Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Right Place Wrong Wine

We caught up with our friends Bernie and June that we rediscovered on facebook the other weekend who we hadn't seen for more than 20 years , well if you must move to Africa then it's hardly surprising that you lose touch. It was a red wine evening and they brought some Wolf Blass Shiraz and Cab Shiraz. I opened a bottle of Domaine Chevalier 1996 which if you bought it today would cost around 5 times as much money as the two Wolf wines put together.
On an evening of shared memories of 1980's London clubs, squats and music, the Aussie wines were just great - quite sweet, rich, lots of fun. The expensive Bordeaux, a bit underwhelming and somehow out of place.

I have drunk the Chevalier a few times and really enjoy it - it has everything that I like about great claret because it's light dry wine without too much alcohol and has a smell that goes beyond fruit into nice cedary overtones. There's just no way that you would necessarily want to glug it that's all. It makes me think of how almost all wine producing countries divide drinks into every day and special occasion - Vin de Soif and Vin de Garde in France. In Italy if a wine is serious they call it Vina Meditatzione. Thinking Wine.
Well, sometimes you just really want fabulous non thinking wine and that Friday was one of them.

When we all lived in a housing co operative (squat to the rest of you) in the 80's I was working in a fine wine shop and regularly used to bring home half full bottles left over from tastings at work. I was all for extracting every last taste from each glass. They just enjoyed them.

Monday, 15 November 2010

What will Aller Hill wine taste Like?

On Saturday we tasted our wine.
It's not difficult to describe the emotions that we were going through,  we were quite quiet in the car as we drove off the motorway. To be honest there was more trepidation than excitement.
Up until this point you really can't be absolutely certain what your land is going to produce. You know that in theory it is a great site and also that the grapes were ripe and balanced but every vineyard brings it's own distinctive charateristcs that come through in the wine. In Burgundy a Grand cru vineyard can be 200 yards away from a simple Villages plot that sells for a quarter of the price. Over the years (centuries) owners have been able to track in detail which site does best.
This was the time to see for the first time what, if anything, would stand out. We were tasting with Martin Fowke who has a better perspective than us as he has a hand in wines from 30-30 vineyards each year.

Making sparkling wine, most producers are aiming for very neutral base wines but the best, need a bit of  character if your wine is to stand out.
The verdict - first lots of qualifications, the wine has just stopped fermenting, it's slightly cloudy, it is still on its lees but....... it is good. Potentially it is very good.

There are three tanks. One is predominantly Chardonnay - ours has a fresh mineral gunflint edge to the aroma and is very clean to taste. The Pinot Blend is slightly rounder and richer with a very subtle fruit aroma. The still wine blend of all three varietals is softer again but still as dry and crisp as something like a good Chablis.

The thing that all three have in common is something that is hard to explain but wine makers describe it as structure. For example, there are wines from vineyards with the same varieties with the same levels of sugar and acidity that  are differently balanced to ours, perhaps not as elegant or having the potential to age so well. I have been cynical about "Terroir" how the land affects the wine but,  Martin is clear that our site is certainly contributing something beyond our own inputs.

So, we have something very good to work with - now it is down to us to make the right winemaking decisions so as not to mess it up! The first one is that we are going to buy a French barrel which isn't to give an oaky flavour but to allow a proportion of the wine to breathe and open up (controlled oxidation). Beyond this - there'll be no messin around!

Monday, 8 November 2010

What Happened Next - the Winery

If you saw Countryfile on the BBC two weeks ago they had a feature on English wine and filmed a vineyard owner delivering his grapes to Three Choirs Winery in Gloucestershire. Four weeks ago - that was me. Tasting the Juice, taking a hydrometer mesurement and generally trying to take it in despite more tired  than running the marathon.Three years work sitting in  9 plastic bins outside a winery in Gloucestershire on a cold wet Sunday morning. At least Martin the winemaker had the good grace to comment on how good the fruit  looked before carting them off on the forklift.

This is one of the Chardonnay bins being loaded into the crusher which also takes off the stems. Two days of nagging people to handle the grapes so that they don't get damaged undone in about 2 minutes and the result is -----


Ahem - yes, the gentle moving of the precious juice using nothing but the force of gravity
that delicately transports the crushed grapes.

I should be in marketing.

No, get it into the press as soon as you can to get as little contact with oxygen as possible.


This is the press just befor it's closed up and started. It works like a huge balloon that gently crushes the grapes as it inflates. The first portion goes off for the sparkling wine as it has to be very very lightly pressed and the last third will be used for still wine which needs a bit more body.  
This is where the wine is now - I know they aren't quite your gleaming new world winery stainless steel and look more like household hot water tanks but, they are actually double lined brewery tanks which are excellent at  keeping  variations in temperature down to a minimum.  -There are two tanks of sparkling blend, one predominantly Chardonnay, the other all Pinot. The tank for still wine is an equal blend of all three and we will be leaving it on it's lees after fermentation fo gain some extra complexity
If we have time we are going to call in to see how the wine is getting on at the end of this week which is going to be emotional. it's very easy to forget that it's there. It's very early to taste but we should be able to get some indication of how it's going to end up.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Aller Hill 2010 Vintage

8.00am October 2nd Aller Hill.

Times are very strange at Higher Plot Farm. For example, this Sunday we got up late, read the papers, went for a great walk in the countryside and then cooked a late Sunday lunch before consuming as much period drama and Antique roadshow as is possible for two people. It seems like an eternity ago that we were spending every waking moment and even a few sleeping moments, worrying about ripeness and disease in the vines, transport of grapes, would we have enough pickers and enough Lassagne to feed them with.
In the end - everybody that worked that day was brilliant if for no other reason but putting up with two overtired stressed out vineyard owners. Photos were taken by our friend Bernie Brough.

Beautifully Ripe Pinot Meunier.

Morning Frosts.

Obligatory Photo of ball obsessed Fred.

The result of all this labour  - 2500 or so litres of excellent quality white wine that is now taking a rest after first fermentation. Today, I'll be doing a final spray in the vineyard and then...it begins all over again. Winter pruning starts from the end of next week.