Saturday, 30 December 2017


I’m writing this in the continuous long Sunday afternoon that is the week in-between Christmas and New Year. The intake of food and drink at Higher Plot and at various relative’s abodes has been prodigious and the urge to write an article about further indulgence isn’t as strong as it could be. We don’t feel too guilty about taking advantage of the Slackmus period partly because the end of the holidays means getting our big coats on for the start of winter pruning and also, I’ve just read an article about the alcohol intake of one of the greats of the wine trade 90 year old Michael Broadbent’ His son wrote -

"Though my parents were in the wine business they aren't big drinkers. Champagne for breakfast because orange juice is so boring without Champagne. Then nothing until lunch, except perhaps you'd be given Madeira because their coffee was so bad. But otherwise nothing except for a Bloody Mary. They'd then have white and red wine with lunch and Port after, but that's not drinking, it is part of the meal. But nothing else until dinner, except the tea was so bad that you'd get Madeira instead. Before dinner, they would have one drink, either a gin and tonic or whiskey and then, of course, white and red wine with dinner followed by Port. However, because of my father's heart, his doctor told him "you have to have something to drink  before bed", so then he has a Grand Marnier."

This sounds a prodigious and indeed, it is certainly way more than your doctor would recommend  but the thing is, they drink out of very small  glasses. Probably around 100ml. Over the years glasses have got larger and larger to the extent where it isn’t uncommon to be served wine in a 250ml glass in other words, a third of a bottle and more than the recommended daily allowance for a woman.

This picture is of some of the glasses that we have at home. From left to right, the first two glasses are 18th Century wine glasses, not much more than a thimbleful in today’s terms. The third one is still pretty small, a Paris Goblet which was common up to the 1990’s. The fourth is what’s called an ISO glass. This is what we use at the farm. It’s a completely standard size and shape and is to be found  in practically every professional tasting room from Tuscany to  Tumbarumba. It’s based on the Sherry Copita and if you could only have one glass for every type of wine ( or spirit for that matter), this would do the job. Second from the right is our personal favourite. It’s a Riedel restaurant red wine glass. Handmade Riedels cost a fortune but these machine made ones are around £3.50 and £5.00 per glass and comfortably hold 175ml.  The last glass doesn’t come out of its box very often. It’s made by Dartington and the large surface area means that you can practically stick your face inside it if you have a really special wine.
If there was only one rule about which wine glasses to buy it would be that they should narrow towards the top to capture wines lovely aromas. That being said, drinking young red wine from a beaker in the tapas bars in Rioja works just fine and, of course you can’t beat a glass of fizz from one of those Champagne Coupes allegedly modeled on Madame de Pompadour's breast.
Image result for champagne coupe glasses madame de pompadour

Post Harvest R&R

By the time you are reading this, me and Mrs Grape will have our feet up, furry slippers on and will be on the sofa drinking cream sherry and nibbling Garibaldi biscuits whilst shouting at the telly Gogglebox style. Fred the vineyard dog will be asleep in his bed dreaming about that day when all those people turned up in waterproofs and wellies to disturb his tenacious all day snoozing.  With the help of our friends and neighbours we will have harvested six or seven tons of grapes that have been crushed and are happily bubbling away in a spic and span winery in near Bridport. 

The trouble is, as I’m writing this, we are four days before  harvest and my weather forecast habit has gone completely haywire. I am bingeing on a random rotation of half hourly Met Office, BBC and Accuweather. I am
willing the band of rain predicted for Sunday to arrive early and be through by early morning. In my wilder moments I have contemplated reaching out to the owners of any convenient off shore wind turbines to ask if they can turn them around for an hour or two to blow it through. Alternatively, I wonder if we could flag down a passing helicopter from Yeovilton to make a quick stop to give a bit of down blast to dry everything and everyone out. The next task on our list is feeding the forty or so people that are going to turn up. An army of pickers marches on its stomach and needs cake. Lots of it.  Is a strong leaning towards Coffee and Walnut a Somerset thing? With the weather we’ve been having recently, you’d think that Lemon Drizzle would strike a chord. There is daily discussion with the winery on the subject of how the grapes are looking. Is there any mould ( as of today,  no), what are the sugar and acidity levels, the tonnage expected and general timings.

This is now our eighth harvest and every year, the thing that never fails to strike us is how everybody pulls together. The crew doesn’t turn up just for a single day taste of the bucolic life, pickers lunch and a glass of wine. To a man and woman, they stay until every grape is picked and the last crate is loaded onto the truck. We love them.


Tuesday, 13 December 2016

You don’t always need to be small to be beautiful.

You don’t always need to be small to be beautiful. 

Why do people with more money than sense ( which incidentally is something that I aspire to) sometimes pay thousands of pounds for a single bottle of wine? One of the main reasons is scarcity. If there are only a few hundred bottles of something then wealthy people can pay ridiculous prices to own one of them. This is all very well but are there wines that are real classics that are produced in large enough quantities for us mere mortals? One of the best places to find the answer is Rioja where producers such as Muga and Rioja Alta make large volumes of absolutely consistent genuine quality. My absolute favourite is a company called called CVNE (Pronounced Coonay) - Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana or roughly translated as The North Spanish Wine Company. So far so glamourous.  A few years back ( well, almost 20 if I was being honest) I worked for their British agent and have loved their wines ever since to the extent that more often than not, any godchildren, nieces or nephews that we acquire get a bottle on arriving into the world as they ( hopefully the wine and the children) age beautifully. CVNE make upwards to 10 million bottles per year but you’d be hard pressed to find a dud amongst them. 

My first introduction to them was driving up to their winery in Haro which looks a lot like a Victorian workhouse. It was all a bit dusty and was showing signs of wear and tear but when they put out a range of wines going back to the 1960’s then I realised that this really was a very special wine maker. The reason that they can produce such large quantities of great wine is that they are blenders as much as grape growers and this allows them to build long term relationships over many generations with the best vineyards. They also age their young wines in oak barrels which sort of gives them a head start to maturity.
Where can I buy them?
The best place is Majestic Wine Warehouse - All prices are if you buy six or more mixed bottles

The Crianza 2012 is on offer at the moment at a bargain £6.99. I would be hard pushed to think of any red wine that’s given me and Mrs Grape more consistent drinking pleasure over the years.  CVNE Reserva is £9.99 and the very special Imperial Reserva from the Rioja Alta region is £20.00. They also produce a single vineyard wine made by a lovely man called Jesus Madrazo called Contino which you can buy from Waitrose Cellar at £25.00. In the wine business we always talk about the price/quality ratio and in these terms, the wines are really great value. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Here's a winemaking game to play, Twist or Stick?

Meunier Grapes.
The information available to play this game is - as of 5th October your grapes are ripe enough to pick. They would produce a wine of around 9-9.5 % alcohol which is plenty and would make a nice wine but you'd probably need a tiny amount of sugar added to the tank to bring it up to 10%. The key thing isn't this but, it's ( adopts Greg Wallace from Masterchef voice) flavour. They are already picking up some nice interesting qualities beyond just tasting of sugar and acid but, if you left them for another week, they could get really interesting. So, it seems obvious that you'd leave them. The dilemma is, the weather is currently perfect but, next week there's a chance of rain which adds the risk of disease and would dilute the juice. Here's the Met Office forecast.

UK Outlook for Sunday 9 Oct 2016 to Tuesday 18 Oct 2016: The largely settled weather is expected to continue through much of this period. Despite some spells of bright or sunny intervals, it will often be rather cloudy with outbreaks of light rain in places, especially across eastern coasts. It will remain rather cold for the time of year with breezy conditions continuing, especially across more coastal areas. There will also be some cold nights as well with a local frost possible and the chance of some mist or fog patches. Stronger winds and more in the way of rainfall may affect western areas towards the latter part of this period, bringing a return to milder weather, but detail remains uncertain about this change of weather type with the potential for the largely dry conditions persisting throughout.

 "Stronger Winds and more in the way of rain may affect Western areas". Accuweather has at least some rain 15th -17th October which is when we would pick.
What do you do, Twist or Stick? Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Living the dream - Ten things that might help you if you are planning to make wine from scratch in England.

The Dream.
As we followed the big removal truck down our road in the burbs to start our life back in the West Country, one of our neighbours shouted "livin the dream" by way of goodbye . Life was going to be one extended  daytime TV property show. The sun would always be shining, all year round lambs would be frolicking in the fields  and horny handed sons of toil would be leaning on gates and chewing straw ready for a chat and a glass of cider. Of course, this has absolutely no resemblance to how we were feeling - we were completely arse clenchingly terrified.  What sort of practical things would our 1997 selves have liked to have known before we started our big adventure  that may have helped us on the way?

1. If you are in possession of a large fortune, welcome to having a small fortune. If you are in possession of a small fortune, say goodbye to it. If you don't have any fortune, you are about to give every waking moment over to your dream of making great wine and so, ask yourself, do you really want to do it.Really really? Really?
Living the dream. 
2.Are you as happy working alone in a field for the whole day in the bleak mid-winter with nobody to talk to except  rows upon row of vines as you are spending a whole day doing nothing but talking to people about how you stand alone in fields in the middle of winter talking to plants?  
3. Build a five year plan with steps built in for the major milestones on the way.
4. Rename it eight year plan.
5. Don't do this on your own, co-operate. Talk to as many other vineyard owners as you can. There are precious few souls in this world as stupid as you are and they will help you and provide a shoulder to cry on as someday, you'll be doing the same for them. 
6. If you want to make good wine, the most important single decision you will ever take will be location. The fact that a vineyard would look pretty from your dining room is not a good reason to plant there. Nor is proximity to a pub and good schools, neither will cheer you up ( well the pub might) if you are three years down the track and still no signs of a grape.
7.Farm equipment is unbelievably dangerous. Vineyard tractors are small but they have everything that can slice off  a body part as cleanly as a really really big one.
8. Work out your costs and be absolutely forensic. Include every single expenditure that you can think of from sprays, equipment, and labour right through to the number of wellies you'll wear out.
9. Take your fine tuned budget and add a gratuitous 60% on top.  This is now your budget.
10. Get a vineyard Dog. Make sure he or she is a good listener.

Do we regret giving over eight years of our lives to get our wine off the ground? Not for a single second.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Jancis Robinson.

When I started out in the wine business, there were two people neither of which I have ever met that had a huge influence on me. One was Hugh Johnson and the other was Jancis Robinson. Today there is a whole industry of wine commentators all vying for PR spend of mega bucks wineries but it is still frustratingly rare to find writers that have their happy combination of a fine palate and unforced erudition. Because of this, it is a distinct honour that of 84 English wines tasted on Jancis, only three scored higher than the 17/20 of our 2011 Sparkling. The article is on the purple pages of which are subscription only (something well worth paying for if you're into your wine) but I hope they won't mind me posting it here.
Almost everything about English (and Welsh) wine gives cause for cheer. Labelling is getting better and better, with only a few old-fashioned 'cottage industry' style brands remaining. Plenty of newcomers are releasing their first vintages, keeping the old hands on their toes (so to speak) and giving us Brits a diverse homegrown industry to be proud of.
Smith & Evans, Higher Plot Somerset Chardonnay/Pinot 2011 England
Guy Smith and Laura Evans. 40% Pinot Noir, 35% Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Some 2010 reserve wine. RS 6 g/l. No chaptalisation. Around a third of the wine had three months in third-use French oak from Chateau Smith Haut Lafite, 'sadly no relation!' From low-yielding Dijon clones rather than champagne clones; 'Being burgundian they are intended for interesting still wine which is our starting point'.
Not much nose (to begin with, although it did open up more a couple of days later and kept a very good mousse as well). Fine tight-clenched bead. Super-linear, leafy, laurel, lime. Very appetising, some leesy richness only becoming apparent with time in glass - it's one of those wines that seems quite reticent and first and then opens up to reveal lovely depth. A very gentle aniseed note. Gorgeous tension. Layered. Incredibly good and just their second vintage. One to watch! (TC) 12%
Drink 2016-2021

Thursday, 21 August 2014

We've made it into print in the Western Daily Press - 

West vineyard has something to celebrate

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 07, 2014
Guy Smith and Laura Evans of the vineyard in Aller celebrating the first batch of Somerset's only sparkling wine   PICTURE: SWNS
Guy Smith and Laura Evans of the vineyard in Aller celebrating the first batch of Somerset's only sparkling wine PICTURE: SWNS
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Somerset's first sparkling wine to be made from the same grape varieties as champagne was launched with a pop last week at a vineyard in Langport.
Guy Smith and Laura Evans, of wine-makers Smith & Evans, based at Higher Plot farm in Aller, celebrated the success of their unique venture at an official launch party at Great Bow Wharf.
The 2010 Vintage was made from grape varieties harvested four years ago and is the first sparkling wine ever made in Somerset using the same techniques as champagne.
The sparkling wine will now be on sale at outlets across the county including Williams Supermarket in Somerton and Evans The Butcher in Langport.
Mr Smith, who has been in the wine industry for most of his working life, said: "I always wanted to make wine but I thought I would have to go abroad to do it.
"But we realised that England had this potential for sparkling wine. You need grapes with a very long growing season to get the right flavour.
"The process we used is only really used in Champagne. There are a few sparkling wine makers in Kent, but no others in Somerset.
"I have worked as a wine trader for years but wine making is what we want to do in the long term."
He added: "The launch went really well with around 40 people there – these were the people who have supported and encouraged us throughout and it was good to share our product."
For years the couple dreamed of owning their own vineyard and searched across the county to find the right spot.
In 2007, they discovered the ideal south-facing plot, enriched with Burgundy-style soil, in Aller.
In 2008 they sowed 3,200 vines and transformed a former meadow at Higher Plot Farm into a vineyard.
The first harvest was finally ready for picking in 2010 and the couple were joined by 20 villagers armed with secateurs, wellies and hundreds of storage crates.
The first wine was ready a few years later but today's sparkling wine – made from the grapes harvested in 2010 – has been through a double fermentation process which has taken the best part of four years and gives the wine its fizz.
Mr Smith explained: "The flavours and aromas in our sparkling wines are made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
"We don't produce homogeneous wines year in year out as we want to fully express the character of each season.
"In some years the wine may be a bright white and in others it may have a delightful pink tinge depending on what the grapes decided to do that particular year. Some years are fuller and rounder, others elegant and focussed."
The couple live on the farm with their black Labrador Fred.

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