Kingscote Plantings

July 12th, 2012

After nearly a years preparation, planting finally  took place at Kingscote in the last week of May. Somewhat later than planned due to the rather wet weather. The newly dug land-drains have been proving their worth, an expensive but vital part of the vineyard infrastructure and for the long term viability of the vines.

laying land drains at Kingscote

An interesting varietal mix for still and sparkling wines have been planted, Bacchus, Seigrebbe, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meurnier and Chardonnay. The 8000 vines were hand-planted over a 2 day period.

Bacchus vines ready for planting

Hand planting can cost less than machine planting and done by the right people is more acurate than mechanical planting. The plants establish better and there tends to be less damage. Clay soils, especially under- prepared ones  can be problematic for mechanical planting.

Planting House field at Kingscote may 2012


SEVA wine of the year 2012

June 11th, 2012

A few weeks ago I was at Plumpton with the judges of the South East Vineyards Association Wine of the Year  Competition . Chairman was Andy Howard MW (buyer for M&S) , Charles Metcalfe , Cat Lomax (laithwaites) , Lindsay Oram  and Stuart Graham ( top tasting student at Plumpton) , I was there to put in a winemakers perspective.

We started with the Dry whites(17) which included a couple of oaked wines(moving back into fashion) , followed by a much shorter flight of off dry whites (4), usually a much maligned category but when made with thought and care can be very attractive working with English acids and flavours.

Roses next(12), the full range of colours and styles from light red  to light Provencal pink, some with a touch of tannin from short maceration.

The reds(10) were a category I wasn’t looking forward to judging by what had been on offer at the EWP tasting earlier this year, true there were a couple of horrors presumably from outside the wine scheme, but In the main I was pleasantly surprised.

The sparklings both pink(11) and white(17) were pretty solid if perhaps a little on the dull side(need to check if it was a root day) .  We eventually finished at around 2pm and repaired for pint and fish and chips at the local .

Fast forward to 7/6/12  and I am driving around a damp and desolate Denbies avoiding the presumably blind driver heading the wrong way down the one way system. If there is a better example of why you should not plant in a frost pocket let me know. The damage wrought by nature over the last 20 years stretches tundra like almost as far as the eye can see, some valiant replanting is going on, but as we know there is a masochistic gene common to most English vine growers.

Anyway, time for a quick SEVA committee meeting on the vineyard app. the summer barbecue , the Cool Climate conference ( Brighton 2016) and proposed jolly to Alsace.

As the dinner and results time approaches , judges are pretty thin on the ground with apologies for absence from 3 leaving Andy Howard, Stuart and me. I nobly offer to talk about the reds and rose sections.

The corporate area at Denbies where we have been consigned to the last couple of years is quite dull, much more exciting was up in the tower with its splendid views. The staff and atmosphere is friendly enough, the helpings generous.

A young Sandhurst Bacchus 2011 from CD is first up. Young and fresh , 3 different yeasts used in the ferment but the Sandhurst terroir come through,I always think Bacchus improves with age, its good now and will only get better. Next up came a oaked wine 2009 from Denbies,(Ranmore Hill) and we were duly graced with a rare appearance from Marcus . 5% ortega, 65% bacchus 35% Pinot Gris. I thought it tasted more Ortega, not sure where the PG came from either, in the end as you end up wondering how much the oak adds to it but I enjoyed it and it was well made. A blend next from amateur growers made by Sam Linter including some of my least recommended grapes. It just worked , it got one of my highest marks .

Onto the Roses . There had been some debate on the day as to what colour roses should be and what should be judged typical. Typical to me is a dangerous path . Biddenden Gribble Bridge rose 2011  fell somewhere in the middle colourwise, attractive pink. Fresh crisp acidity with a slight tannin grip (overnight maceration if you you want this). Dornfeler and Acalon, rose is the best home for them. I would drink this with food rather than on it own.

Bolneys Pinot Noir 2011 , 12.5% ,(silver) 2011 was a great year for still winemakers, if not accountants, the crop was small , clean, high in sugar , so I have been looking forward to tasting the result though I did not expect to taste them so soon. Apparently has seen a touch of oak which I didn’t pick up on, the wine had a freshness and aromatic purity of fruit more cherry than the more typical raspberry and strawberry(tend to get these with slightly less ripe fruit). The colour was deeper and darker (more NZ?) . 2% Dunkelfelder might be one explanation.

Sams 3rd  contribution to the evening was the 2009 Lynchgate, an oaked Rondo and Dornfelder. This was the 2nd highest marked red and for what it  is ,its pretty good. Rondo is always diffcult and slightly rustic ,even with a bit of Dornfelder for finesse it will never reach the sophisticated heights that Pinot is capable of, so a good country red is what you get. Aged in 2 year old barrels with no brett.

Sparklings next, Plumptons “The Dean” (silver), labelled as a NV but 2009? I had tasted a “Dean” someweeks earlier which was somewhat meaner and leaner. Peter Morgan dully informed us that the dosage had been moved up to 13g/l  which made all the diffrence to this high acid wine. Fresh and young and pink. This was the winner of the top prize.

Runner up was the Gusbourne 2007 (silver) which showed more age and complexity and which moved some judges more than others. Both these winning wines where from Classic chamapagne grape varieties , wines from these varietals generally scored higher than seyval or mixed blends.




Medals 2012

June 6th, 2012

A reasonable return from this years entries . Balfour Brut Rose 2008 secured Gold in the Decanter World Wine Awards with an early release of the 2009 ( the Olympic Wine) gaining a Silver, the 2009 also hit high Silver in the IWSC . On the still wine front the delicious Nutbourne 2010  was also a Silver medal wionner at the IWCS.

Pruning at Hush Heath

February 9th, 2012

Having skulked in the winery for the last couple of months doing what winemakers do, it is time to venture into vineyard territory . The orchards at Hush Heath are all but finished and the team has moved into the vines. The winter up until last week has been comparatively mild and there has been some concern that this might push the vines ahead again so this cold snap is actually quite welcome. With last years frost problems we have delayed the start of pruning. This year we are leaving extra buds and sacrificial canes and the more vunerable areas of the vineyard will be laid out with candles  as the time for budburst approaches. (Mid April)

Pinot Meunier pruned leaving 4 canes Feb 8th 2012

Thawing out the boots



What Winemakers do in January..

February 9th, 2012

For the most part winemakers tend to avoid going outside in winter. January is usually too wet,early or cold to get involved in pruning, luckily there are plenty of other things that need to be done.

Having said that Dr Richard Smart and Professor Laura Mugni were poking around a few vineyards assessing the potential fungal problems in English vines. A number of vines were sacrificed for the greater good, and the nature and identification of the evidence and its implications were debated and disputed. Apparently fungal free vines are to be found in Eygpt.

The Hand of Smart

In the winery it is refining and tweaking the 2011 blends , moving them towards stability and bottling. The 2011 still wines are of a pretty high quality, at Nutbourne we have a very classy Bacchus and Sussex Reserve which should go into bottle over the next couple of months. At Hush Heath the blends have been restricted to Balfour and Nanettes Rose.

Also exercising the mind and tastebuds has been the dosage trials of the Balfour 09, think we are nearly there….

Dosage trials of Balfour 09

Peter Hayes , the Wineskills vineyard mentor visited the Hush Heath Vineyards and gave interesting advice, some of it quite illuminating and pertinent. If he hasn’t been to your vineyard you should have him round. While he was here he was co-opted into a tasting trial of the Balfour 09 vintage. (taste it at the Olymics)


Peter Hayes and RBL discuss the finer points of Balfour 09

Gusborne and Hush Heath hosted a visit from some Austrian growers, they were certainly impressed by the level of investment in the vineyards and winery as well as the high price point for English Wines. The vineyards were all family owned , small and had their own wineries. I was told that there were 60,000 vineyards in Austria and 40,000 wineries. Passing the vineyards and skills to the next generation was regarded as being fantastically important. Tasted some good and interesting wines, chardonnay, St laurent,Pinot Noir and some local varities(need to find my notes) . Natural sugar levels were high 12-13%.  Prices where from 5-10 euros for well made and distinctive wines.

Austrians viewing Hush Heath Vineyards

Three wine men cont.

December 4th, 2011

To Lords for the Three Wine  Men tour and a bit of brand support for the Balfour 08 and to see whats gong on with Sparkling English Wines. Oz Clarke and Olly Smith are very much in evidence at the first session, enthusastic and knowledgeable in their support of English wine.

It perhaps should not have been a surprise that not every punter there had tasted English sparkling wine and that brand recognition was somewhat shakey , Nyetimber not surpisingly was the most known and requested for tasting, Gusbourne perhaps with a little help from Olly Smith seems to have moved up the ladder. There were 14 wines on the Sparkling English Wine stand and as most of the wines sold by them have been through quite a strict tasting panel the quality  was high. Of the 14 only 1 of the wines, Will Davenport’s organic Limney was made from Reicensteiner , every other wine was made from the classic champagne varietals. Prospective producers should take note.

Aside from the Balfour 08 which is now beginning to show and drink very well, the newly released Nytimber 2004  and Rose 2007  were very good( I am sure the dosage has been tweaked on the rose since I first tasted it?)

3 men with taste

The Year and Harvest 2011

November 30th, 2011
Chardonnay Hush Heath Kent 30/4/11

Chardonnay- Hush Heath, Kent. 30/4/11

As years go 2011 goes down as another strange one in vineyard. A warm and very dry spring encouraged early budburst and growth. By the end of April the vines were 2-3 weeks ahead of a typical year( I usually reckon bud-burst occurs around the 17th of April in this part of Kent). The inevitable duely happened and on the 4th of  May a frost hit. At Hush Heath the temperature fell to -1.6C, the event only lasted one and a half hours but the damage was done.The frost affected vineyards across Kent and Sussex, lower and more sheltered sites suffered most. Chardonnay was the biggest victim followed by Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, perhaps by virtue of being  a tardy few days behind its more noble cousins appeared relatively unscathed .

Frosted Chardonnay

Flowering seemed to go on for ever, conditions were pretty poor, cold, windy, dull and wet for the most part. Some varietals seemed to suffer more than others, Rondo, Pinot Noir particulaly as you moved West from Kent into Sussex and Hampshire, Chardonnay generally set better .


Close monitoring of the grapes revealed quite early on that in spite of the rather dull summer and indifferent and prolonged flowering harvest would be early and high in sugar in the South East. Sparkling wine makers do not want grapes too high in sugar preferably not  much above 81-82 oc – 11% .

In Sussex I harvested Rondo and Reichensteiner at 82 and 77 on the 16th of September with Reic and Huxelrebe coming off the next day at Nutbourne with similar sugars.

Harvest commenced at Hush Heath on the 29th September with the picking of the Pinot Noir from Old Orchard Oast (2002 plantings)  sugars were 79oc TA 13.9 . In 2008 these grapes were harvested on the 20th October with sugars of 72oc and 13g/l acid . Yields were down due to frost and relatively poor flowering, low bunch weigths were also a feature of the harvest.

Some of the Burgundy clones had reached 90 oc /12.4% at this point.

Pinot Noir from Bourne vineyad(Sandhurst) 84oc /ta 11.3 on the 3rd of October quickly followed. Pinot Noir for a small red ferment (colour) came in on the 11th at 85 and 10.1.

Chardonnay from Hush Heath was picked between the 4and 5th October at between 79-81 oc  ta 12-13g/l . (2008 – picked on the 27th October 68oc 14g/l acid) . Sandhurst Chardonnay between the 6th and 11th – 80-84oc 12g/l acid.

The bulk of the Pinot Meurnier was picked on the 6th of October sugar 81 oc TA 10.6.

The harvest was to all intents and purposes over by the 11th of October, a brief foray into the vineyard on the 18th netted 600kg of secondaries (73oc 16.1g/l acid). This was followed by a frost and that was that.

In all 35 tons were pressed at Hush Heath, the quality was fantastic, sugars and acids perfect, no disease at all . A pretty unique harvest with no enrichment taking place in the winery at all.

Across the country yields on the whole were pretty poor, some vineyards picking less than 1/4 of last years admittedly large harvest.







Christmas at Nutbourne Vineyard

November 30th, 2011

The weekend 10th and 11th December will be a good time to visit Nutbourne Vineyards and stock up on some decent wine. Tours, wine-tasting, refreshments and wine-makers all on hand. If you fancy going give Bridget a ring on 01798 815196  or email  . Wines on taste will include the Sussex Reserve 2010, Bacchus 2010, Blush 2010 and Nutty 2007 , all silver medal winners in English Wine of the Year Competition .

Three Wine Men ?

November 30th, 2011

Not quite sure what this is all about but I am off to Lords on Saturday 3rd December to do a bit for brand support for the Balfour 2008 which will be on taste at the Sparklingenglishwines stand. The website is not much help and I am none the wiser except that the Matt Lucas lookalike is in fact Olly Smith.

Balfour 2008

November 8th, 2011

Most of you (anyone I know)will have missed the Balfour 2007 which almost exclusively went to British Airways (First Class) over the summer, as far as I know never reviewed but very well recieved by the mile high club. Step forward the Balfour 2008. Like the 07, a high malic year and not a massive vitage. A relatively late harvest, The Pinot Noir and Meurnier were picked on the 20/10/08  at 72Oc- 13g/l acid and 66Oc -12g/l  respectively. The chardonnay was picked on the 27th October at 68 and 14g/l . Very much pinot dominated, the blend breakdown is 53% PN, 38% CHA and 9% PM.

Made by Owen Elias of(ex) Chapel Down fame, the Balfour is always a vintage wine and always made without malolatic fermentation giving a fresh youthful characteristic to the early releases. The 07 an 08 vintages have and are being disgorged at the new state of the art winery at Hush Heath. They are corked with a mytig cork(an expensive technical cork) which are guaranteed taint free and allow longer post disgorging time on the cork(now 3-6months before release). This is now giving a more complex, interesting and harmonious wine.

The 2008 is an old fashioned pale salmon pink, the mousse is the most sustained of any sparkling wine that I have known, both in the glass and mouth, a very fine and sustained bead,  creamy and not at all aggressive on the tongue . The acidity is high but is balanced by a well integrated dosage of 12g/l.
The nose is clean and Pinot dominated, slightly peppery with hints of all-spice. The palate shows crisp but balanced acidity, herby with masculine hints of red fruit and plum and an attractive citrus finish.

Usually recommended as an an aperitif, this wine is actually a fantastic food wine and can handle and compliment the most robust meals likely to be served up in Champagne, steak, game, sausages and kidneys.