Woodchester Valley Vineyards, Gloucestershire, UK

7 08 2017

A few hundred years have passed since William of Malmesbury wrote about the wines of Gloucestershire in the twelfth century, saying, “This county is planted thicker with Vineyards than any other in England, more plentiful in crops, and more pleasant in flavour. For the wines do not offend the mouth with sharpness, since they do not yield to the French in sweetness.” (De Gestis Pontif, book iv.)

At that time the UK climate was nearing the end of a Medieval Warm Period when grapes seemingly ripened as well as in France, with a good balance of sugar and acidity. The Little Ice Age that followed put paid to many English vineyards but recent warmer temperatures have resulted in a resurgence. Whilst the southeast of England currently has the biggest concentration of vineyards in the UK, one wonders whether the county of Gloucestershire will one day return to centre stage?

Three Choirs has been flying the flag for wines from Gloucestershire for many years now, not only producing wines from their own 75 acre vineyards but also vinifying wines for smaller local vineyards. When the first vines were planted in 2007 by Fiona Shiner near Nailsworth for Woodchester Valley Vineyard they were taken to Three Choirs to be made into wine, both still and sparkling. But now, ten years on, Woodchester has three vineyard sites between Nailsworth and Stroud totaling 45 acres and production has increased to the level that it makes economic sense to build their own winery.

When I visited last year the winery was just being made ready to accept the 2016 harvest. Last week Fiona invited me to return to see it finished and to taste some of the new wines with winemaker Jeremy Mount.

First up was Culver Hill 2016, 11.5% abv made from a blend of 50% Bacchus with the remainder from Seyval Blanc, Pinot Gris and Ortega. Crisp, appley notes on the nose with a touch of gooseberry and melon, it opens up on the palate with more floral aromas and a peachy quality. Nice, zesty acidity, this is perfect for picnics and as a perky aperitif.

The next pair of wines were particularly interesting as they were both 100% Bacchus vinified with the same yeast in stainless steel, but they tasted very different due to differences in the age of the vines, site and soil. The first Bacchus 2016, 11.5% abv has a very delicate, pretty floral nose and notable concentration on the palate. The fruit has a steely precision and good length. Very good.

The second Bacchus, named Orpheus Bacchus 2016, 12% abv is from older vines on the Woodchester and Amberley sites where the extra ripeness has added a touch of passionfruit to the nose and given the wine added weight and texture. This is a super wine which develops richness and power in the mouth, a sure-fire medalwinner and serious stuff. I’m not sure how many bottles were made but I would snap this up when it is released.

Next I tasted two roses. The Pinot Rose 2016, 11% abv, is a deepish pink with notes of redcurrant and rosehip on the nose following through onto the palate which has medium weight and a crisp finish. Very attractive.

The last wine tasted was the Regent Rose 2016, 12% abv which has a touch of residual sugar, just 5 g/l, making it very appealing. Delicate, pale in colour, this is well balanced and surprisingly good. Both these roses will prove popular.

Having spent most of the last 25 years having to travel abroad to visit vineyards, I somehow feel I’m in a different country when I visit a winery in the UK and I kept having to remind myself that I was only half an hour from home. English wines certainly have their own unique style, which happily coincides for the trend in lighter, aromatic styles. Later this month I will be visiting British Columbia and Vancouver Island where they also grow Ortega and Bacchus. It will be very interesting to compare notes…

Woodchester Valley Vineyards now have a shop on the A46 so look out for when their 2016s are released for sale.

Putting theory into practice…

18 10 2016

It’s a long time since I passed my Master of Wine and an even longer time since I picked grapes and worked a short stint in a winery. I’ve visited hundreds of vineyards over the years but they are generally all abroad and I see a snapshot on one day of the year only. Being able to study the vines and monitor the grapes on a weekly basis at the Royal Agricultural University’s vineyard outside Cirencester, has been a real eye-opener and I have learnt so much!

1. How quickly a vine produces grapes from the flowering. In just 100+ days from early July to now.

2. How many grapes a vine can produce! We had a small yield this year but there were still 3.5 tonnes of grapes to harvest.

3. How many diseases there are trying to trip you up at every stage and how assiduous you have to be with your spraying programme.

4. How calming it is to work in the vines when all is going well but also how stressful it is when there are problems.

5. How you need a good team of people with complimentary skills. How much fun it is. How great the feeling is of getting the grapes safely harvested, pressed and in the vats.

Now I’m looking forward to the winemaking phase and learning just as much.img_5495 img_5500 img_5511 img_5518 img_5525 img_5535 img_5537 img_5541

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

Jubilant at Aldwick Court Farm

21 08 2016

You meet the nicest people in the wine industry – it’s one of the great joys of my job. On Friday I visited Aldwick Court Farm, tucked away in the rolling countryside a few miles south of Bristol Airport – working farm, events venue and vineyard owned by Sandy Luck with longtime friend and Vineyard Manager Elizabeth Laver.

I visited here once before some 8 years ago just after the first vines had been planted and the event space just being built. On Friday I walked through a further field of beautifully tended vines planted in 2010 and saw the prettily decorated room overlooking the vineyard all set up for a wedding later that day (the bride and groom have their photos taken amongst the vines!). There’s a tasting room and shop now too. 

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Sandy who took over the farm after her brother died unexpectedly and for a while the vines were left to do their own thing. Elizabeth stepped in to help and got totally hooked on viticulture and together they have have created an award-winning operation.

The wines are made by Steve Brooksbank at Bagborough whose calm pragmatism and passion shows through in the clear pure flavours of the wines.

My tasting notes:

2013 Jubilate, English Sparkling Wine, Traditional Method Brut, Aldwick Court Farm
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Seyval Blanc
Crisp and still very youthful, the fruit has good precision and the balance is well judged. Will develop well over the next 12 months. Lovely label too (designed by a fellow Master of Wine who has a design agency in Bath)

2015 Bacchus, Aldwick Court Farm
Characterful fresh green floral nose – a delicious example of Bacchus. The fruit is notably ripe with good depth and super length. A really lovely glass of wine.

2015 Finbar, Aldwick Court
70% Madeleine Angevine, 30% Seyval Blanc
Nose is quite distinct from the Bacchus, with slight lemonade/ sherbet notes. There is good weight on the palate, overall a good clean fresh wine.

2015 Mary’s Rose, Aldwick Court
Solaris, Regent, Pinot Noir
Pretty pale pink with appealing delicate redcurrant nose. Delivers very attractive flavour on the palate, this is quite full and fresh with some some lively spritz on the palate. Good flavour and moreish! (This got a Gold medal at the English Wine of the Year competition)

For further details go to their website: http://www.aldwickcourtfarm.co.ukimg_5007

Going for Gold – at Camel Valley Vineyard

16 08 2016

There’s nowhere quite like it! As Team GB are winning Golds at the Olympics and are second on the leaderboard, on the English wine front we’re doing just as well. With Gold medals at all the major competitions we’ve piqued the interest of the Champagne houses who are investing in land over himg_4977 img_4979 img_4985 img_4987ere. Our reputation is built upon sparkling but we can be just as proud of our still white, rose and even some red wines now too. Global warming is certainly helping but we’re also developing the know how and the experience – amply demonstrated by the modest Sam Lindo at Camel Valley Vineyards within cycling distance from Padstow in Cornwall. I like the way Bob and Sam have developed their business, focussing on what works, growing organically, keeping things simple, keeping a level head. They know that the vagaries of the British climate can pose threats for a single site operation so they have wisely developed a multi-site approach, ensuring a reliable consistent supply of grapes. Production is now around 200,000 bottles and at that size they’re small enough to be in constant high demand. You’ll find Camel Valley wines only at the best outlets. I asked Sam what his favourite food and wine pairing was, expecting him to say something like freshly-caught brill with Darnibole Bacchus but in typically down-to-earth style his favourite is Cornish fish and chips with Camel Valley Brut – so good you’d do it twice!

Bacchus rules OK

20 06 2012

Buy Bacchus wine from Britain

Bacchus, the signature grape for still dry English white wines. Not just prettily floral like an English summer garden, the wines judged at this week’s competition showed that it is capable of real concentration and excitement. Taste enough of these and you will spot this varietal just as easily as Sauvignon Blanc. It could catch on in an equally addictive way! Spread the word…

The white sparkling wines are world class and so now are the rosé sparkling – Laurent Perrier watch out as English rosé sparkling is cool and trendy!

The results will be announced very shortly.

English Sparkling Wine producers fizzing with anger

23 05 2012

Really not sure what to think about this. Pommery are not the only ones who are taking advantage of the Olympics being in the UK to use the Union Jack on their packaging. Producers of English sparkling wines are fizzing with anger – how can a French sparkling wine be more British than an English sparkling wine?? Of course I can completely see their point but actually it’s a bit embarrassing. What a missed opportunity by the English sparkling wine producers to do something similar (unless someone is and I don’t know)! To be fair individual estates do not have the funds to match the big Champagne houses to pay for marketing like this and I doubt the generic association would have this sort of money either. It’s a bit brash, very bold and I warrant very successful…