroline and Lance Whitehead bought the Calancombe Estate in South Devon, located between Dartmoor and the coast and with origins that can be traced back to the 16th century. Blessed with a unique microclimate, south-facing slopes and free draining soil, the Estate is ideally suited for our award-winning wine production.
Our aim is to produce the finest quality sparkling and still white, red and rosé wines from grapes grown exclusively on our Estate. We undertake all aspects of the winemaking from hand-picking the grapes to bottling and labelling the wines in our winery purpose built on the Estate.
We also make the finest quality still and sparkling cyders, cassis, apple brandy and blackcurrant eau-de-vie using apples and blackcurrants grown on the Estate.
THE ESTATE TODAY
Planting of the first parcel of vines commenced in 2012, with 5,800 Pinot Noir, followed in subsequent years up to 2016 with 3,400 Bacchus, 1000 Pinot Gris, 7,000 Madeleine Angevine, 2,000 Pinot Noir Precoce, 1,000 Chardonnay and 2,250 Ortega. Total plantings extend to 23 acres making the Estate one of the largest in the South West producing its own wines . The first grapes were harvested and processed in 2017, with the first wines released in Summer/Autumn 2019.
In addition Caroline and Lance have planted over 1000 cider apple trees (all South-West varieties), damson and mirabelle trees, blackcurrants and rhubarb.
THE VINEYARD & WINERY
We have invested in a modern winery and the latest equipment and proudly undertake all aspects of the winemaking from handpicking the grapes to bottling and labelling the wines ourselves. In addition we make all our cyders, cassis and rhubarb gin in the winery too.
There is no single solution to sustainability but, for sure, sustainability is at the top of our agenda on the Calancombe Estate and we want to do all we can to limit our impact on the environment.
Biodiversity is at the heart of what we do and so in deciding to plant a vineyard we consciously took the decision not to create a monoculture. In addition to vines, we have planted over 1000 apple trees, damson and mirabelles and nearly 3000 blackcurrant bushes. We have also created a vegetable and flower garden to support our Cellar Door shop and café with fresh produce. All this provides food and refuge for bees, other insects and birds and acts as natural carbon trap. Pollination of the fruit trees is aided by bee hives on the Estate too. We regularly see hares, deer, a wide variety of birds (including birds of prey) and small mammals which is a testament to the good health of the Estate.
Turning to the vineyard itself, we have deliberately planted a range of grape varieties some of which flower later or ripen earlier to protect against the increasing unpredictability of our weather.
All our grape and blackcurrant skins are composted and then spread in our vegetable garden and the apple “cake" after we have pressed our apples is fed to some lucky local pigs.
We have installed solar power on our winery roof and this supplies most of the power we need during the day (when it is bright!) with any excess power supplied back to the grid (with no financial benefit to us!) . Our water is sourced from springs deep under the winery.
Over 22,500 vines planted across 23 acres
Madeleine Angevine is a white wine grape originating from the Loire Valley and a cross between Madeleine Royale and Précoce de Malingre. It is early ripening and is particularly well suited to Devon’s cooler climates and produces an attractive aromatic wine with a floral delicate character. It is good as an aperitif and pairs particularly well with seafood such as crab and oyster. We grow the Madeleine x Angevine 7672 variety, not to be confused with the table grape of the same name, which produces abysmal wine!
Named after the Roman God of wine, Bacchus is particularly well-suited to the Devon climate, producing fragrant, fresh, crisp and citrusy English white wine developing good ‘New World sauvignon blanc’ characteristics. It is ideal with fish and salads.
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used in the production of white wine. The variety originated in the Burgundy, but is now grown across the globe. At Calancombe we are growing Chardonnay, primarily, for our sparkling wines because it can bring finesse and balance of acidity to the blend. Some flavours that can emerge, particularly with extended time on its lees, include a creaminess and nuttiness with some floral notes.
Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio in Italy and or Grauburgunder in Germany) is a white grape variety. Thought to be a mutant clone of Pinot Noir, it produces pinkish, grey berries accounting for its name. We use it for producing a still aromatic white wine.
Ortega is a white grape used for white wine. It was created in 1948 in Würzburg, Germany and is a cross between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe and was named in honour of the Spanish poet and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Ortega ripens early, is not sensitive to frost and reaches quite high sugar levels and can be used for sweet wines as well as dry. Ortega wines have aromas of muscat and peach.
Originating from the Burgundy region, Pinot Noir is regarded as one of the World’s most charismatic varieties. Although challenging to grow, the grape can deliver outstanding wines. At Calancombe, Pinot Noir is the principal grape used for our English sparkling wine made using the classic ‘double fermentation’ process. Also when sugar and acidity levels are right we use it to make a delightful rosé and we hope in warmer years a red wine. The name Pinot (pine) Noir (black) refers to the tight pine-cone-shaped bunches and dark fruit. Their thin skins produce a delicate red colour and low tannin content.
PINOT NOIR PRÉCOCE
Pinot Noir Précoce, (known in Germany as Frühburgunder) is an early ripening form of Pinot Noir probably developed through selection in many different Pinot growing regions, such as Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, and Loire. The grapes produce wines virtually indistinguishable from Pinot Noir and the vines do particularly well in the cooler climates of South Devon.
MEET THE TEAM
Calancombe Estate is owned by Caroline and Lance Whitehead, and in 2012 Caroline realised a long held dream and started to establish the vineyard. Further plantings of grapes, cider apples and blackcurrants were made in subsequent years as well as constructing a purpose-built winery and cider making facility. Caroline and Lance’s aim is to produce wines of the highest quality using only fruit grown on the Estate.
Caroline is a corporate lawyer and currently working as a consultant to a major project in Saudi Arabia but still based on the Estate. Caroline spends all of her spare time supporting the development of the vineyards and winery.
Lance served in the RAF Regiment for 21 years, and now works in the venture capital industry, establishing Cygnus Capital Partners a fundraising boutique in 2002. He is a keen sailor and his enthusiasm for gin resulted in the launch of Dartmouth English Gin, distilled on the Calancombe Estate.
Winemaker and Vineyard Management
Olly studied Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College and has worked both in the UK and overseas including at Denbies Estate and Lyme Bay in the UK, in Beaujolais in France and at Pask in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. He uses his broad experience to make our excellent wines, and he is responsible for looking after the vines themselves.
Mike who owns a neighbouring farm, producing high-quality grass-fed beef, also manages many activities across the vineyard and ensures that we produce the best quality grapes and other fruits as we can.
Vineyard and Winery Support.
Sunny, a fully qualified surfing instructor, finds time between his studies and surfing on the North Cornwall coast to provide invaluable help and support to Olly both in the vineyard and winery as well as keeping us all entertained!
Sales and Marketing
Jessica, is a fully trained teacher, who has taught around the world including Brazil, Vietnam and Portugal. She has also worked in vineyards in the Okanagan region in Canada and Esperao in Portugal and is enjoying the chance to develop her wine appreciation, wine-making and viticultural knowledge. Jessica is responsible for sales and marketing at Calancombe.