Vision, purpose and a love of wine!
Establishing an award-winning vineyard in an unlikely location.
All images by Robin Goldsmith, unless otherwise specified.
Tim Chafor with his range of wines.
North Buckinghamshire is not the first part of the country that springs to mind when thinking of English wine regions, yet in this peaceful rural enclave lies a quietly successful enterprise that reflects the unadulterated passion of its entrepreneurial vine grower and wine maker. Meet Tim Chafor, the inspirational co-founder with his wife Stephanie, of CHAFOR Wine Estate.
The vineyard at Gawcott
Owners and winemakers, Tim and Stephanie Chafor: image by David Blaauw.
Tim Chafor at the vineyard discussing the terroir.
With a bedrock of Jurassic limestone/Oxford clay, they found all the top terroirs of France expressed there - "the sand and gravel of Bordeaux, flint of the Loire, chalk of Champagne and limestone of Burgundy in different parts of our site, albeit without clear demarcation lines", as Tim observes with pride. "We started with Pinot Meunier in the lighter pebblier soil at the western end, then gradually moved across to the flintier soils, as we planted Bacchus, followed by Chardonnay and then Pinot Noir. We wanted to grow noteworthy grapes, but weren't sure whether they would grow well and then we discovered that we actually had the perfect soil."
After much research, Tim decided on the Double Guyot VSP trellising system as the most suitable for canopy management and maintaining airflow around the vines.
The vines are now ten years old and are particularly strong and healthy, which Tim puts down to their hand-planting. "We spent much time separating the roots in each hole, making sure they were properly put to bed", he explains, "and our vines are much healthier than many others I have seen around the country. Additionally, we farm sustainably with mechanical weeding, minimising use of chemicals where possible."
Weeding: a hydraulic hoe goes under the vines in the original vineyard, while a harrow is attached to a tractor for mechanical weeding in the newer vineyard on the eastern side where there's no grass.
Wines available by the glass or bottle.
Tim with his homemade oven, where he makes pizza using flour, tinned tomatoes and yeast sourced from Italy.
Apart from indulging Tim's 30-year old passion for making pizza, garlic bread and garlic mushrooms, these events offer another way of bringing people in to taste and buy the wine and then "spread the word" organically.
"Wines reflect the person who makes them, so as a winemaker you impose what you personally like."
In 2014, when Tim gave his first talk to the Gawcott Women's Institute, most people there had never heard of English wine, let alone Bacchus, or even knew that there was a vineyard in the same village! Four years later, Tim has seen a big change in awareness of the industry with feedback consistently positive. Their still Bacchus remains the most sought-after wine, having developed a good local reputation, but since they supply Waitrose, there is often none available at the vineyard to sell, which is what prompted the additional planting in 2016.
Seating outside the winery: the perfect place to enjoy a glass or share a bottle of CHAFOR wine!
Tim personally likes dry, pale-coloured wines, so makes most of his wines in that style: "Wines reflect the person who makes them, so as a winemaker you impose what you personally like." He's also passionate about ensuring the wine is food-friendly, so achieving balance of fruit and acidity is key to his winemaking approach, blending grapes accordingly. Malolactic fermentation is used for the two sparkling wines and the new red, but deliberately avoided with the two aromatic still whites and the still rosé.
- Limited Release Rosé 2016 (11% ABV) - £10
- Elegance 2016 (12% ABV) - £12
- Bacchus 2017 - £14
- Vintage Cuvée 2014 (12% ABV) - £28
- Vintage Rosé 2014 (12% ABV) - £35
- Red Stag (11.5% ABV) - £15
Although only having been bottled one week ago, there is good balance in this wine with a defined strawberry and citrus character. Notes of redcurrant and a hint of cranberry develop mid-palate and the finish is clean and fresh.
This is a really interesting wine and one, which Tim says, benefits from ageing. Therefore, it remains eight months in bottle before release to allow the aromas and flavours to develop. There are ripe pear notes on the nose and palate with touches of white peach, melon and citrus that give a richer, rounded, yet still fresh mouth feel, making this wine a good choice for pairing with roast chicken and grilled cod or halibut.
This has just been bottled, but not yet labelled, while Tim waits for the wine analysis to be completed, including ABV measurement. Already, it shows impressively delicate nuances of elderflower, complemented by a touch of tropical fruit and a refreshing minerality, rather than a full-on floral and fruity hit. This wine will benefit from the extra weeks in bottle before release, to allow the zesty notes to fully integrate.
Made from 46% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier, this award-winning, pale gold sparkling wine spent two years on lees, resulting in a fresh, clean character with initial notes of baked apple, peach and a hint of citrus, while golden sultana, dried apricot and toast develop mid-palate.
Pinot Meunier grows and ripens well in England and Tim reckons it's an underrated grape variety. This sparkling rosé consists of 52% Pinot Meunier and 48% Pinot Noir, 10% of the latter being red wine Tim vinified to add colour to the blend, although in keeping with his style, it still has a pale salmon hue. Awarded 91 Parker Points, only around 1000 bottles of this award-winning wine were made, with 2017 being the next vintage release. Aromatic and full of fresh strawberries on the nose, this is soft and fruity with a glorious depth of flavour. Red berries and pink grapefruit fill the mouth initially, while strawberries and cream plus peach and brioche notes build mid-palate leading to a notably long finish. Very good indeed!
Like the other still wines, Red Stag has a motif depicted on the front label based on the Buckinghamshire coat of arms (stag and swan), a nod to the local royal hunting ground of Bernwood Forest. Hints of cherry and blackcurrant with vanilla and cedar tones from the oak make this a light and fruity red wine, at only 11.5% ABV, suited to summer BBQs and one which could be served lightly chilled.
There are no more bottles available of the Chardonnay Reserve 2013, so this cool climate still Chardonnay is one to keep an eye out for when future vintages are made. Also, look out for their brandy by Wharf Distillery in nearby Northamptonshire, due to be released soon.
A long finish is a feature of all these wines, which reflects both their quality and food compatibility. Whether light picnic salads or fuller-flavoured meat and fish dishes, they have enough character to cope with a range of different foods, or can be greatly enjoyed on their own.
International Wine Challenge Awards for CHAFOR Bacchus 2013 and 2014.
CHAFOR is a small, family-run estate set in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside. Born out of Tim and Stephanie's love of wine and food, allied to an entrepreneurial sense of adventure, they have created a wine business serving both their local area and fans from further afield, remaining totally focussed on the day-to-day commercial reality of running a business of this size. "We want to stay small, artisan, sustainable and without compromising our principles", says Tim "… and we sell pretty much everything we produce." Not a bad result for what started out as a hobby farming project!