Frost & Fear!

From rain we’ve moved onto cold and the coming week looks like a very worrying one for all English vineyards with the threat of frosts looming.  With the buds now out on the vines they are vulnerable to frost damage which can destroy an entire crop.  So it looks like a week of potential sleepless nights as our only defence is to light nearly 1,000 ‘bougies’ (frost candles) to warm the air sufficiently to prevent frost forming.  The only problem being this needs to be done at about 2am!  Volunteer anyone?!

In the meantime we have now bottled our 2015 still wines and they are resting in store awaiting release in mid-May in time for English Wine Week. This is just as well as we are now virtually sold out of all 2014 still wines.  If you’d like to be amongst the first to try our 2015 wines then please book a tour and tasting here during May or June.  Hope to see you then.

Best wishes

Alison

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Rain & Riddling….

Exciting news this week as we start riddling our first ever sparkling wine samples for dosage trails. This strange looking cage in the photo below is currently holding just one layer of bottles but when full will hold 500 bottles and over a period of 7 days is set to very steadily move the bottles from a horizontal position to vertical.  This is called ‘riddling’ and used to be done by hand!  This causes the dead yeast in the bottles from the second fermentation to sink to the crown cap so that when this cap is removed, the ‘plug’ of yeast cells is fired out of the bottle so when you come to drink it the sparkling wine will be clear and free of bits!
Riddling Cage

Before the cork is then put in the bottle we will need to add what the ‘champenoise’ call ‘dosage’.  This is generally a closely guarded secret blend of wine and sugar that not only tops up the bottle from any spillage during yeast removal, but also adds some sweetness to the wine to counterbalance the natural acidity of champagne.  So that we can decide how much, if any, sugar to add in this ‘dosage’ we are now undertaking trials at different levels and then tasting them…..a fun and interesting exercise!   Very, very few champagnes ever have no sugar added at this stage – and these maybe labelled ‘Zero Dosage’ or ‘Brut Nature’.  Most champagnes are labelled ‘Brut’ which means they contain up to 12g/L of sugars……education section over for this month!

Meanwhile in the vineyard the relentless rain continues…….we’ve yet to start the winter pruning but can’t put it off much longer.  The milder winter has also led to early bud swelling on the canes……how this will impact this seasons growth I’m not sure.  The only thing I am sure of is that all of us, fruit growers, farmers and householders, will have to get used to the consequences of global warming….more extreme rainfall events,  and I count my blessings we planted on free-draining sandstone geology!

 

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Cellar Door Christmas Opening

We are open in the run up to Christmas selling our full range of wines including our very limited edition sweet wine, the Late Harvest Ortega 2014 (only available direct from us), the recently released Cellar Selection 2013 and our ever popular Bacchus 2014…

And looking for presents? A free gift pack is available with the purchase of any 3 bottles of wine  – or buy a Vineyard Tour & Wine Tasting Voucher redeemable against one of our very popular tours which run May to October.

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Opening Times:

Sat 19th Dec & Sun 20th Dec  10am – 3pm

Mon 21st, Tues 22nd & Wed 23rd Dec  10am – 6pm

Thurs 24th Dec 10am – 1pm

We hope to see you here….Merry Christmas!

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Harvest 2015 Update

Harvest is over and I can breathe a sigh of relief. Now the English weather can throw what it likes at us and I won’t worry for a few months!

In the end the grape quality of the 2015 vintage was much better than I had dared hope for given the relatively poor summer and late ripening.

Volumes on some varieties were down on 2014 but in the end this was a blessing in disguise…as the lower the yields the easier it is for the vines to ripen what grapes they do support – so in a late season, low yields are a critical requirement for achieving quality.

After a cool and damp August, there was Just enough good weather in September and October for us to pick some lovely fruit, with well balanced sugars and acids. I am now looking forward to the 2015 wines which I know have a lot to live up to after our incredible success with our 2014’s.

The vineyard gate is firmly shut for two months now while I concentrate on the wine making and sales side of the business. Come early next year we’ll commence the winter pruning of the vines…but now they are going into a period of dormancy and rest (don’t we all wish we could do that!) as the leaves turn colour and fall.

In the winery, all the wines have now completed alcoholic fermentation, which lasted from between six to 22 days depending on variety and our desired style.

For the wines we intend to make into sparkling (which we call base wines) they are also undergoing a different type of fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation which changes the acids present in the wine. This involves warming the wines to encourage the fermentation to take place and spending a few hours in the lab checking on progress by placing tiny dots of the wines on special paper! It takes me back to school chemistry classes!

Meanwhile, we are developing a special gift box for Christmas containing three of our award winning wines. This will be available for sale from our cellar door (for pre-Christmas opening times please see our website or follow us on Twitter) and via our website (www.albourneestate.co.uk).

If you are in the Chichester area on December 5 please do come to the Vicars’ Hall (10am – 5pm) where representatives from five different Sussex and Hampshire vineyards are presenting and selling their wines in a special ‘pop-up’ shop. We hope to see you there!

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Harvest 2015 nearly here!

Preparations are now underway for harvest. After a cool and damp August and an unsettled start to September the grapes are ripening – but slowly – so we will be later starting this year than in 2014. I am hoping that we will be picking our earliest ripening variety, Ortega, at the very beginning of October, with others following on after.

We have been busy in the vineyard doing everything we can to help the grapes ripen – from repeated trimming to removing more leaves around the grape bunches even to removing some bunches themselves. This latter job is called ‘green harvesting’ as we are cutting off bunches that are still green and unripe. The aim of this is to give those bunches left on the vine the best chance of ripening fully – it’s heart breaking for me though to see fruit discarded on the ground after so much hard work to get it to this stage!

A few weeks back, the grapes went through ‘veraison’. This is the start of the ripening process and is most noticeable in the black grape varieties as this is when the grapes skin turns from green to black. During ripening the grapes then swell and their sugar levels increase.

I can also tell the grapes are ripening because many animals have started showing an interest in eating them…from birds to badgers!

Meanwhile, in the winery we’ve been busy planning and ordering items we need for the upcoming harvest – from new oak barrels to ferment our Ortega into the wide range of yeasts we use to ferment our different varieties. Developing a harvest plan is critical at this time although it’s always difficult to predict exactly when and how much we will pick. We now take regular bunch samples to measure the ripeness levels of the grapes to help us predict – but it’s not an exact science as so much depends on the weather over the coming weeks.

The last tour planned this season is on Saturday October 10th . Please do book a place via our website if you’d like to see the vineyard during harvest. It won’t happen again for another year!

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Post Harvest Newsletter – 18.11.14

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Things have now just about calmed down enough after harvest and the school half term holidays that I can finally write my  ‘Post-Harvest Newsletter’ and look back with a more balanced perspective on the 2014 vintage!

As grape harvests in England go, 2014 was a good one – there were plenty of grapes on the vines and they ripened well during our mild dry September.  So on the plus side we picked lots of excellent quality grapes and we are excited about the potential for the 2014 wines……

As always though – harvest never goes completely to plan……and on top of my Assistant Winemaker going down with glandular fever mid-harvest we had to cope with the usual equipment breakdowns,  late nights, early starts, aching backs….and then into October, mud and quickly spreading rot in the grapes due to the persistent rain……..but it probably wouldn’t be harvest without these little challenges to test us!!

I am sorry that I did not manage to organize a day for volunteer pickers this year…..but I have your names down and will make sure it happens next year.

The grape juice we have in tank is now wine – having completed alcoholic fermentation.  During this fermentation, which takes a couple of weeks, we take daily measurements of the ‘density’ of the juice so that we can plot the gradual decline of the sugar level as it is turned into alcohol.  This reassures us that the fermentation is progressing properly.  If fermentations get ‘stuck’ it can be quite difficult to re-start them.  The rate of fermentation is constantly monitored by computer-controlled carbon dioxide sensors on the tanks.   If the fermentations are too slow or too fast, the speed is adjusted automatically via heating or cooling the wine.

The ‘base wines’ which will be bottled for sparkling wines are also undergoing a second type of fermentation called ‘malo-lactic fermentation’, either in tandem with or immediately after the alcoholic fermentation.   Without boring you with technical details, malic and lactic are two types of acids found in wine and bacteria (not yeast this time) convert the harsher malic acid into lactic acid, reducing the acidity of the wine.   This process is necessary in all sparkling base wines to prevent it occurring later once the wine is in bottle which would adversely effect the bubble size and stability.

The still wines are now being ‘racked’  – which simply means we pump the wine into another tank so that we can remove all the dead yeast and debris from the base of the tank that sinks there after fermentation finishes.  We then start the process of blending, stabilization and clarification to get them ready for bottling in the New Year…..so that the wine that you will buy in bottle is crystal clear and bright and will not form hazes and deposits when exposed to temperature fluctuations during storage and distribution.

The next month or so will be quiet in the vineyard  – the recent heavy rain has meant it is not possible to carry out any of the post-harvest work I would have liked to have done.  One of these is compost spreading.  I have a huge pile of ‘council compost’ (this is made from the Green Waste bins they collect from your house) sitting at one end of the vineyard.  However, until we get a much drier spell we cannot get the machinery in there to spread it!  Am now hoping for some cold and frosty weather.  Pruning of the vines will start towards the end of January when we will also be putting  in the trellising posts in the new area of vines planted last Spring.

So in this ‘quiet’ period I am busy promoting Albourne Estate wines……hope you all saw the articles in ‘Sussex Life’ (Nov issue) and the Mid-Sussex Times last week.  Also TV appearances for the Estate Selection 2013 on The Alan Titchmarsh Show last Friday ITV (matched very well with his favourite cheese, Wensleydale) and this week for me on Latest TV (FreeView Channel 8, Virgin Media 159 and online at www.thelatest.tv) being interviewed under stressed conditions of mid-harvest!! (12th and 14th November at 7pm and 10pm).    On Friday I am also off to the BBC Good Food Show at Olympia (www.bbcgoodfoodshowlondon.com/Content/The-World-of-Wines-Experience) to sample our wines for 3 days non-stop!

Best wishes for a lovely Christmas and Happy New Year…..and if you would like to come and buy some wine direct from the Cellar Door to drink with your Christmas meal I’ll be opening up on Saturday 6th December 2-4pm.  Please do drop in.

Finally, please can I ask a huge favour?   I could really do with some more Reviews of the wines on my website.  So if you have a minute or two to spare, please click on the relevant wine under the SHOP or THE WINES headers and you’ll see the Reviews Tab.  Click on this and you’ll see the area to ‘Add a Review’.   You’ll need to add your name and email as the Reviews are checked by us prior to going live on the website to help prevent spam.

Many thanks

Alison

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A Historic Day …

Historic day…..I am writing the first vineyard Newsletter for all of you who have opted to join the Mailing List via our website/Visitors Book or have enquired about the vineyard via email.  If you would prefer NOT to receive any further Newsletters please let me know by reply email and I’ll remove you from the list.

Today has been busy and exciting as we are starting our 2014 harvest tomorrow with the picking of the ‘early’ Bacchus.   What I mean by this is that we pick a proportion of our Bacchus grapes at a lower level of sugars than the rest as the aromas and flavours at this point are slightly different to more mature Bacchus grapes.  This gives us the opportunity to blend a more complex and interesting wine later on – by using wine made from ‘early’ and ‘later’ pick Bacchus.

Last year, as the harvest was much later (we didn’t start picking the Bacchus until 10th October), we were only able to do one pick.  The recent warm weather in September coupled with the early warm Spring this year has given the grapes an excellent opportunity to ripen earlier.   We are all thankful for this as it means we hope to get all grapes harvested by mid-October before the weather starts turning colder and wetter and the risk of a frost at night increases.

We estimate that most of the grapes will be picked this year between 3rd and 20th October – but we carefully monitor ripeness levels and agonize over long term weather forecasts to refine and amend dates!  If any of you would like to come and spend a few hours in the vineyard picking do let me know by email.  The bulk of our picking is done by Romanians and it is a tough job when you are doing it for 8 – 10 hours a day, day after day.  However, as a volunteer, if you are available at short notice and don’t mind just joining in for a few hours so you can get a feel for what happens and watch the process then do get in touch and I’ll let you know the days ‘volunteers’ can attend.

Lastly, I also have a limited number of spaces left on two Tours of the Vineyard and Winery I am doing during the harvest on Saturday 11th and 18th October 11am to 1pm approx..   The Tour costs £12.50 and includes a Tasting and a tasting glass to take home!  Again, email me if you are interested and I’ll confirm your place.

We will start regular Tours in the Spring next year and run all through the Summer months…..so plenty of opportunity then if you can’t manage in October.

Fingers crossed for this dry, sunny weather to continue!

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