UK Vintage 2017 Report #1 – April

As usual, one month after the first signs of life in my Chardonnay, Ortega and mystery vines I like to kick of the yearly document of their progress.

UK17 Twit Pic

Compared to last year we have more leaf and new stem growth in all varieties, with the Chardonnay taking the lead as usual.  The weather has been very pleasant, with one early April weekend warmer than many parts of Europe, and temperatures of circa 26°c gave us one of the warmest April days on UK record.

UK17 Chardonnay

                                                                                      Chardonnay

UK17 Ortega

                                                                                          Ortega

Generally the weather has been hovering around the mid-teens celsius with patchy cloud, and there’s only been a handful of days with rain but, as I write, the vignerons of Champagne are reporting crop loss due to bad frosts.

UK17 MVN3

                                                                               Mystery Variety #3

I’ve noted at least one English wine producer worried about this hitting the south of the UK, and the forecast for the week ahead does seem to be punctuated with overnight temperatures around O°c and more rain than we’ve seen up to this point.

Here’s hoping that the good progress so far isn’t spoiled early on.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #6 – September

A quick check in on my vines in what has proven to be an interesting month weather-wise.  The beginning of September saw continued sunshine and temperatures hovering around the early twenties (Celsius), and the heat culminated mid-month with the hottest UK September day since 1911!

This proved to be a peak though and temperatures lost ten degrees virtually overnight.  My base of Newbury was at the epi-centre of a spectacular storm which included some of the loudest thunder I have ever heard.  Such was the intensity and proximity, lightning actually obliterated a portion of the road in the street behind my house leaving something of a pot-hole.

The rainfall for the 12 hours of the storm actually exceeded the average full month total such was the intensity, and flooding caused disruption to the local area.

As I write this note towards the end of the month, we’ve passed the autumnal equinox (on the 22nd) and the weather has followed suit meaning that you can already sense the difference, and the wind and cold are starting to be more keenly felt.

chard-sept-16

My vines continue much as they did last month, with the later maturing Chardonnay probably about to come in to its own and the Ortega doing thoroughly well with numerous bunches of well-formed grapes of decent sizes.

ortega-sept-16

My MVN3 still shows substantial difference in the berry sizes, but we have a decent number of clusters and are just starting to see some of the berries developing their true colour.  You may recall from previous blogs that this is the reason I can conclude that it isn’t the Cataratto variety I was intending to purchase, in that it is the wrong colour.

mvn3-sept-16

Speaking of colour change, a few of the lower leaves are now starting to show their autumnal hues.  Pests are also increasingly to be found buried within the knotted vines and I notice that I’ve lost a fair few grapes to them since I last looked.

Hopefully they won’t attack too many more as the overall yield is a bit less than expectations.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #5 – August

A quick catch up now on how my vines are doing in the summer month of August.

There has been continued good weather throughout the month with just enough rain here and there to keep the vines watered.  The temperatures have peaked on a handful of days at 26-28 degrees Celsius (usually during the week when I have to be at work!), but are maintaining a good run in the early twenties.

UK Ortega Aug16

There are two main points of interest since the last update.  The first relates to the vigour of the vines which have basically (and would have done if they could’ve) gone through the roof.  Due to a recent leg injury I wasn’t able to tend them as closely as I should have for several weeks and so it has been increasingly obvious.

When I was able to get back out I needed to seriously prune something like 50% off of the height, and I have even done one further pruning session since then to keep them tidy.  All varieties are seeing this growth, even my Ortega, which last year was noticeably less vigorous than the Chardonnay and the MVN3.

This growth (especially when I was unable to tend them) has had one bad consequence.  When twinned with the high winds that we have seen on several days, my trellising has become loosened and has pulled my vines forward by 2-3 inches. At only 3 years in the ground they are still fairly fragile and, fearing they could snap at the bases, I quickly corrected this.

When winter comes I shall have to look in to installing a new trellising system, more robust than before, that can take the weight of the vigour I am now used to seeing.

UK MVN3 Aug16

The second point of interest is the grape growth, which is coming along nicely, albeit still showing elements of uneven bunch growth (millerandage) on my MVN3.  This is odd as this variety was planted a full year before the Chardonnay and Ortega vines and I would therefore have thought would be more established.

uk-chard-aug16

The Ortega and Chardonnay are coming along nicely with the later maturing Chardonnay progressing just behind the Ortega, but both have good volumes of healthy bunches.  In terms of disease, the mites still seem to be attacking the extremities of the Ortega, but this was cleaned off during pruning so shouldn’t be a problem.

As August comes to an end we approach the final bank holiday weekend of the year.  Traditionally these are wet and miserable affairs in the UK, but the forecasts currently show decent weather akin to that which we have seen recently.  This is hopefully a good sign that we will have a settled and warm September, maturing the grapes in their final 8 weeks on the vine.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #3 – June

A quick check back on my vines now and, as is traditional for the British summertime, the month of June has seen a fair bit of rain with many heavy showers (one particular sudden one whilst I was BBQ-ing) and some isolated hail storms.  Having said that, I can count myself lucky that we haven’t been affected here in Newbury by the severe flooding seen by many parts of the south of the country which caused many areas to come to a complete standstill.

At the same time as the vines were being well watered, temperatures have remained at circa 18-20° and so it has been warm enough throughout.  The side effect of the heat alongside the constant damp has meant is has felt humid for much of the time.

Variety 3 June16

This free availability of water has had the effect of making my vines shoot up (pun intended!), and a quick look back at last month’s report makes them look like mere twigs.  My mystery variety number three (MVN3) has been shooting up all over the place (see picture above), along various walls and in to my neighbour’s garden.

Chard June16

Whilst I’ve been trimming to control the vigour on those vines, my Chardonnay (above) has been able to catch up with the others in terms of spread and leaf canopy, although it has yet to start flowering, which both my Ortega (below) and MVN3 have.

Ortega Buds June16.JPG

Hopefully July will bring more sun, less rain, and healthy clusters.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #2 – May

Spring has well and truly sprung here in the UK, and the month of May has seen its fair share of good weather with most days seeing mid-teen temperatures.  In addition there has also been a handful of days where the weather has tripped in to the early twenties too, which has meant that my vines are all developing nicely and have come on well since the first flowers began to appear in April.

2016 UK vines M2

In addition to the warm weather mentioned above, there has still been a few cold spells and intermittent rain, as well as one patch of frost at the start of the month which has hit the later flowering Chardonnay vines badly.  The Chardonnay is now way behind the Ortega and my ‘mystery’ 3rd variety and so has a lot of catching up to do.

Struggling Chard 1

Struggling Chard 2

As is tradition for a UK Bank Holiday weekend there is rain forecast, but this should be needed by the vines as they continue to gather the resources to start flowering in the coming weeks.

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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 2015 vine growth report: August

Here’s a quick update on my vines as we approach the middle of the month, and the lead-up to picking in approximately 8 weeks’ time. Both the Chardonnay and Ortega have failed to give any fruit – these are my newest vines and not yet 3 years in the ground, so this is to be expected. I had begun the season hopeful, especially with the Chardonnay which was very healthy, budded early, and showed characteristic vigour but, alas, it will have to wait until next year.

This leaves my Catarratto, which has been equally as vigorous as the Chardonnay. Many bunches are forming well – some individual grapes growing faster than others (as can be seen in the below picture). At this point I have in the back of my mind the word ‘millerandage’ which concerns bunches forming of grapes of different size and maturity, but all seem to be at the same stage of ripeness, so for now I believe that it is simply part of the growth process.

Catarratto in August

Now my full concentration is on the one variety, the next month will all be about getting the water availability right, as well as any canopy trimming I need to carry out. The weather since my last report has been more aligned to a British summer with many instances of rain (one extremely heavy day) and, whilst we have still seen warm days in the late teens / early twenties celcius, there has been widespread and continued cloud cover. More rain is forecasted ahead.

That said, all my winemaking equipment is sitting waiting to go, and I have my refractometer on standby!

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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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UK 2015 vine growth report: Two months in

It’s been just over two months now since my vines started their 2015 journey, and so here’s a further entry as to their progress, which will make interesting reading at the end of the season, and also year on year. If you want to remind yourself of the last progress entry, you can find it here.

The warm and sunny weather continues here in Berkshire and, although there was hail on one particular day, it was mercifully short in duration. As you will see from the pictures below, my Chardonnay is coming along nicely and has virtually doubled/tripled in height and a number of new vines have sprouted. Leaf canopies are also well established and growing well. It’s a similar situation for my Cataratto, which is also thriving, despite being in a slightly shadier position.

Month 2 Vines

 (l-r Chardonnay, Ortega, Catarratto)

The same cannot be said for the Ortega which, although it has seen progress, still seems fairly muted in its growth and is currently resembling something like a bush vine rather than one being trained. If it doesn’t speed up its growth in the next few weeks I think I’m going to have to do some digging to find out what its general lifecycle looks like. Being a Germanic variety and used to cool weather I thought it would be enjoying the unseasonal warm spell we are having, but clearly not.

To ensure I give all the vines every chance, I’ve replaced the trellising as promised, in readiness for when the grapes arrive and bring extra weight later in the season. This new trellising, which mimics those used professionally, should allow extra breezes through, hinder pests (my previous lattice trellising would have been easy for them to scale up), and allow sunshine to penetrate all sides of the vines.

As I write, the weather is a glorious 24° centigrade, with more of the same planned for tomorrow. Long may it continue!

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UK 2015 vine growth report: One month in

As one month has just passed since my vines awoke from their winter slumber, I thought I would give a quick update as to how my 2015 UK growing season is progressing. I’m located in Newbury, Berkshire and so that means I’m just above 51° latitude north, stretching right in to the limits of grape ripening. The UK is well known for the marginal climate and a pre-dispensation for rain, but this year has seen a milder winter in the south where I am. Although many part of the south did see occasional snow in February, we’ve not had any here for the first time in a few years, and I’ve been able to count the frosts so far on one hand. Indeed, late March and the start of April saw some unseasonably warm weather (some days even nudging up to the early twenties in celcius). This no doubt helped along bud break for my vines which I spotted on April the 8th. So, one month in, how are we doing?

Chardonnay            Chardonnay

Ortega           Ortega

Catarratto           Catarratto

As you can see from the above pictures, all are coming along nicely, with numerous buds growing per pruned cane, and good leaf canopies forming. For background, I’m growing three different varieties: Chardonnay, Ortega and Catarratto, meaning I have French, German and Italian vines in operation. In terms of furthest along in growth, that would go to the Chardonnay, but in terms of vigour, the Catarratto has it.  Vines were only planted last year, so we’re still in the bedding down phase in which all produce will be purely for academic and experimental use, but seeing the good start to growth this year means they’ve all settled in nicely. The vine stock was obtained from Denbies vineyard in Surrey, who are amongst the leading UK wine producers, so is from a good home.

The above will hopefully be of interest to those readers outside of the UK, or perhaps even those in the southern hemisphere who want to see how we’re moving along here. It will also serve to remind me in the future how things progress through the 2015 vintage, which looks to be a good one.

p.s – I’m aware that I need to sort my trellising out – it was a quick fix option at the time, and it will be replaced!

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