James Oag-Cooper began working at Bolney Wine Estate five years ago and worked in various rôles before ending up in the winery and becoming increasingly fascinated by the production side of the industry. During harvest one year, he noticed the sheer quantity of waste grape skins, which still have a lot of juice to yield. These aren’t used for sparkling wine production as you ideally only want the free-run juice and first pressing in order to maintain the highest quality. This issue of waste had also occurred to Bolney’s Head Winemaker, Sam Linter. Between the two of them, James and Sam decided that it would be worth trying to distil the liquid from these wasted grapes – it’s been done around the world for centuries if you consider grappa/marc/brandy production…
This was around the time that the gin scene was beginning to boom and producing gin seemed like a good idea. James enrolled at Plumpton College to do the Wine Business course and managed to tailor his course modules to gain the most experience and expertise which would help his new venture. One module in particular was called New Beverage Development – that one helped a lot.
The only slight trouble is that in order to get your raw material, you have to hang around the winery during harvest and anyone who’s been involved in a harvest will tell you the last thing you want is extra people getting in the way! Luckily the team at Bolney were all fully behind the idea and helped immensely.
The label features a quirky fox logo and a beautiful illustration of a vine reflected through the glass. The bottle itself was deliberately chosen as it’s similar to a wine bottle. The closure is worth noting – the bottle is sealed with a glass Vinolok closure. James had a little bit of trouble finding one that fit the neck of these particular bottles and ended up trying one from a bottle of Riesling he had at home. That one fitted, but was incredibly difficult to source! Fortunately, James persevered and your precious Foxhole Gin is kept safely inside.
In regards to the writing on the label, James spent many a sleepless night perfecting the script. Whilst he wanted to portray the characteristics of the gin, he didn’t want to influence anyone’s expectations or preconceptions too much. It’s true that if you read a description and there are flavours you don’t like, you will subconsciously decide that you won’t like the liquid before you’ve even tasted it.
The name Foxhole Spirits and Foxhole gin comes from their address on Foxhole Lane. Equally, there are three vineyard plots at Bolney called Foxhole Vineyards. It made sense to go with the theme.
Now, this product is expensive. It retails for around £45.00. I know you can get cheaper gins which are equally outstanding quality, but the truth behind the price is literally down to the cost of production. A raw material is sourced, fermented and then distilled twice. That doesn’t come cheaply and then you’ve got the cost of professional packaging designers, high quality limited glass bottles, a Vinolok closure etc. James is nothing if not 100% transparent about the whole process and will happily talk you through each stage in great detail.
Fresh Lemon Zest
James knew from the very beginning that he wanted the flavour of the grape spirit to come through in the end product and not be hidden by the botanicals. He also wanted to create an incredibly well-balanced spirit so that bartenders and gin drinkers could easily adapt the product to suit their tastes. Floral characteristics come from the grape spirit and citrus botanicals balance. If you add a garnish of either you’ll instantly lift one character above the other. It’s also great to hear James eagerly discussing the product beyond the production line. Too many distillers seem to think that once the spirit is made then their work is done. To think about where the spirit will be drunk, how it will be drunk, who you want to drink it etc is vastly important.
Foxhole Gin is distilled by Silent Pool distillery in Surrey. The reason for collaborating with Silent Pool over any other distillery is the simple fact that James already knew the guys and was very impressed with their techniques and processes. Foxhole Spirits have a strong focus on sustainability and the partnerships with both Bolney and Silent Pool strengthen this. James is incredibly sensible in the approach that he believes you should let the experts do their jobs. He could “easily” do everything himself, but it’s far better to employ highly-skilled people for each stage.
You may notice that I refer to Foxhole Spirits and Bolney Wine Estate as a partnership rather than intrinsically linked companies. Whilst James did work at Bolney, he and Sam developed the idea together and Sam is the other joint MD, Foxhole Spirits is rightly holding its own position. The grapes for the first few batches are coming from Bolney, but as the company expands they may need to source grapes from elsewhere and being intertwined completely with Bolney may inhibit that. It’s very careful and admirable planning.
Once James has gathered his waste grapes, (all the varieties are muddled together, you could do separate varietal distillations and that’s something I hope to see developed in the future) he presses them again in order to obtain as much liquid as possible. This is made into wine. However, there is one very important thing to note – DO NOT ADD SULPHUR to your wine. Sulphur will kill your copper still when you come to distilling. The CO2 produced during fermentation is enough to protect the wine against spoilage anyway and you could use an inert gas if necessary.
A long 18 month recipe development period took place where James worked alongside Ian and Corey at Silent Pool trying to find the perfect balance. Grape spirit tends to be distinctly aromatic and this was no exception. In the end, they lengthen the grape spirit with a little neutral grain spirit to round out the flavour profile and soften the aromatics.
The botanicals are macerated for 48 hours in the grape spirit prior to distillation and remain in contact with the spirit throughout. Foxhole Gin is produced on Silent Pool’s 350 litre copper pot still and the first batch created 960 bottles which were all hand-bottled and hand-labelled. The next batches will be up to around 2000 bottles. What may be boring to some people, but I think is worth mentioning is that the first batch had to hand-labelled straight away as the duty needed paying upfront. No-one ever talks about the affect duty can have on production.
Aromas: Rich, elegant perfumed aromas alongside tangerine and floral tones. An earthy juniper core with a touch of pink peppercorn and violet.
Palate: Beautifully elegant, smooth and rich in texture. A touch of nuttiness underneath an orange juniper tangy core. A touch of earthy cinnamon and rich liquorice alongside gentle white pepper. Elegant green stalk and warming spice. A touch of vanilla with a delicate red fruit back note.
With Tonic: Bright green citrus and a little stalky note. A round mouthfeel with great weight. Red berries and a rich liquorice hint. Deep earthy orange with a touch of cinnamon and clove. A classic juniper finish.
Garnish: Pair with pink grapefruit to lift the citrus elements.
This is a well-crafted product and I really enjoy the profile, but I do think it’s a little over-priced. I understand exactly why it needs to be the price it is, but I’m not convinced people will gravitate towards it. Perhaps a 50cl bottle would help.