As a farmer who has seen nearly 60 summers come and go, one thing I have learnt is that you can’t force nature. But you can work with it, to produce something which at first, you thought you may never achieve. So it is with nature, sometimes you get the very best when you are up against it.
This year the spring was late, and spring rainfall was minimal. As the season progressed the rain came at just the right time, and warm days and nights allowed the vines to flourish. The highest summer temperatures coincided with flowering, and because the vines had a good summer last year, they produced many fruitful buds. So the die was cast for lots of fruit. Late summer and early autumn gave many sunny days, and mild nights, which was what was needed to ripen the fruit. But the late start to spring, and a heavy crop, meant getting all the fruit to ripen fully would be a challenge.
Unlike Champagne we did not experience weeks of heat with temperatures in the upper 30 degrees C. Of course those sort of temperatures are not ideal for making quality sparkling wine. For the vines to give of their best, for sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and also Chardonnay need things to be somewhat cooler. To do this the grapes need to slowly ripen and produce fruit with just enough sugar and acidity, that is not to low. Unlike still wines where high levels of acidity would be of little use. It is the complexity of the acid make up and the sugars in the grapes that give sparkling wine its quality and diversity of tastes and flavours. As a committed believer in terroir, I would say that the soil has a major part to play, in imparting minerality to those flavours. Water too is so important as it is the vector for carrying these elements to the grapes from deep down in the soil, just enough to do the trick, but not so much as to make life too easy for the vine. We want our vines to probe deep beneath the ground to hunt out all the diversity of elements that they can. Growing a great sparkling wine vintage is like so many challenging things in life, it needs to take time. If it happens too quickly it will be spoilt, and whilst we may be pleased when things happen quickly, and easily, the results may not be as good as we had hoped for.
And so it was, when we came to pick our grapes, we had a large crop but not all of the grapes were fully ripe. We made the decision to pick only the ripest grapes with just the right levels of those complex sugars and acids, and we left the rest behind, to nourish the soil from whence they came. We probably only picked just over half the crop, but why be greedy, and pick grapes that would spoil what could be one of our greatest vintages yet? Not only did we leave those grapes for mother nature to take back, but we also pressed our grapes at the lowest pressure setting. Normally we would press to give about 580 litres of juice for every tonne of grapes. This year we pressed to give 480 litres of juice per tonne. By doing this we were ensuring that we would get the highest quality of juice, and we could afford to do it, because even after leaving so many grapes on the vine, we still had enough to make it economic to do so.
We are now looking forward to tasting the finished wines in 4 years time, and beyond, because this vintage has the potential to go on and on improving with age.