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 Robinson.com, only three scored higher than the 17/20 of our 2011 Sparkling. The article is on the purple pages of http://www.jancisrobinson.com/ 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.

Read more: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/West-vineyard-celebrate/story-22127581-detail/story.html#mIExJ58KRBwZIiI1.01#ixzz3B1X4BVmW

Read more at http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/West-vineyard-celebrate/story-22127581-detail/story.html#pPbBITYzmRb3mI2J.99

Friday, 6 June 2014

Miguel - Grandpa to Smith and Evans.

Miguel Merino.

The man in this photo is Miguel Merino who in some ways is the inspiration for Smith and Evans wine. In the mid 1990s when I was working for the Spanish company Freixenet, I was asked to have dinner with the export guy for a Navarra winery called Ochoa. This sort of thing could be a real chore but Miguel was great and we had a lot of laughs. He was talking about buying a building a winery from scratch.

 In his own words -
Since the beginning of my exporting career I have long dreamt of having my own small "bodega", where I could make a few bottles of wine of the best quality possible. Briones, in the heart of the Rioja Alta,  gathered all the conditions  I was looking for: old steep vineyards of Tempranillo grapes, chalky soil and a climate showing a marked Atlantic influence. Declared a town of historic and artistic merit, Briones is where we decided to site our bodega.
 Twenty years ago, we restored an old 19th Century house on the outskirts of the town. On the adjoining land we built facilities for  vinification, barrel and bottle ageing and planted a small experimental vineyard.
 Now, as one of the smallest and youngest wineries in Spain —our first vintage was 1994— our wines are among the most prestigious in the country, and we are exporting them to over 30 markets. This encourages us to grow, not in quantity, but to constantly improve our style; how to get the best from each grape and each barrel. To continue to enjoy our wine-making
Miguel's Bodega.
It had honestly never ever occured to us that a regular bloke with neither a trust or  hedge fund could do this. One of the first adages you are taught  is that to make a small fortune in the wine trade you have to start with a large one. Looking back on the first seven years of the vineyard I think that actually maybe that's true. Many of those that are now planting vines in England seem to have biographies that say so and so bought the land in their second life after making piles and piles of cash in their first life.

We have always called him  Big Mig in hommage to the great Indurain  and over the years we have always seen each other at the various wine fairs around the world but as is often the way, we rarely had time to properly catch up until this week when I showed him a picture of our bottle number 1 ( I doubt he remembers but he gave us his bottle number 4). Miguels advice? Congratulations, you have done the hard bit. Now that your wine is going out into the wide world the real worrying begins.  Suffice to say, he and his sons make truly great wine. You can read more about them at  www.miguelmerino.com/  If we ever finally get an online shop going, we must try to get some of his wines.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Double Decker Vines.

Double Guyot.

When we planted at Higher Plot we chose a system called Double Guyot. Not because it had my name in the title but just because that's what French people did.  Not exactly scientific but as good as anything to start with as it wouldn't stress the vines too much. What we have found is that the plants are happy here, maybe too happy and we can't have that. They give a good yield of grapes but they are also pretty vigorous growing lots of greenery and there's no market for leaves unless you are a Dolmades producer. What we need to do is to transfer that energy into extra grapes.

Scott Henry

This year we're experimenting with double decker vines. This will mean more shoots but shorter ones. This has benefits in that less greenery means that there's better airflow which reduces the risk of disease and also potentially better quality as there's less shading and more light to ripen the grapes. Just to name drop, it was recommended to us by the illustrious Richard Smart no less. There are downsides.  The bottom row is trained downwards to just about bunny height so they will be munching on the tips. The top deck is trained upwards and so we'll be looking for people with very long arms to harvest.
Will it work? Maybe, watch this space.