The 5th annual ‘Vineyards of Hampshire’ wine festival was held recently and, welcoming the opportunity to try a whole host of local wines not too far from my doorstep, I popped along.
‘Vineyards of Hampshire’ is an umbrella name for 8 producers: Danebury, Exton Park, Cottonworth, Hambledon, Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place, Meonhill and Raimes. With each site taking it in turn to play host, the festivities this time were held at the Decanter and IWSC award-winning Cottonworth Vineyard, located in the heart of the Test Valley.
The wineries, alongside a line-up of local food producers, were set up in a marquee surrounded by the delightful installation of a vine maze. Especially planted at the site as a focal point for events, the circular maze has some light-hearted obstacles to keep you searching for the exit, or perhaps to keep you trapped within with a glass of something nice.
I wasn’t able to spend too long investigating though as, true to form, the late July weather was marked with grey clouds and some very heavy downpours. This forced pretty much all of the attendees in to the central marquee causing much difficulty when trying to spend some quality time with each producer. The deep queues also made further sense when I heard our host saying that attendance this year was something like 50% increased on last year.
Breaking free of the festival crowd I took a tour of the site with owner Hugh Liddell, who came across not just as knowledgeable, but also incredibly passionate about the vines and land itself.
Having started out in the vineyards of Burgundy, his own personal winemaking philosophy is based around an intense relationship with the land. Multiple times in conversation he was keen to point out how he aimed to harness and celebrate the chalky aspects of his south facing slopes.
A humorous moment came as he described the effect of the free-draining chalk soil on the vine roots, leaving them ‘stressed’ and searching for nutrients. He mused that, like the best artists and poets, this stress brought about the best results. Later on at the festival we were able to taste his Classic Cuvée and Rosé and both were notable for their pale colouring and soft and uplifting qualities on the palate.
With a terroir reminiscent of the Cóte des Blancs, Cottonworth are naturally growing the 3 classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier along with a tiny amount of Pinot Précoce. Since the first plantings went in to the ground just over a decade ago they have been carving out their own corner of the growing UK sparkling wine market.
Forming part of the larger family farm, the grazing land once used for cows has been transformed plot by plot. Covering some 30 acres, Hugh has specifically chosen individual sites where he believes the grapes will grow to the best of their ability.
We discussed the recent frosts that hit the UK (as well as many of the grape growing parts of northern Europe) and Cottonworth was badly affected, losing between 50-70% of their crop dependent on the plot. Whilst they don’t currently produce a Vintage wine, 2017 will see them dipping in to their wine reserves to maintain a decent level of bottles available to market.
The badly hit 2017 harvest wasn’t Hugh’s first brush with frost and the crippling crop losses that can occur. He explained that the family had sold off some of their land to well-known UK producer Nyetimber allowing him to buy two vineyards in Beaune, France, taking him back to his winemaking beginnings.
The first year they suffered 90% crop losses due to frost and, adamant that the same thing wouldn’t happen again, worked in collaboration with other local vintners to burn wet bales of hay to form a protective layer of smoke above the vines. Hugh recalled how the widespread smoke made it almost impossible to breathe in the vineyards, but the vines remained safe!
The conversation then moved on to pruning which, as a grower of vines myself, I found extremely interesting. Hearing his views on how best to trim, canopy manage and prepare the vines for the following year will definitely affect how I look after mine.
Following the tour it was then back to the festival to try some more wine, and thankfully the sun had appeared meaning that there was a bit more space to manoeuvre around the stands. All in all, this was a very interesting and informative event, and I look forward to returning in 2018 to see who the next host will be.
Cottonworth Classic Cuvée NV – 45% Chardonnay / 46% Pinot Noir / 9% Pinot Meunier, Alc 12.5%, Dosage – 6g/l, RRP £28
Cottonworth Sparkling Rosé – 43% Pinot Meunier / 32% Pinot Noir / 18% Chardonnay / 7% Pinot Précoce, Alc 12%, Dosage 9g/l, RRP £30