One of the hot topics on any of our vineyard tours is what a year on the vineyard looks like, how much work is involved and how we fit it all in.
Well, the reality is that growing and producing English wine is a bit like painting the Firth Bridge. One season quickly blends into the next and there are always jobs to do. To give it some context, below is the annual cycle of wine making.
Although the vines are at rest and dormant there is still plenty of work to do. The grapes from the previous season will, by now, be in tanks or barrels, resting and maturing after all the frenetic activity from harvest.
Christmas is our peak gifting period but between selling and delivering the wine, attending Christmas markets and generally making the most of this sales period we will be developing next seasons labels and marketing for the following year.
On the vineyard itself we begin the process of winter pruning, removing 90% of last season's growth. We spend the winter months fixing our trellising and re-posting where necessary.
The still wine from last season will be getting closer to the finished product. At this point we will begin to taste and decide on final adjustments to our English wine, normally by adding small amounts of grape must to balance the acidity of the wine. We will carry out a similar process on our sparkling wine ready for it to be bottled and go into secondary fermentation.
Our labels now need to be finished and sent off to print. We carry out a stock check on our wine, finish our end of year accounts and then re-organise our wine cellar ready for it to be restocked.
By March, winter pruning has finished and it’s time to tie down our vines. We use a double Guyot trellising system here, which means we have 5,000 vines to tie down by hand. Underneath the vines we clear the weeds - some by spraying, some by hand.
The wine is finally finished, bottled and labelled and heads back into our wine cellars! The sparkling wine is drained into bottles, crown capped and laid down to rest on its lees (sediment) for a minimum of 12 months, but often much longer.
Our marketing now starts in earnest. In a normal year we will open up for vineyard tours, start appearing at farmers markets and host numerous wine tastings for trade and customers.
At the same time, the vineyard really kicks into action with a constant drumbeat of bud rubbing (back breaking), tucking in, spraying and pruning. From first bud burst, through inflorescence, flowering, fruit set and veraison there is no rest to ensure we can produce the best quality English grapes!
As we build up to harvest we start testing our grapes every week, plotting acidity and sugar levels to ensure we pick at the perfect point. Some of this will be done with technology, although some of it is done by simply tasting the grapes.
During this time, we hit peak season for our tours with the vineyard looking at its best. Many of our visitors return for harvest with lunches and wine laid on for all our volunteers.
With 9 different varieties of grapes we could have 3-4 different pick times for harvest. Grapes are picked from first thing in the morning and go off to the press straight away.
Making of the Wine
Our English sparkling wine, normally made up from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Auxerrois grapes, is pressed lightly in whole bunches to get the clearest, best juice. From here, we make a completely dry white wine base and leave it to rest in tanks until it's ready for bottling and secondary fermentation.
Our red wines grapes (Pinot Noir & Pinot Précoce) are de-stemmed, crushed and left to ferment with their skins. This gives the wine the colour and depth of character. After approximately 2 weeks they are pressed and put into tanks. A few months later we will barrel-age this in French oak for a further 3-6 months, or until we feel the wine has hit its best notes.
The rosé wine (for us from Dornfelder & a mix of our white wine grapes) follows a similar approach to the red wine, but with less skin contact time. Much of this is down to the colour, depth of flavour and style of Rosé that you want to achieve.
Finally, we are not quite finished on the vineyard itself. The vines need a final spray before all the leaves drop to give it some extra nutrients before it goes into hibernation. The dropping of leaves signals this stage and then all goes quiet before it all starts again….