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


Glass Matters

7 10 2016

Would you believe that the same wine tastes different out of these three different glasses? I wouldn’t have believed until yesterday. Riedel – The Wine Glass Company held a tasting in London yesterday tutored by Maximilian Riedel. It’s all to do with the rim diameter and the way the wine flows onto your palate. If it hits the tip of your tongue first where you taste sweetness, it makes the wine taste more fruit-forward, the other glasses accentuated the dry tannins. Different wines need different sizes of glass too. A subtle Pinot Noir was swamped in the big egg-shaped glass but loved the diamond shape, whereas a big spicy Aussie Cab needed the big glass to show all its fruit. Fascinating. I am now a convert!img_5426

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!

Weingut Gunderloch, Rheinhessen

29 06 2016

010ed3efab58f295e3b37d6800cc8431c8fe3ce77aJohannes Hasselbach drove us through Pettenthal and Rothenburg vineyards where we saw how the caterpillar tractors have to be attached to a winch as they go down the steep slopes. It was 33 degrees and really hot and only June! In July and August they have to work in the vineyards in the early morning due to the heat.

Known for its sweet wines (which I still prefer), the rise of dry styles is also reflected here.

My picks:

2014 Riesling Rothenburg GG (Grosses Gewachs)

Has an earthiness and good weight. Only 1.7g/l RS yet tastes a little sweeter.

2015 Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett

Johannes says Kabinett wines are enjoying a bit of a renaissance with young people in Germany. This has a nice balance of sweetness and acidity and good length too. Very different style from the dry wines.

2014 Rothenburg Riesling Spatlese

The best wine so far. No botrytis, spontanous fermentation. Nice length.

2014 Rothenburg Riesling Auslese

7.5%abv. Lusciously sweet. Very good. The 2010 also tasted had a lovely silky, honied texture with lemons, limes and cream.

Weingut Louis Guntrum, Rheinhessen

29 06 2016

0194cfbcae34ced399d91eff7205ec6ffa9dd1587cKonstantin welcomed us onto the river terrace of the Nierstein winery with a glass of Perlfein (their version of Prosecco really) and with the sun beating down it was very refreshing. I remember Guntrum wines from way back and I was impressed with the clean, modern style.

The non-Riesling dry wines were eminently enjoyable eg 2015 Scheurebe, 2015 Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), 2014 or 2015 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) – all great drinking wines and an interesting alternative to our usual fare.

Plus Guntrum have some stock of back vintages which have been tasted, approved and recorked as necessary.

Here are my pick of the Rieslings:

2015 Niersteiner Riesling Trocken

Nice concentration at this level, light and refreshing

2014 Oppenheimer Sacktrager Riesling Trocken

More terroir on the nose plus richness and power on the palate.  A pineapple ripe note. (We also tasted the 2001 which was very fresh still with some developed diesel aromas – really good).

2014 Pettenthal GG (this is not the VdP Grosses Gewachs but Guntrum’s own trademark)

Real terroir on the nose, lovely weight. Lovely concentration and length.

2015 Nierstein Orbel Riesling Spatlese

Very rich, starts off sweet then closes slightly. Lovely extract.

2015 Nierstiein Hipping Riesling Auslese

Very closed. Usually a dry GG vineyard but there was so much botrytis they picked it for an Auslese. So long and fine, drier on the finish. Lovely balance.

Weingut Dönnhoff, Nahe

29 06 2016

01bfa6f8e26caf2e56d6bf2fc4702f81bf0038f5e4Helmut Donnhoff is the gentlest, nicest man you’ll ever meet. When we arrived he drove us up to a nearby viewpoint on Lemberg mountain at 420m altitude to look down over the sweeping Nahe and its side valleys. We walked into the Hermannshohle vineyard where the virtually organically-grown grapes benefit from the warmth of the river below and then drove to the famous Felsenberg with the tower.

After a refreshing beer and a jolly good dinner we reconvened the next day for the tasting. What enchanting wines are these! Precision, finesse, terroir-driven. I could go on and on. Overall fantastically pure wines that are a delight to drink.

Difficult to pick out favourites here as I liked them all…

2015 Donnhoff Riesling Dry

Crisp, clean, nice balance between acidity and fruit. Light and refreshing. (Tonschiefer is very good too.)

2015 Kreuznacher Kahlenberg Riesling Dry

Earthy good nose – smell the terroir. This is very good. Lovely weight, long and fine.

2015 Roxheimer Hollenpfad Riesling Dry

Red sandstone (the only patch in the Nahe). Zippier, chiselled. Also very fine, more mineral.

The following were cask samples:IMG_0013

2015 Felsenberg Riesling Dry GG (Grosses Gewachs)

Has a smoky, minerality from the volcanic rock – red sandstone. Wow, lovely concentration here, searingly good. Like an elegant lady on a thoroughbred horse. Finish is so long!

2015 Dellchen Riesling Dry GG

Smells of wet stones. This has wonderful crispness and a saline, lime quality too.

2015 Hermannshohle Riesling Dry GG

Very floral, light, delicate, then develops on the finish. Very feminine, very, very fine. Lime-leaf notes.

‘Fruity’ style ie sweet:

2015 Estate Riesling

More texture and weight than the Dry version. 25-28g/l RS, 8.9g/l acidity.

2015 Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett

SE facing, slate. Very delicate, lovely minerality. A little closed at the moment.

2015 Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Spatlese

A bit closed but really structured and very good. Will age well. Very lime-leaf, primary, saline.

2015 Oberhauser Brucke (monopole) Riesling Spatlese01a7924f5a816d42483ce4183c347dd5412a6e763c

Spritz. Delicate, lacy, dancing, long. Lovely.

2015 Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese

Volcanic soils. Can see the weight but quite closed still.

2015 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Auslese

7.5%, >100g/l RS. More colour, more restrained. Botrytis nose. Very long, some mandarin and apricot flavours. Incredibly fine.

Jean Stodden, Ahr

29 06 2016

012ee143f68dfcb4310d2f24b0a21fc99ec8f6997eLook closely at this photograph and you’ll see the slate bedrock coming up underneath the wall built to terrace the 90 degree sloped vineyard above. That’s how close the slate is to the surface here in Stodden’s vineyards above the small town of Rech in the Ahr.


Alexander Stodden drove us here in his very smart (and fast!) car and the Ahr looks such a pretty river, I’d definitely come here for a holiday. In fact you can get the train here from Bonn, exit the platform and you’ll find yourself right outside the back of Stodden’s cellar (which is currently being extended). His vineyards are up the hill on the other side of the tracks looking over the valley floor and natural amphitheatre of vines which provides a microclimate that can reach temperatures of 50 degrees in the summer!

This is a very special estate with fabulous Pinot Noirs. If you are a Burgundy fan then you must try them. Here were some of my favourites:

2013 Spatburgunder JS

10% new oak gives this a scent of sweet vanilla. Very moreish, balanced and harmonious.

2005 as above

Still looks and smells youthful with a sweet meat and spice nose, good acidity and energy. Ageing very well.

2013 Recher Herrenberg Spatburgunder

Concentrated and velvety. Very pretty, aromatic, warming. Very good indeed.

2007 as above

Lovely clarity, pure drinkable fruit. Hardly budged, ageing very gracefully. Drinking very well.

2013 Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spatburgunder GG (Grosses Gewachs)

This is grown 10kms away on virtually pure rock. There is real terroir on the nose here, much more structure and drier tannins. Very burgundian. Not cheap but so good.

2013 Recher Herrenberg Spatburgunder GG

Smells like a very pretty Gevrey or Chambolle. This has terroir but also real lift in the mouth. Fabulous, long, expressive. Very fine.