Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dumb, Dumber and Marketing

Solutions to what exactly?
 I rarely feel the urge to rant on a blog. Actually, I rarely feel the urge to rant full stop.In a nice gentle way I have vines, winemaking and cider to write about . If people are interested then that's lovely but I suppose that I write the stuff mostly as my way of recording what changes on the farm.As a middle aged Englishman I obviously have an inbuilt genetic hatred of people who throw litter out of car windows and of people that queue jump but that's unavoidble.
In my day job I get to write quite a lot of copy for products whether it's for back labels, websites or press releases. I enjoy it but there are those lazy lazy words and phrases that you could so easily slip in to save having to use a single brain cell, it's so tempting but you know that you would feel ashamed and unclean afterwards.
Authentic - as in, Authentic Italian Pizza produced in Germany/Ireland
Edgy -   any product aimed at middle aged people trying to believe that they are cutting edge as in This Premium Foccacia Slicer has Edgy Italian design.
Cutting Edge -  Edgy for Top Gear viewers.
Premium - Cheap but with more Alcohol, Fat, Sugar ( delete as appropriate)
Crafted - Made by the millions by Robots.
Hand Crafted -  Made by Robots and packed by a Robert.
Passionate -  I have honestly seen "We are passionate about toilet  and personal hygiene products"
Innovative -  Same product, new pack.
Excellence - Ordinary. The phrase "Excellence as Standard" gives 153 000 000 results on Google.
Pursuit of Excellence -  Can't even do ordinary. 
Best Practice - We adhere to a strict set of rules and have no imagination or flexibility.

Mission Statement -  All of the above rearranged in random fashion.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Making Real Cider

At one time virtually every farm in Somerset had its own cider barn where householders would make cider for themselves and their workforce. They were usually partially under ground and had a tree planted right next to them to keep them nice and cool in the summer. This photo was taken at Higher Plot sometime late in the 19th century and shows the barn on the left with its newly planted tree. 

Sadly this year the tree didn't show any signs of life and so will have to come down after more than 100 years. It may re-grow from the roots but if not, we will plant a new one.

A very small number of farms in Somerset still make cider in the traditional way and I went down the road to Beer Aller to help out at Nightingale Farm where they use an old press and crusher to mill local apples. Unlike wine making there's no sulphur, cold stabilisation or anything like that just the natural yeasts from the apples. As they say, the force of the ferment will be strong enough to get rid of any impurities ( but not in quite such a polite way).

The way to make it is to build what's called a cheese which is alternate layers of the crushed apples and straw inside a wooden mould. It is quite skilled and hard work which is lubricated with a supply of early season Morgan Sweet cider. It also helps being tall so that you can reach the top of the cheese which could be why they asked me.

Once finished, a heavy wood board is lifted on top and the screw lowered down. The weight of the apples will start the juice flowing and once the pressure is applied it becomes a dark brown torrent. Then all there is left to do is to occasionally turn the screw whilst having a chat and some more cider. We tasted the end of last years cider which locally is called Screech because this is what it makes you want to do. It's completely dry and acid but is just about OK if mixed with the fresh juice.

The result can be delicious particularly when young and we are trying to pursuade Roger and Linda to do an extra batch for us to bottle. It would mean a cider that has been made for hundreds of years being sold for the first time which I suppose is a way of keeping it alive. I can't help feeling that if this was being made in France or Italy us Brits would be raving about a traditional product and way of life and how wonderful it is. Because it's on our doorstep we aren't interested.  Happily there are signs that enough people want to keep this alive simply because it's unique and, most importantly, it tastes great.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Vineyard this Summer

The vines are looking good this year - lots of grapes although some slightly uneven development.The most important month will be September when they complete ripening. In many places in Europe they have already started harvesting due to the warm spring - this is almost unheard of and Winemakers in France have even had to take their holidays in July and not August - Bonnet de Douche! to quote Del Boy Trotter. I'm not sure what this will mean for quality but it will be a large crop in many regions. Our next step is Veraison when the grapes change colour, swell and soften up which we would expect in two weeks or so. Then, it's hoping and praying.

Nice Neat Rows

Work in Progress Rows

Pinot Meunier

Friday, 1 July 2011

Smith and Evans Pinot Chardonnay

This is it. 
 After three years outdoors in all weathers risking life and limb on potentially lethal agricultural machinery - the first 600 Bottles.
We really concentrate on sparkling wine and  I suppose that for us the still wine has been partly in its shadow. We made it mainly just as something good for us to drink and perhaps a bit to sell. We are now thinking that we should take it a bit more seriously. It's good.

For something made from young vines it has real structure and balance. Admitedly it's not Comte Lafon Le Montrachet Grand Cru 1996 and the Marquis de Laguiche won't be losing too much sleep but, it's like a well made Chablis but less neutral with more aromatics.
 The only thing to do as soon as it arrived, road test it -
Day 1 Nasi Goreng Noodles Salmon and Pinot Chardonnay.
Obviously, the first thing we did was the sitting in the sun drinking your own wine overlooking your own vineyard cliche. Where are daytime TV cameras when you need them?  Then dinner - It works with spicy foods.  Today, a visit to the fishmonger for it's shellfish credentials.

This is big for us, all the research in the world can tell you  that a vineyard had great potential but, you honestly never really know until you taste the finished wine. There is still an element of mystery as to why one site works better than another. In Burgundy a wine that sells for £100 can be right next door to one that only fetches £10. This is what makes it so interesting.
If we had the money, we would happily drink the whole lot ourselves although 600 bottles for two people in a year is a bit much even for us. The news is, the wine is good and we love it  but, as the vines root down and really start to express themselves, we now know that one day the potential is there to make something really special.

Friday, 8 April 2011

What's the Point?

Aller Hill This Morning.

In the last three years, working the vineyard has sometimes seemed like an end in itself. It has a life of it's own full of numerous pleasures, miseries and anxieties. You work towards each step from planting to winter pruning or deleafing and feel some sort of achievement once it's done and move onto the next one.  Some vineyard owners are like competitive pushy parents -  the same old cuckoo like calls herald the coming of spring with extraordinary tales of how their Rondo is sprouting Triffid like into life or their Seyval has 15 kilos of grapes per vine and could speak three languages by the age of four .
The thing is, it's easy to forget the whole point - trying to make great wine that somebody just might  want to buy and enjoy.
Sneak Preview

Well, the time is rapidly coming when we are going to have to present the fruits of our labours (sorry couldn't help myself) to the wider world. The label is almost finished, one more trip to the winery to go work through  cold stabilisation, filtration  and bottling procedure and then that's it - Bottle Number One for Sale.
We are nervous but excited - the wine has been developing well but you really never know until it is finally in bottle and has had a couple of weeks to settle down.
Then - it will only be two more years until the sparkling is ready which is what we planted for. Still - that's two more years of obsessing about the vineyard to enjoy in between.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Somerset Cider - Natural Revolution.

Roger Wilkins - by Banksy?
There's a bit of a Cider and Perry revolution going on the West Country. We went to Wilkins cider farm this weekend. Tasted straight from the vat it's  fresh, clean and completely delicious. Unfortunately within a day of bringing it home it oxidises and starts refermenting. It's not undrinkable but certainly not nearly as good as when freshly drawn. That's because it's natural and alive and not a heavily processed product.

It is often the same when you taste bulk wine - it's full of flavour but if you bottled it unchanged you run risks of the wine having tartrate cristals, being cloudy or even exploding. This made me think about the debate raging (do wine bloggers have the energy to rage?) about "natural" wine.   We have all heard about wine not travelling and drunk something great on holiday that is dull and lifeless when you get home - a bit like me. This must be to do with surroundings but also, when somebody knows that their produce whether it's fruit, vegetables or wine is going to be consumed immediately and locally, they don't have to pasturise, add sulphur, cold stabilise or use any other preserving method. With city life you are always going to have to accept compromises.
There are now many people including ourselves aspiring to bottling really great cider that has flavours unique to the region where it's produced. So far, we haven't used any preservatives but frankly, that's only because we've been lucky - we have cider in barrels that were fermented with wild yeasts but, I don't dare open them. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of them was spoiled. That's the risk you take.
What am I saying? Natural products are about where you consume them. They are always going to be the exception if you live in a city.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

England Will Never Be The Same Again.

I am used to living two separate lives.
One consists of small entreprenurial growers in England and Wales who are on first name terms with each of their vines and make individualistic wines (good and bad) that reflect themselves (invariably good) and their land. That's not to say that the people involved are all retired military types with too much time on their hands - there are plenty of bright people who have just decided that this is the lifestyle for them.

My other life is the one that pays me money. Dealing with growers and buyers over millions of litres of product destined for retailers here and abroad. Competition is cutthroat and there is no margin for error as the recent enforced sales of the largest wine companies has proved. Despite the numbers involved,  I often won't even see a bottle of it  until it appears on a shelf . You just trust that those containers are actually on a ship or truck like the shippers say they are.
Things have changed. For a while now money has been coming into planting English vineyards. 100 acres planted here, 200 there but all of a sudden Mark Draper from Twickenham has decided to plant 660 acres which is 300 times more than Guy and Laura ex of Twickenham! This is enough land  to make a quantity equivalent to sales of the Number 1 Champagne - Moet et Chandon.

Mark Draper.

From a situation where virtually every English grower is selling all their wine every year with very little effort, you are going to have serious competition for "share of throat" ( my alltime favourite drinks marketing phrase). My two worlds are colliding and soon we're all going to be living in a wine producing country, at least for a while.