The Apprentice (without Lord Sugar)

27 09 2016

Continuing my tour of a few English vineyards, I popped into Hattingley Valley to meet Director and Winemaker Emma Rice and new Apprentice Zoe Driver. I was wearing my Worshipful Company of Vintners’ hat today as they are funding Zoe’s courses at Plumpton over the next couple of years. Zoe started on 1st August so it was a good time to visit her before the harvest starts tomorrow!

Zoe, 24, studied English and Drama at university and then spent six months at Domaine Chandon in Yarra Valley, Australia. She was soon completely hooked and on her return to the UK was looking for jobs in the wine industry when she spotted the advert. Emma said they had received a large number of applications but what stood out on Emma’s was her obvious interest, motivation and proactive attitude – plus an excellent reference from Domaine Chandon. 

Her first days were spent on the disgorging line for the English sparkling wines and during the last two months she’s been getting to know the vineyards and winery. She’s very fortunate to have Emma as a mentor and has really enjoyed being part of the team. Zoe has obviously learnt a lot already but her course at Plumpton will help enormously.

Her new-found skills will be put to the test from tomorrow as the first parcels of Pinot Noir Precoce are picked.

Some of this will no doubt find its way into Hattingley Valley’s Sparkling Rose. This happened to be my favourite of the wines tasted. The 2013 has 5% PN Precoce, 59% Pinot Noir and 36% Pinot Meunier and 18 months on lees. Fashionably pale but with proper red fruit flavour, this is very pretty with a creamy mousse. I can see why it has won so many medals.

I actually found myself wishing I could swap places with Zoe. For the last 30 years, I have been used to wine being produced abroad, somewhere I had to travel to, now I find it’s on the doorstep and it’s very exciting…img_5279img_5296


Biodynamics in Wales!

24 09 2016

I’ve been visiting a few English vineyards lately but this week I made a foray into Wales to Ancre Hill Vineyard – just outside Monmouth to be exact. The road there hinted at a special microclimate as we passed gardens planted with the odd Palm tree and, as you can see from the photo, it’s a lush, green area and immensely pretty.

Richard Morris and his son David now have two sites with a total of 20 acres or so, planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, some Triomphe and a small parcel of Albarino from which he has made a few bottles of orange wine (yes you read that correctly Orange Albarino!). 

What sets this vineyard apart is that not only is it certified organic (you have to be a brave man not to spray fungicides in the humid UK climate) but it is also certified biodynamic – I only know of one or two others. David Morris has worked all over the world on organic and biodynamic estates and has built a beautiful winery with a sedum roof, straw bale construction and a straw bale filter and pond system for waste water feeding plants such as willow and comfrey that they use to spray on the vines.

The air frost at the end of April has affected yield this year and there will be less Chardonnay produced but the Pinot Noir tasted sweet and good.

I was frankly gob-smacked as I just hadn’t expected to see this sort of operation in the UK – the last five years have seen incredible developments and it’s actually really exciting to see it all bubbling up!

Tourism is an important part of the business plan with a third of sales through the cellar door.

I tasted a range of wines including the 2010 Blanc de Blancs which was very promising and a 2014 Chardonnay which had a very chiselled purity and a different style from anything I’ve had before – perhaps we’re actually seeing Monmouthshire terroir! I really liked the 2014 Rose (made almost entirely from Pinot Noir) but my favourite was the 2014 red Pinot Noir. It had an ethereal mouthwatering acidity and smoky hint.

I wish the Morris family every success in their pioneering venture and encourage anyone reading to visit and see history being made…img_5245 img_5246 img_5251 img_5256 img_5258 img_5259