Balfour wines are created at the Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath Estate near Staplehurst in Kent, home to co-founders Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn. Read on to discover the fascinating story behind this family-run brand, one of the original wine producers in the county.
In 1986, after living and working in London for many years, Richard and Leslie bought Hush Heath Manor, a timbered 16th-century building deep in the Kentish countryside, as a rural weekend bolthole. During this time, the 400-acre surrounding farmland was owned by a local farmer and unfortunately had become fairly run down - it only had a few apple orchards, some arable land and a handful of sheep. So, in 2001, when the farmer decided to sell the land, Richard and Leslie snapped it up with the hope of bringing it back to life.
The Hush Heath Estate
A year later, the original five acres of Balfour vines were planted - they had both always talked about planting their own vineyard somewhere in France or Italy, and it was Leslie's idea to try planting vines at Hush Heath. At the time, Richard and Leslie's favourite wine to drink was Billecart Salmon Rosé Champagne, and so, despite being told by others that the three traditional champagne grape varieties wouldn't grow in Kent - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - they set themselves the target of creating something similar with the one-line business plan: "if we can't sell it, we'll drink it".
In 2005, 10,000 bottles of Brut Rosé were created and Balfour was born - they decided on this name because Champagne companies are generally named after their founding families. The wine was then entered into the prestigious International Wine Challenge where 25,000 bottles from across the world are blind tasted. Despite this being the first time an English sparkling wine had participated in such a challenge, Richard and Leslie sold all their bottles plus won the gold medal and trophy. Suddenly, they were on the wine map from nowhere.
Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn
Over the next few years, they continued to just make Balfour Brut Rosé, and in 2010, built their first small winery on the Hush Heath Estate. Owen Elias, who from the beginning had been making Balfour wines at Chapel Down's winery nearby, joined the team as head winemaker, and from then on, the family business grew. Three families now make up the core of the brand - the Balfour-Lynn family, the Elias family and the Turner family. Father and son, Owen and Fergus Elias, manage all aspects of winemaking at Balfour, whilst the Estate is maintained by the Turner family - Cathy, Stef and Billy.
Owen and Fergus Elias
Richard and Leslie's son Jake has developed Jake's Cider, made from the dessert apples (Russet, Cox & Bramley) grown on the Estate's orchards, and Jake's IPA and lager, contemporary craft beers brewed in association with Cellar Head Brewery in nearby Flimwell using Kentish hops.
Richard says: "People talk about what makes up a brand and to me it's the people. Balfour Winery has pretty surroundings, and we make great wines, cider and craft beer, but what truly is at the core of the business is the team and their passion, that's what drives this place."
The view from the Balfour Winery tasting room
Today, the Estate comprises manicured vineyards, apple orchards, wildflower meadows and ancient oak woodland, rich in flora and fauna. Sustainability and conservation are of paramount importance and reflected in the practices used across the Estate. The hub of the operation is the stylish, state-of-the-art Winery, offering sweeping views across the vines and wildflower meadows from two magnificent alfresco terraces. Visitors can enjoy a self-guided walk through the vineyards, orchards and oak woodland, then browse the Cellar Door shop and savour lunch and a glass of fizz on the terrace. Or they can join one of the expert-led, tour and tasting experiences.