Thursday, 23 September 2010

It’s great to be back in Castillon, with the fever of vintage in the air.

They seem to come round quicker ever year, or maybe it’s just that people are still talking about last year and how great it was.

On that subject dad flew over for the weekend and together we racked the 09 Verniotte out of barrel and blended it all into a tank. The aromas of strawberry ice cream filled the cellar, I really have never smelt or seen a Castillon like this.

The wine is so dark purple in colour that if you spilt a bit on top of the barrels it stains it. You can’t get rid of it like usual, no matter how much sulphur I use it won’t budge. So my nice clean barrels I’ve had all year now look like they’ve been kept in a slaughter house.

But what might you ask does 2010 look like? Well one thing is for sure, there ain’t very much! Bad flowering in June has meant a very low crop this year and on top of that it has been extremely dry over the summer and so the berries are very small with little juice.

All this means that the fruit is extremely ripe and concentrated, sugar levels that I have never seen before. But no-one has picked because the acid is also high and everyone is also waiting for phenolic ripeness. Growers seem to be much better informed around here now as 5 years ago everyone would have started picking by now. Also there is rain predicted for Friday, and I think everyone is hoping some of it will get into the fruit to give a bit more juice, but we shall see!!

On Friday we are going to pick a very small amount of La Clariere, the young vines that have been really stressed in the heat and are very tired and want to be picked. But I don’t think the main picking will start until the middle of next week.

I reckon we will start Verniotte on Wednesday! The vines are healthy, if a little thirsty, but 2010 is looking superb and I can’t complain, except about volume, so I’m definitely a farmer now!


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

30 Years and counting

Today I am 30 years old, and I feel very happy. I’ve always looked forward to being older and wiser, maybe because I have always had a ‘baby face’ as Kaye puts it. I’m never really bothered about birthdays, but I guess when you reach a milestone like this you can’t help but reminisce.

My twenties have certainly been focused around wine and winemaking, learning and experiencing every year. When I started making wine properly for myself, at 22, I reckon I thought it was pretty easy, probably because I got lucky with some good vintages and had some excellent help. But as the years have progressed I have learnt that it is never plain sailing and problem solving is part and parcel of making anything.

Wine producers like to give the impression that everything is done perfectly and all is well all the time, but most of the time this is not true, but that’s what makes it so exciting. Making a good wine in difficult years gives a greater sense of achievement than making it in a perfect growing season (like Bordeaux 2009).

I tried my Wilson Gunn 2004 recently, and was truly amazed at how it tasted. When released it wasn’t the usual powerhouse, knock your head off wine like 2003, but it has aged much better, elegant and really classy. But the sad thing is that most people have probably drunk it already, and so can’t experience what I have. This is a constant conundrum in my head. The pressure to release young wines is great, because we need the money to make the following years wine. But even if we tell people to keep hold of it, they will probably drink it too early anyway, unless they have a massive cellar, which most people don’t.

Laithwaites are about to release my new 2008 Verniotte in the September catalogue. My first vintage from my new Castillon vineyards. I am very proud of it, but I know it will drink better in say 3 years. Not that it is not good now, but I know it will get better, because of my new found 30 yr old wiseness! But in 3 years it will be all gone, so if you do buy a case or 6 bottles (very nice packaging!) please, please save some bottles, you will not regret it, I promise!

Anyway enough of that, it is fast approaching vintage time in Bordeaux and I have to drive out tomorrow. I have finished tidying my UK vineyard (see Pic) and can now leave knowing they can finish out the season in a weed free manner. 2010 is shaping up to be another monster year, I think the Bordelaise are going to run out of words soon to describe vintages. But before we pick I have to rack the ‘great’ 2009 vintage, a chance to do the final blend and then tell you how it tastes.


Monday, 23 August 2010

A Damp End!

It’s Monday morning and we’ve probably received about half the month’s rainfall in one night. I didn’t hear it stop. So it seems like after the promising start to the summer, it will just fizzle out into autumn.

But I’m not that bothered really, as the young UK vines have had a lot to drink and after suffering from the lack of rainfall in June/July, they can’t have any complaints anymore, and have responded with some good growth.

We have seen some Potassium and Magnesium deficiency in some of the vines, even though we added this to the soil before we ploughed it. But because of the dry weather it has taken quite a while to be dispersed throughout the soil and consequently into the roots of the vines. Although it has been easy to treat with foliar sprays, so all is well.

The guys should finish the trellising this week. It has taken them much longer than they predicted, due to our dry, flinty, chalk soil. Which is great for vines, but not so easy to smash posts into!

It will soon be time to swap my attention over to Bordeaux, where the fruit is ripening well in the hot weather, and fingers crossed for a dry September so we can have yet another great wine in the cellar.

I’ll probably be heading out after my birthday on the 15th (will be 30!!!!!), and start getting ready for my favorite time of year, and am glad to say I will be joined by my younger brother Tom who is flying back from Oz just to help out!


Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Time for Trellising

Today marks the start of our last big job of the season, installing the trellising system for the vineyard. This is the framework needed so we can train the vine into the right shape, helping to get the best out of each vine by maximizing sun exposure whilst also aiding mechanization. It’s going to take about 3 weeks to complete and for once, much to my satisfaction, we have other people to do this!

We have chosen to use metal post, which although are slightly more expensive, do last a good 25 years, which is re-assuring. And because of our hard, flinty ground, they're much easier to put in than wood.

As for the vines, well they have had a tough few months of it with the serious lack of rain, and pretty much stopped growing for a while. Thankfully the last couple of weeks we have seen some moisture and the tips have started growing again.

So far it is shaping up to be a good UK vintage for established vineyards, although not so great for the new plantings, but they should have it easier next year. It’s also been pretty hot out in Bordeaux as well, with people already bigging up the vintage. But there is still a long way to go, and as we have seen many times before, always comes down to the autumn!

We also enjoyed an English sparkling wine tasting on Sunday, after helping my mum and Cherry label their very first vintage of Wyfold - the sparkling produced from their own 1 hectare plot - made at Ridgeview in West Sussex.

We tasted all the top names from the industry, Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down etc. This was the first chance to taste all these wines together, along with Wyfold and Theale vineyard. I was amazed by the different styles of each wine, and it was quite clear that they were not Champagne, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Such diversity was great to see, and made me wonder how ours would eventually turn out.

I was once told that sparkling is the ultimate expression of Terroir, mainly because they are all made in exactly the same way, so any differences are down to the vineyard site. In Champagne this is hidden as most are blends from many sites and often years, but this is not the case for many UK wines, which maybe a good thing and a point of difference.


Friday, 9 July 2010

A holiday and rain at last

After a pretty solid 3 months work to get our vineyard up to scratch, Kaye, Alfie and I have managed to get away for a week to relax, catch up on sleep and literally do nothing! Our destination is the truly wonderful Coniston in the Lake District, a place where no matter what the weather, we can truly unwind.

Of course it was also the place where we got married exactly 2 years ago. So we have spent some time reminiscing and realising we had done quite a bit in the two years since then! A year in the Bordeaux vineyards and then coming back and setting up in the UK. Sometimes things move so fast you never have the time to sit back and take it all in!

While the sun keeps shining down south, it is cool and rainy up here. Normally that would annoy me, but it’s actually a nice respite from the heat. It seems like it’s pretty hot out in Bordeaux as well at the moment, so everywhere except here. If only vines liked cold, wet weather this place would be perfect. So it made me laugh when I heard they might have to have a hosepipe ban around here next week!

Anyway back to the South on Sunday, and then straight into the vineyard to tie the now very long vines onto the stakes.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

Boys and Their Toys

I have just spent a solid 5 days on the tractor testing out the new vineyard equipment. I spent many hours mulling over what machines to buy to do the best job on our vineyard. I had already decided that I was going to inter-vine cultivate instead of using weed killer. This can be very dangerous with young vines as the wrong set-up can murder a lot of vines. This is the reason why I used thick wooden stakes instead of metal or bamboo, as these others would simply fall over and kill the vine.

My inter-vine cultivator of choice is the German brand Clemens, which I tested in Bordeaux last year and loved. I said I’d accept being spanked by their football team just as long as their machine worked, which they duly did……… but thankfully the cultivator worked a treat.

With all this sunshine the weeds really had taken control and the vines needed some breathing space. I have decided to leave a 1m strip of green cover between the rows to prevent erosion and help soil structure. So after using the cultivator and the mower, the vineyard is looking pretty smart these days! This should help them continue to grow up the post and make the most of what little water there seems to be at the moment. Overall I couldn’t be happier with the way things have gone so far (touching lots of wood!)


Monday, 14 June 2010

Stakes done!

It’s been about a month since my last entry, mainly because it has taken me exactly a month to knock in 20,000 wooden stakes. I knew it was going to be a tough first month but that was a marathon! Although I was lucky enough to be supported by family and friends who took time out during the week and over the weekends to come and help me out, always rewarded with a bbq at the end and some drinks!

Within this month the vines have taken off exceptionally well. Having hot spells interrupted with some rainfall really has given them the best start in the first month of their lives. We have now gone back to the beginning and are taking off all the shoots not needed, leaving a healthy, well positioned one that we will grow up the stake and eventually become the mature trunk.

We have the tractor arriving today, and the rest of the machinery in the next week or so that we will need to control the weeds which are starting to get a grip. Everything is still happening pretty fast and we have even received all the trellising material that will be erected in July to support the growing vines. Our aim is to do everything we possibly can to make sure we get a decent crop in 2012.

The field is really starting to look like a vineyard now and everyone who walks by is very interested in what we’re doing and wishes us the best. We have a long way to go but I am growing in confidence all the time that we can really make something special with this site.