Balfour 2009

The exciting thing about vintage wines, such as the Balfour, are the way they evolve and reveal and reflect the vintage year. The 2009 Balfour Brut is now in wider circulation after a brief Silver Medal showing at last years Olympics.

The 2009 harvest itself took place over 2 days , on the 11th and 12th of October at Hush Heath. Unusually the Chardonnay was earlier than the Pinots with higher sugar (81 oc ) and lower acid (10.6g/l) . The Pinot Noir and Meunier came in at 77 oc and 11.6 g/l , pretty well perfect in other words.

The winemaking followed the usual course, cool separate ferments with a short 6 day separate red ferment for the Pinot Meunier . The final blend worked out at 52% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Mernier, a somewhat higher proportion than usual and a rather deeper pink .

The wine was bottled in July 2010.

From its comparativly youthful beginnings 2009 Balfour Brut is now a wine showing itself in its finest condition. The wine has now been on its lees for over 2 1/2 years . The wine was selected for the Olympics and the ffirst batch was disgorged in March 2012. Since then it has been disgorged on demand at the Hush Heath Winery, giving 3 months on the cork before sale.

A deeper pink than previous vintages, reflecting the higher proprotion of Mernier. The bead is fine and sustained both in the glass and mouth. The nose is slightly creamy,hints of white pepper, dried herbs. The palate is gloriously complex and full, malted shortbread,orange citrus, cooked strawberry and white chocolate . It finishes freshly and long, raspberries and cream.

Decanter – Silver medal winner

Saints alive

When it comes to Saints and wine there is a fair amount of choice and with clever planning it would be possible to be legitimately drunk for up to a dozen days a year . One has to wonder what the wine connection is  with some of them, being grilled on a gridiron seems to have been a popular start.A martyrs death is almost a prerequisite . St Vincent of Saragossa is a case in point, popular in Burgundy , the patron saint of wine and vinegar makers , his day is the 22nd of January , probably not my choice.

More interesting might be St Trifon Zarezan, a Bulgarian vine grower whose meeting with the Vigin Mary  caused him to prune his own nose. Otherwise known as St Trifon the  Drunkard or St Trifon the snub nose , he is much more my style and is so popular that his day is often celebrated twice (for 3 days!?) on the 1st or 14th of February  using the old and new calendar dates. The 1st of Feburary being the traditional date for the start of pruning. (English growers take note) . The more wine poured on these dates the bigger the next harvest.

For those of you who can’t wait for a fortnight St Armand of Maastricht comes to the rescue on the 6th of February . Patron of brewers,innkeepers ,bar-tenders,vine growers, vintners,wine merchants and rather bizarrely Boy-Scouts.

February is a bit crowded  it has to be said , the 17th gives us St Walter of Portnise.

Followers of the orthodox calendar can enjoy  St Nicholas of Myra ( Santa Claus ) on the 9th of March or alternatively on the 6 th of December, St Nicholas is also the Paton saint of Liverpool.

Appropriately there is now a gap until the 3rd of June when St Marand is remembered, chiefly for surviving the whole of Lent on a bunch of grapes. (The miracle of the source of the grapes is not revealed.)

In July we have St Goar of Aquataine  on the 6th and St Urban of Longres on the 23rd. St Urban has some connection and reason to be thankful as he hid in a vineyard to avoid persecution. Not sure how it panned out in the end.

The meteor shower that falls from the Swift Tuttle comet around the 10th of August are know (to some) as “the burning tears of St Lawrence ” . St Lawrence of Rome is another who met his end on the gridiron. Keeper of the Holy Chalice, patron Saint of the  cider making Ampleforth monks, he is more traditionally linked with cooks and chefs.The reliquary containing his burnt head is apparently to be found in the Vatican .

St Martin of Tours, the patron of winegrowers and beggars (appropriately enough)was the first non martyr to become a saint. His day can be  celebrated without guilt on the 8th of November .

If you have not had enough over Christmas, St. John the Apostle gives you an opportunity on the 27th of December or for the Greeks  the 8 th of  May.

Happy drinking.


2012 Harvest

2012 will go down as one othe most challenging vintages in the history of recent English winemaking. It was always going to to be difficult, poor weather at flowering in 2011 meant a high probability that the initation ( potential crop) was suspect . ( same again in 2013?) . Frost had been a problem in 2011 and was to prove to be in 2012 as well. At Hush Heath a determined effort was made to ensure this did not happen again. Extra buds (longer canes) were left on the vines, sacraficial cane were left untied down, several hundred boujies( very large and smokey candles) were laid out in the most vunerable parts of the vineyard.

For those of you with short memories 2012 actually started out as a drought in the South East, only 4 mm of rain fell in February and 20 mm in March. A hosepipe ban was in the offing. Early warmth was pushing the vines to an eeven earlier bud burst than last year. As it was , budburst in the Chardonnay (HH) started on the 2nd April , five days earlier than 2011 and a good two weeks ahead of a ‘normal’ year. The date coincided with a frost of -1.6 C . The turners and Victoria were given the opportunity to light the pots on 3 more occasions.

From this early start the vineyards accoss the SE seemed to go into a state of suspended animation, nothing happened, nothing grew for weeks. Over 100 mm of rain  fell in April (2011 we had 1.2mm) the average temperature for the month was 7.5c , 4 degrees lower than 2011.

To true affect of the frosts / poor initiation began to show through in May and July . There was a high proportion of blind bud, particulary in the middle of the canes, together with a lot of secondary canes. Temperature were surprisingly higher than 2011, and with record levels of rainfall ( over 250mm in these three months), spraying and vineyard work was very difficult and woe betide anyone without a robust and timely spay program.

Flowering again was rather extended, difficult to say when it started or finished, the set was pretty variable with marked differences between varietals and vineyards. Vineyards in Essex and SE Kent were markedly better than Sussex or Hampshire where the nascent bunches seemed to disappear .

Extra canes and buds proved their worth as had bee expexted not all the buds proved fruitful. At Hush Heath it was decided to leaf pluck early and extensivly to expose the fruit to what little sun there was and to maximise the effectiveness of the spays. From the middle of July through August the weather  improved, average temperatures were higher than both 2010 and 2011 and it was also drier with only 10 mm of rain falling (HH) . This very welcome break in the weather gave some hope that the grapes might ripen before the end of October. September nearly ruined everything again. Alot of rain and low temperatures. Surpisingly the sugar levels were reasonably high at the end of September,as were the acids particularly on the champagne varietals.

Huxelrebe and Reicensteiner was harvested at Nutbourne on the 28th September with sugars in the 70s , yields were low but of good quality.

October was distinctly cool and wet, thanks to good spraying over the season the crop at all the vineyards was clean and if we waited the sugars and acids would probably be ok. The fear now was of an early frost.

The first Hush Heath grapes came in on the 12th and 13th ,Pinot Noir at up to 70 oc  and acids at 12g/l . A light frost on the 14th  was recorded but damage was slight and confined to the upper leaves. The chardonnays were picked on the 23rd and 24th, frost had taken out most of the leaves but the fruit was sound , sugars were low and acidity a touch higher than usual . Nearly 100 mm of rain fell in October pegging back the sugar levels which in actual fact barely rose through the entire month and in some cases went down.

In the wineries the wines are pretty good at this stage with the pinots particularly pleasing, fresh and edgy.

In a year when many vineyards and wineries failed to produce a crop at all, Hush Heath actually increased yields from last year from the same acerage. Nutbourne picked every last grape and never gave up. Fantastic work from the vineyards for which this winemaker is truely grateful.