Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Last week I got the chance to make a small trip over to Champagne and start my education into this very different style of winemaking. I went to visit a good friend of mine Thierry Lesne, who was the head flying winemaker when I did a vintage in Valvigniere back when I was only 17. It was this vintage that caused me to fall in love with France and the whole winemaking world in general.

Thierry now lives in a place called Chateau Thierry believe it or not, but I’m assured he doesn’t own the town! It is right on the River Marne in Champagne country around 60km from Epernay. That seems like a long way but all the vineyard regions around here seem very spaced out, certainly not like Bordeaux.

Thierry has 7 hectares and grows fruit for Nicolas Feuillatte, a massive Champagne house in Epernay, who hold in stock around 70 million bottles!!! They organize base wine tastings for all the growers and then a 4 course meal at the cellar. I managed to wangle my way in and sat down with around 14 growers, tasting through 09 base wines, some reserve wines and then some blends. This was my first proper base wine tasting and we all had to give our tasting notes and our favorites. I always picked the most fragrant and aromatic, and Thierry went for the duller rounder wines.

I thought he was just getting old but apparently this is what it is all about. The more subdued the fruit, the more it means the aromas are ‘locked in’ to the wine and will be released with the secondary fermentation in bottle. This goes against most winemaking philosophy and something I had to get my head around.

I found it all fascinating and after chatting to the growers at lunch and after taking a few jokes about me trying to make wine in the UK, I really started to get enthusiastic about our prospects of sparkling production. It’s true they have massive amounts of history, tradition and knowledge which you’ve got to love, but there is something special about starting in a UK industry that is in it’s infancy. They couldn’t believe the fact that we can plant vines anywhere we want without EU permission!!!!

Anyway it was a fantastic trip and I think I’ll be going through the tunnel a few times to pick their brains!


Thursday, 4 February 2010

Sun starting to shine on UK project!

Well it looks like we’re finally getting some movement on our UK vineyard project. I won’t say where it is as I don’t want to jeopardise the purchase of the land, but it is a fantastic site that I found by accident on the internet and ticks all the boxes with regards to growing grapes in the UK; south facing, chalk bedrock, height above sea level and soil composition.

Time is short as we have to order the vines now, and can’t really commit until the land is officially ours. Kaye and I are spending a lot of time in making sure we get the best possible people to advise us and do the work properly. It is obviously a massive investment (5 hectares) and we need to make absolutely sure that we get it right, which means choosing the right rootstock and clones that are perfectly suited to our soil type.

A lot can still go very wrong very quickly, but we are pushing ahead as fast as possible and with some luck we will be ready to plant in May with around 20,000 little baby vines. Watch this space!