UK vineyard tasting notes – Camel Valley and Knightor (Part 2)

The following tasting notes originate from my recent UK vineyard visits, the full details of which can be viewed here (Camel Valley) and here (Knightor).  This is the second of my two tasting notes, the first of which can be found here.

Knightor Brut NV, Cornwall, UK – 12.5%

This sparkling, one of only 7,500 bottles, is a veritable compendium of grape varieties – Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.  The exact blend changes from season to season, and so isn’t listed specifically in this non-vintage wine.  The grapes were hand harvested and whole bunch pressed, with the best free run juices being fermented in small separate batches.  Following blending and the second fermentation in bottle the wine was disgorged up to 24 months later for optimum lees ageing, balance and freshness.

Upon pouring, the wine is fine and effervescent with pin prick bubbles emerging.  The nose, as well as having the tell-tale green fruit signs of English sparkling, combines light lemon citrus with both honey and cream.  The palate leans heavily on both lemon and lime, and a fairly high acid cuts across the fleshy green fruits of apples, pips and pears.  The medium body and light butteriness move toward a respectable but average finish.  In summary, this is a zippy, fresh, quaffable wine, but it currently lacks the further depth needed to compete as anything other than a palate cleanser of straight-forward aperitif.  To Knightor’s credit they do say that they are saving the best grapes for their (forthcoming) vintage offering, and so this is fully intended to be entry level.  On the minus side though, with its closest comparison being perhaps that of Prosecco, at the current £27 Champagne level price-point, my view is that this isn’t perhaps representing good value for money.

Knightor Brut Rosé NV, Cornwall, UK – 12%

A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with some Dornfelder thrown in for good measure, the grapes were hand-picked and went through a very gentle whole bunch pressing.  They were then fermented in stainless steel in separate batches to preserve their individual characteristics and underwent 9 months lees ageing prior to being disgorged.  A quite tiny number of 2,063 bottles were produced.

The colour is a mix of onion skin and farmed salmon, and the nose gives off clear red fruits, erring towards raspberry more than strawberry.  A light note of cranberry joins the mix, as does whiffs of smoke and vanilla, and I can also detect hints of the creamy texture to come.

The palate is fresh and confectionate, with the red fruit of cherry giving way to clear rhubarb and custard.  Alongside this is a touch of sweet spice (vanilla), and a medium acid and lime hit searing through the centre palate.  The medium weight carries the rhubarb through the long finish.  Delicious, and a good full flavour profile.

Knightor Lineup

Knightor Pinot Gris (100%) 2011, Cornwall, UK – 12%

Grapes were picked on the 11th October 2011 and were whole bunch pressed, with 50% of the juice going in to second fill French oak barriques.  The remainder of the juice went in to stainless steel and, after malolactic fermentation, the wine spent one year maturing on its lees.  Only 1,700 bottles were produced.

Soft pale lemon in colour, the nose is extremely expressive with both aromas and textures coming through.  You can detect the butter and, in particular, the oiliness of the wine, as well as pear drops, apple flesh, lemon and other yellow fruits, such as banana, melon and dried pineapple.  Stone fruits are also in attendance with hints of nectarine bristling alongside light vanilla spice.  All in all this is an extremely full and pleasing nasal experience.

The abundance of flavour is carried on to the palate carving a dense, almost chewy weight.  The full acidity and flesh of apples now becomes apparent, with the fresh acids being kept in check by the oily texture of the wine.  Pear drops and lime, and a luscious creaminess fill out the end palate, alongside a smokiness that is perhaps akin to the fluffy skin of peaches.  This wine has a good long satisfying full finish.  I don’t usually drink varietal Pinot Gris, but this is a wonderful example that makes me want to try another very soon to enable me to understand more about its potential.  The overall experience was made all the better by the fact that I managed to get this bottle for £10 (RRP £17), and so I assume it is one of the last few remaining bottles.

Knightor Single Vineyard Roseland Pinot Noir Precoce 2014 Rosé, Cornwall, UK – 10.67%

One of only 2,000 bottles produced, the Pinot Noir grapes for this wine all came from a single vineyard located on the Roseland peninsula, near to Portscatho.  Fruit was harvested in late September, hand-picked, whole bunch pressed, and fermented in stainless steel.

The colour is a vibrant wild salmon pink, with the nose full of dark brooding red fruits with tinges of brightness (perhaps of cranberry) appearing within the smoke and creamy notes.

On the palate, it’s fairly sweet, with tinned strawberries and cream being the primary characters.  Touches of cranberry and a little light cherry meet with a medium acidity which allows the darker notes of the fruit to come to the fore and lead the good length finish.  The wine manages to balance well the lightness of youth and a light touch in the winery, with good deep fruit characters.  Pleasing on its own, this wine would also go very well with food (as the finish is a touch sweet for me).

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UK vineyard tasting notes – Camel Valley and Knightor (Part 1)

The following tasting notes originate from my recent UK vineyard visits, the full details of which can be viewed here (Camel Valley) and here (Knightor).  I will post the second (and final) wine reviews in a forthcoming post.

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2009, Cornwall, UK – 12.5% (IWC Silver Winner)

Bronze-gold in colour, with a definite tinge of salmon pinkness from the Pinot Noir skins.  Fine bubbles with a good vibrancy.  The nose was fairly subdued, but certainly light and fresh with touches of green fruit and pips.  Almost a faint whiff of red fruit comes through, but nothing specific except for a touch of peach, so it is more a compendium of aromas.

The palate was fine, delicate and moussy, almost melt in the mouth in terms of texture.  Red fruits again come through from the Pinot grapes, with some strawberries and red currants melding well with the creamy texture.  Touches of honey and white pepper come through alongside the ripe greener fruits of apple flesh and lemon citrus.  This is a full and rounded wine that delivers a good length finish.  Although still perky to drink, there are some early signs of good age to the wine, and it weighs up darker notes with the still-vibrant fruit.

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rosé Brut 2013, Cornwall, UK – 12.5% (IWC Winner (Gold & Trophy) 2014)

Salmon pink in colour with very vibrant fine pin-prick bubbles.  The nose is clean red fruits, with both cherry and wild strawberries being evident.  A fresh acidity draws in a raft of varying fruit characters running the gamut from tinned raspberries to stone fruits – perhaps nectarine, and then in to zesty lemon and followed up with a touch of apples and cream.  This is a fine and delicate palate crammed full of freshness, but also a touch of sugary sweetness.  The good length finish leads the green fruit on to the sourness of grapefruit, which rounds off the experience nicely.

Knightor Lineup

Knightor Carpe Diem Rosé 2014, Cornwall, UK – 10%

This wine is a blend of Rondo, Kerner, Dornfelder and Reichensteiner, all being fermented separately prior to creating the final blend.  The separate musts of both the Rondo and Dornfelder are cold macerated for several days to extract both colour and fruit.  The wine is named ‘Carpe Diem’ – Latin for ‘Seize the moment’ – to highlight the characteristics of their young, fresh wines.

Visually this wine is a vibrant pink colour with a fine clear white water rim highlighting its youth.  The nose is full of fresh red fruits of both strawberry and raspberry, rounded out with floral notes and touches of both custard and cream.  A veritable compendium of fruit, the nose is nice and full.

The palate showcases a well-balanced acidity that rests against the red fruits which, alongside strawberry, include both cranberry and plum.  The fruit softens in the mid-palate and gains citric hints and a creamy texture which makes it all the more quaffable at this slightly lower than standard alcohol level (a very specific 10.27% if the literature is to be believed!).  The finish is of a reasonable length.

Knightor Bacchus 2013, Cornwall, UK – 11% (11.15%!)

These Bacchus grapes were harvested on the 24th October 2013, and the resulting wine was just one of 1700 bottles produced.  The appearance is a pleasing youthful lemon yellow which doesn’t prepare you for the golden, almost tropical notes that greet you on the nose alongside the citrus and toast.  Twinned with the standard notes of green apple are yellow melon, and an almost wax-like texture.

The palate is round, medium bodied and creamy and luscious.  A blend of both green and yellow fruits fill the palate alongside a mouth-watering acidity.  The touches of ripe melon and tropical fruits re-appear – particularly in the form of dried slices of pineapple.  The mouthfeel has an oily (more so than butter) texture, like a good Chardonnay, and I can see why they are experimenting with wood ageing next year.  At times when drinking this wine it is akin to taking a huge bite in to a fresh crisp Granny Smith apple.  Wonderful, exciting and refreshing all at the same time.

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Camel Valley Vineyard Visit

Camel Corks

After winding my way down many a tight country lane, I finally saw the signs to say that I had arrived at Camel Valley Vineyard.  Ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie purchased the site in the early 1980’s and, by doing a vintage in Germany and reading everything he could about viticulture and vinification, set up from scratch what is now one of the top English vineyards in operation.  At 7 hectares (24,000 vines) it is also the largest in Cornwall and is sited near to Bodmin, nestled in the undulations of the River Camel.

The first 8,000 vines were planted in 1989 and it wasn’t long before the awards started flowing.  In 2007, Bob and Annie’s son Sam ignored the calling of a high flying career in the city and joined the team as winemaker.  Sam brought different experiences to the table from those of Bob, having worked vintages in New Zealand, and the team have gone from strength to strength, culminating with the Queen choosing to serve their Pinot Noir 2008 Brut at a banquet in Buckingham Palace.

Camel1

To give you some idea of the size of the operation, they expect to make 220,000 bottles this year, but with the ever-changeable UK weather, poorer years such as 2012 only saw 50,000 bottles produced.  In order to be fair to customers they try to keep the price of the wines constant even when they are in short supply, and thankfully (even with the big demand for their product) they have built up enough stocks from the good sized 2013 and 2014 vintages to ensure that they won’t be running out any time soon.  70% of the wines they produce are sparkling, with the remaining 30% made up of still red, white and rosé wines.

Safety of the grapes here is paramount and we weren’t allowed to be let loose within the vines like at some vineyards, which was a shame.  There was netting covering the canopies and timed shotgun noises to deter the birds, and low level electrified fencing to keep out invading badgers, so it would have been a tricky experience anyway.  Thankfully they have well-appointed decking next to their retail shop where you can lazily enjoy a glass of wine whilst looking out over the sea of vines.  The grapes themselves are on their last few days of hang time as we visit, soaking up the final rays of unseasonal warmth.  The grapes are all hand-picked and on-standby is a team of 15 Bulgarians who return each year to complete the job.

Inside the winery it is a glittering city of stainless steel tanks, and our tour guide happily showed us the plethora of new machinery recently purchased, including their de-stemmer and bottling line. There is a running joke within the winery that the bottling line (which is indeed impressive with mechanical grabbing, non-brine disgorging, corking, sealing and labelling) actually cost more to buy than the original purchase of all the vineyard land.  An impressive notion!

Camel2

When having a good look around I did notice that, within the large stocks of bottles either ageing, being riddled, or in storage ready to go, there was nothing over and above the standard size.  For one of the top English sparkling wines, and with certainly enough vines to be able to produce a larger format bottle, I wondered why they didn’t produce at least a magnum.  I put the question to our guide, and she pointed out that the calibration on their bottling line is currently set for standard bottles only.  This sounds to me like a good area to develop.  English wines are in ascendency at the moment, looking for ways in to the crowded sparkling market, and if there is one thing they can do to drive forward the prestige it is to go for the majesty of the large format.  I should add at this point that they do have a one-off Methuselah bottling of their Gold trophy winning 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé sparkling to purchase for £399, and so jump straight from the standard bottle to one that holds 8 bottles.  That’s quite an impressive thing, as is the knowledge that it is the largest bottle of English sparkling wine available from any vineyard.

The tour lasts approximately one and a half hours and costs £8.50 per adult.  Included within the price is a full tour of the winery, access to the decking which overlooks the vines, and one glass of still wine.  Unusually for a wine tour, you do only get to taste one wine, but it is a full glass as opposed to a tasting measure, so you have to ensure you pick one that you think you will like.  You can also upgrade from still wine to sparkling by giving £1 extra as a charitable donation and, as it would be rude not to, I opted for the 2013 Annie’s Anniversary Brut (lovely creamy, fleshy green fruit, and searing acidity).

Camel3

As it is a working operation at this time of the year we did get to see Sam in action whilst we looked around, and owner Bob was an ever present sight running here and there, busy in some task or other.  He was also happy to briefly chat which was nice, and it was good to see that he was still quite involved in things.

I purchased both the 2009 Pinot Noir Brut (£29.95) and the 2013 Rosé Brut (£26.95), and will add my tasting notes here in due course to complete the document of my trip to Camel Valley.

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Knightor Winery Visit

Speaking to a friend about my upcoming trip to visit the vineyards of Cornwall he informed me that, being born there, he knew the area well and asked who I was visiting.  One name that stuck out was Knightor as he had never heard of them and, I must confess, until I had planned my itinerary neither had I.

In a moment of serendipity, the dull weather ushering in the start of October disappeared, and my trip coincided with what must have been some of the warmest weather ever seen in the UK for that time of year.  Indeed I was informed at one vineyard that they had stopped picking for a few days to allow the remaining grapes to reap the benefit of the final ripening opportunity.

Knightor

Knightor were born in 2006 when Adrian Derx left behind an IT career in London and purchased 32 acres outside of Seaton in south-east Cornwall.  Coming from a family where his grandfather had owned a vineyard (in central Italy), this was a firm return to his ancestral roots.  Following the first land purchase, Adrian further purchased 26 acres at Porthscatho in 2007, planting 6-8 acres of it with vines the following year.  To cap off his two vineyard purchases, in 2011 Adrian then purchased a derelict complex of buildings in Trethurgy, just outside of St Austell.  These have now been transformed in to his winery, cunningly equidistant between both vineyards for ease of transportation, and just around the corner from the major Cornish attraction The Eden Project, for which Knightor now also produce ‘Eden’ branded wines.

The first wines under the Knightor name were released in 2012, and won instant acclaim from wine critic Matthew Jukes who called the wine “expertly made” and “very impressive”.  Grapes are all handpicked and production levels fluctuate between 46,000 bottles in 2014 to the 34,000 bottles produced in 2013 and expected from the 2015 harvest.  The poor harvest of 2012 produced only a mere 12,000 bottles.  I was very surprised to learn that this limited production is split over an (expanding) number of different labels.  Approximately 50% of production goes to sparkling wines (A Brut NV and a Rosé NV), with the remaining crop servicing 9 other still red, white and rosé wines.

Knightor v2

The eclectic mix of grape varieties grown include regular UK choices such as Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay and Huxelrebe, alongside other rarer types such as Madelaine Angevine, Siegerrebe and Schoneburger (which they have to brand as ‘Mena Hweg’ (Cornish for Sweet Hill, which is what Schoneburger translates as) due to the low alcohol level being completely distinct from German bottlings).  The wines are all presented with lovingly designed labels showing map images of the local area and, in a further nod to the wines speaking of where they come from, the sparkling wines are topped off with capsules made from Cornish tin.

Replacing original winemaker James Thomas is Italian winemaker Salvatore Leone, who joined the team last year to juxtapose his experiences in warm Sicilian conditions with our cooler climate here.  I spoke to him at length about these differences to which he stated that he basically flips his knowledge over completely so that, something he would never consider doing in Italy is potentially plausible here.   The team have a handful of used French oak barrels (not currently used to impart any flavour characteristics, but merely to affect mouthfeel) to complement their otherwise stainless steel operation but, whilst I was there, Salvatore revealed that they had just purchased 3 new American oak barrels to be used for their Chardonnay offering.  In conjunction with this, some Bacchus will also be tried in oak to emulate a growing trend for Bacchus Fumé wines.

The winery tour lasts approximately 1 hour and costs £8.95 per person. This price includes a full tour of the winery buildings (and access to the winemaker if he’s about) and experimental vines (not used in the commercial wine venture) that are on the winery site.  Greenhouse conditions generate additional heat enabling the production of small quantities of varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon which wouldn’t thrive in the standard UK climate, but at this time the vines exist to ensure that visitors do get to see some on their trip (no self-respecting wine tour is complete without them!).  For me it does throw up thoughts as to what possibilities there are to cheat nature and produce solid red wines in the UK, even in small quantities.  Is there a way to balance the additional costs of setting up the greenhouse environment in to a wine at a reasonable price-point?  Also included in the price is a visit to the tasting table which shows approximately 5 different wines (we were lucky on our day that extra wines were already open and so we got to try more).

Knightor v3

As the whole operation is run by a small, and fully working team, booking for the tour is required, but there were no problems arranging the visit and I can’t think of any way that the team could have been more friendly.  It is well worth a visit, and I naturally reciprocated buying up some of my favourite wines from the tasting table, although this does bring me on to my only niggle of the trip which was the pricing of some of the sparkling wines.  Currently the Brut NV retails for £27, with the Rosé NV retailing at £33.  When I heard that from next year they will be introducing a vintage 2011 sparkling I naturally asked what the price-point would be, to which I was told circa £40.  At this price we’re above well established brands like Moét, and so I do wonder what the future holds from that aspect.

As I work my way through the range of wines in proper tasting conditions over the next few weeks, I will post my thoughts up here to fully document my experience with Knightor wines.

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A splendid time is guaranteed for all……!

wine vines

Last year I had the pleasure of doing a short holiday trip around some key UK vineyards within the counties of Surrey and Kent, whilst visiting relatives and a attending a few other commitments.  Amongst others, the trip saw visits to Denbies, Chapel Down and Biddenden, and all were filled with lovely people, opportunities to try (and purchase) new wines, as well as touring vineyards, and photographing some lovely scenery.  This coming October sees me attending a wedding all the way out at Lands End in Cornwall (the most south western point of the UK), and this gives me the perfect opportunity to do a further styled trip and visit some of the more extreme vineyards that I’ve heard about, but not yet been to in person.

From where I am in Newbury, the trip to Lands End will take circa 6 hours by car so, to break up the journey I have extended the trip to 5 days to take account of driving, sight-seeing, and then the main event of the wedding itself. This allows me (in amongst other sight-seeing attractions, which aren’t in short supply in the surfing and seafood capital of the UK) to fit in a fair few visits.  Armed with my UK guide to Vineyards 2010, I have begun prepping out my potential route which will take me through the county of Dorset, in to Devon, perhaps deviating to Somerset, before landing in Cornwall.  As I have already been through Kent and Sussex, and live very near (and have visited) both Hampshire and Oxfordshire, this will give me extremely good coverage of what’s happening in the south of the UK.

My criteria in the main has been to pick vineyards that have fairly large holdings (>8ha), or those that appear top or heavily referenced in travel guides or tourist information.  My current plan is (at the top level) to visit:

DorsetEnglish Oak Vineyards – An estate specialising in producing sparkling wines, and growing 14 different clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Growing over 23,000 vines, the vineyard apparently appeared in the popular BBC2 series of Oz and James’ wine travels.  I have the DVD of this series, and will have to dig it out!

CornwallKnightor Winery – This one doesn’t actually feature in my 2010 book, so is a fairly new addition.  Low grape yield ensures that this is a premium quality, limited edition affair, and one that UK wine critic Matthew Jukes is all in favour of.  The produce is all of rosé, white or sparkling, and the varieties include such northern latitude grape stalwarts as Bacchus, Madelaine, Siegerrebe, and Schonburger.  A couple there to add to my list of new grape varieties tried!

CornwallCamel Valley – The big one, an absolute not-to-miss vineyard, named after the local Camel River.  In operation since 1989, as well as being Cornwall’s biggest vineyard they have amassed a sizeable clutch of awards (including Decanter and the IWWC) and are hailed as one of the leading UK producers of wine.

I probably have room for one or two more wineries in this trip and would welcome suggestions from readers as to any they have visited or recommend.  At this time my travel diary remains fairly fluid and can accommodate any in the lower western counties of the UK.

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