Essence of England | Chapter 8 ~ Louise Gordon
In our Essence of England series, we speak to values-aligned creatives, entrepreneurs and familiar faces from across the South West about their lives, work and what ‘Englishness’ means to them.
Although it has only been open since 2019, The Newt in Somerset has already gained a reputation as one of the UK’s finest country hotels. Only half an hour from True Grace HQ, the hotel stands in an expansive working estate, complete with stunning gardens, woodlands and cyder orchards. The Newt is also renowned for its excellent produce, food and drink – thanks to a passionate team of experts including Louise Gordon, who heads up food and beverage for the hotel’s bars and restaurants.
- Louise Gordon
A sommelier by trade, Louise has worked everywhere from Harvey Nichols to the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair and Heckfield Place. As well as seeking out new suppliers and producers, Louise is constantly introducing ways for guests to immerse themselves in the world of The Newt, from wine and cyder tastings to cocktail masterclasses (which are currently in the works).
We spoke to Louise about what she wishes more people understood about sommeliers, The Newt’s close relationship with a South African wine estate, and her favourite sustainable producers.
A sommelier can be quite a misunderstood role. How would you summarise the profession to a layperson?
The sommelier is there to give customers value for money at their preferred price point. As a sommelier, it’s your job to be confident that every wine on the list is of excellent quality. I think people often don’t understand how much study and training it takes! You have to stay on top of an industry that is constantly evolving and it takes a huge amount of time and passion.
- The Newt, Somerset
What did you learn from your time working at Heckfield Place?
Heckfield has a strong sustainability ethos and became certified organic and biodynamic while I worked there. I learnt a lot there about closing the loop and not letting anything go to waste. The cocktail list was created from really exciting and unusual homemade products using estate produce, as well as waste from the kitchens. It was also the first time I had written a wine list completely from scratch, which was a brilliant opportunity.
...we do things like make our own cordials and oils for cocktails using foraged ingredients from the gardens and wider estate, reducing our waste and footprint
How did you approach the wine list at The Newt?
When I was first employed at The Newt, they hadn’t had someone on staff who was dedicated solely to wine, so the wine list wasn’t particularly diverse. I started by reformatting the existing list so that it was more stylistic and highlighted wines we wanted to celebrate. Then I developed it further, expanding it to include a more diverse selection of wines and ordering it geographically.
How do you consider sustainability and seasonality in your work?
At The Newt, we do things like make our own cordials and oils for cocktails using foraged ingredients from the gardens and wider estate, reducing our waste and footprint - many ingredients can be found mere steps from the bar. Also, I’ve recently revamped the bar list to introduce more sustainable producers. There are now around five or six companies on there which are B Corp certified and/or carbon negative and a lot more than that that are consciously doing something about their environmental impact.
The Newt has a strong relationship with the Babylonstoren wine estate in South Africa. Can you tell us more about that and how you incorporate those wines into the list at The Newt?
Babylonstoren is our sister estate in the Franschhoek wine region of South Africa, and is an incredible place to visit in its own right, if you ever get the chance! It’s the oldest working farm in the Cape and the quality of the winemaking there is exceptional. The wines are also really sensibly priced. We have a featured page on The Botanical Rooms wine list that highlights Babylonstoren wine, including a few back vintages, and we offer some Babylonstoren wines by the glass at Farmyard. Then the Garden Café drinks menu features only Babylonstoren wines, Vignamaggio wines (our friends in Tuscany), and of course, our estate cyder.
Who are some of your favourite sustainable suppliers?
Two that come to mind are a Scotch whisky company called Nc’Nean and a Somerset rum brand called Two Drifters. Nc’Nean is all about sustainable production, from using renewable energy to bottling their whisky in 100% recycled glass. Two Drifters is a carbon negative business and they use really creative, cool techniques, like making their labels by mixing sugarcane fibre (which is a waste material) with linen and hemp. Both businesses are certified B Corps too.
Locally, I also love Yapp Brothers Wine Merchants based in Mere.
Do you have any tips for buying wine sustainably?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula; you just have to look at the producers themselves and then also how the wine has been brought into the country. It can sometimes pay to buy wine from a supermarket simply because they order in much larger volumes than small suppliers so it reduces their carbon footprint slightly.
Also, some people will disagree with me on this but I would recommend looking at the back of the bottle and making sure the wine has been bottled at the source, rather than in the UK. When you transport something in a bulk container you have to add various stabilisers and they come with their own inherent carbon footprint. On top of that, often businesses bottling wine in the UK will import the empty bottles as well, so you end up with a larger carbon footprint.
Although glass is recyclable, currently only 38% of glass in the UK is recycled. There are some emerging companies that are innovating around packaging, such as wine in cans or paper bottles, but unfortunately the technology is still developing and so isn’t advanced enough to make a significant impact. Ultimately, the industry as a whole needs to make massive leaps and bounds in terms of what they’re using and how they’re using it.
What are your favourite places to eat and drink?
One of my favourite restaurants I’ve ever been to is an Italian place called Lilia in Brooklyn, New York. The saffron pasta is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Everything about the menu was spectacular – Italian home cooking but beautifully done.
If you’re on a night out in London, Opium in Soho is worth a visit for the quality and inventiveness of the cocktails. It has a lovely atmosphere.
Then, years ago, I went on a work trip to Napa Valley and had a private dinner at Silver Oak estates with a small group of writers and buyers. It has always been one of my favourite wines anyway but that evening I had the opportunity to try vintages that you can’t get anywhere but at the estate. The whole experience was brilliant.
What should be on the agenda for a weekend in the South West?
Of course, you should definitely come to The Newt! The Roman Villa alone is so unique and worth a visit. More generally, there are excellent hiking trails around this area, from the Mendip hills to the fields of North Dorset. Then have a pub lunch somewhere fabulous, like The Queen’s Arms in Corton Denham.
What does Essence of England mean to you?
It means finding joy in little things, like Sunday lunches with family or the gorgeous sunlight striking off a frosty field on my drive to work. Also, it makes me think of quintessentially English things like getting sunburnt on a cloudy day!