What do Retief Goosen, Arnold Palmer, Ernie Els and Jack Nicklaus have in common? Well, apart from being legendary golfers who have won more trophies between them than Imelda Marcos has shoes, they also produce their own wine. Now with the launch of Golfers Wine, you too can give a heroes toast…
On a grey morning at the end of April, I am winding my way through beautiful woodlands in the heart of Berkshire. I am on my way to meet John Winchester, the owner of Milton Sandford Wines, at his rather unusual office in an old abandoned chalk mine. He is launching Golfers Wine – a new addition to his already successful wine business – and I am keen to learn more.
GOING UNDERGROUND. Arriving at my destination, I am welcomed by General Manager, Deborah Kerr, who leads me through an industrial looking door into the earth’s cool interior. “It started out as a chalk mine back in the Victorian days,” Kerr explains, as she offers me a welcome cup of coffee.
As one would expect, it’s quite cold down here, in fact it is only 12°C – perfect for wine storage, but not so good for frozen fingers. “This place has quite an interesting history,” she continues, “not only did it serve as an aircraft factory during the Second World War, it was also used as a top-secret bunker during the Cold War.”
A WINE CELLAR WITH A DIFFERENCE. Before the wine tasting commences, we are joined by Winchester, who offers me a guided tour around the caves.
Above ground there’s not much revealing the unexpected treasures beneath the carpets of bluebells, but down here a whole new world opens up. The ceilings are surprisingly tall, with gently curved passages running off in every direction, and wherever you look there are bottles of wine – ah, yes this is my kind of place. Winchester explains that the chalk caves offer perfect humidity and a constant year-round temperature, which in turn ensures perfect cellaring conditions.
GOLFERS WINE. Milton Sandford Wines was set up 23 years ago by Michelin-starred chef, Richard Sandford, and Stanley Park, who then sold it on to Winchester in 2003. Since taking over, John and his highly qualified team have grown the business exponentially, selling wines to niche hotels and restaurants all around the country.
Adding Golfers Wine to his already stunning portfolio is an idea that has been brewing in the back of his mind for some time. “I know many of the top players personally,” he says,” and as several of them have their own vineries, it seemed only logical to enter into this new venture. The wines I have chosen for my golfers selection are truly excellent and I think they will appeal to golf enthusiast as well as any other connoisseur of fine wines.”
TASTING TIME. Once back in the wine-tasting area we are joined by Kerr and Consultant Carmel Bailham. A selection of cold meats, cheeses and salty fish is placed in front of us. Kerr explains that wine needs to compliment the food, as the combination will bring out nuances and highlight certain qualities you otherwise might miss.
In the Golfers Wine collection you will find wines by Retief Goosen, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Luke Donald. In total there are 16 bottles to choose between – too many to sample in one session, but I’ll do my best. First up is a delicious glass of ‘Arnold Palmer Chardonnay’. Palmer and the founder of Luna Vineyards in California, Mike Moone, came together in 2003 to develop Arnold Palmer Wines, and the result is stunning. The chardonnay is elegant and fresh with a great acidity and fruity after notes.
Next I sample Retief Goosen’s ‘The Goose Sauvignon Blanc’. This is another refined wine – aromatic and succulent with a hint of gooseberries. “Retief’s wines are from the Upper Langkloof Appellation, the coolest wine-growing region in South Africa, which helps ensure complexity of fruit,” Kerr explains.
I taste both wines back and forth, but can’t quite decide which I love the most, as they are so different. Surprisingly, both of these white wines are excellent with spicy, salty food and cold meats, as well as with blue cheese.
CELEBRATING SOMETHING SPECIAL. Whilst enjoying the wines and seeing how they work in combination with the food, we chat about the business. “Although Milton Sandford is well established, we are still in the early stages of launching Golfers Wine,” says Winchester, “but we all believe that there is a definite market out there. I think that being able to celebrate your prowess on the course with a bottle bearing the name of one of your golfing heroes would be pretty special.”
THE REDS. Moving on to red wine, I first sample Goosen’s ‘The Goose Expression’, a full-bodied, serious wine, with dark berries and a hint of spice. It has matured in French oak for 12-18 months and has good ageing potential. I follow it up with a glass of ‘Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon’; here there are aromas of almond, dark cherries and raspberry with an elegant finish.
We end the tasting session with ‘Ernie Els The Big Easy’, ‘Luke Donald Claret’ and ‘Jack Nicklaus Private Reserve’. The latter three are all in a higher price bracket, but in my opinion all the wines I have tasted are of a supreme quality. It really just comes down to preference and also perhaps who your particular golfing hero might be.
Finally, it’s time for me to leave the treasure caves behind and once more step into the light, but I make sure I secure a couple of bottles… something nice to look forward to later. I say goodbye to the team and start the journey home. On the way I contemplate how all the wonderful wines I have just tasted might make browsing the wine shelves at Sainsbury’s a lot less attractive. But at least I know that when I feel the urge for something special I can always order a bottle from Golfers Wine. I’ll drink to that!
Good to know
The Golfers Wine Collection is available in the 19th Hole section at Great Golf Proshop: