Why I think Charles Palmer Vintage 2015 will be exceptional.

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.

 

 


SUSSEX SPARKLING!!!

According to Champagne De Castelnau’s Louis-Charles Pluot it was a “bad summer” in champagne, with “cool and rainy” conditions. The vintage was rescued by a “very nice September, with two, warm sunny weeks.” (I say as a grape grower it takes more than two sunny weeks to rescue a vintage!)

Nevertheless, as Paillard pointed out, it was the Chardonnay that “resisted the poor summer conditions much better than some Pinot Noirs and Meuniers”- which, in some parts of Champagne, suffered botrytis.” ( So is that to say the best they can hope for is some half decent Blanc de blancs?)

We here in Sussex should be very grateful for an amazing season. As everyone knows conditions here have been near perfect with exceptional weather during September. In fact it was officially the driest and warmest September since records began.

To sum up then 2014 will be an exceptional vintage for Sparkling wine from Sussex, or will it? It may just turn out to be the shape of things to come?


‘Back from our intrepid travels in France and Catalonia…

France..

Firstly, we spent a wonderful weekend in the Champagne region of France, where we took two cases of our wine for the locals to try, one of Charles Palmer 2009, and one of Charles Palmer 2010. This was set up courtesy of our lovely hostess Malika Florance, proprietor of La Fine Bulle, a high class wine bar, and boutique wine shop in the centre of Epernay. Malika invited several of her friends and colleagues, who are involved in the Champagne industry. We were extremely happy to find our wines very well received!!

Whilst we were there we took the opportunity to look around the region. It was interesting to note that the vines in Champagne, are probably about two weeks ahead of ours here in Winchelsea, in terms of spring growth. I would be interested to know, how much this difference would have been ten years ago. It does bode well for us though, in terms of getting a well ripened crop this year compared to last, when spring was so late.

Catalonia..

Only three days after getting back from Epernay, and we were off again, this time to Catalonia in the north east of Spain. Our trip to the Priorat and Montsant regions of Catalonia was amazing. We were invited by the Aguilo Brothers, who have a substantial wine retail business in Falset Catalonia. Every year the town holds a wine fair. Fira del Vi, takes place over the spring bank holiday weekend. We were asked to present our wines in Falset Castle, on the Friday evening. The theme was, white wines of Priorat county, and white wines of the world. We were invited as international guest sparkling white wine producers from the UK. The majority of people attending had never tasted English Sparkling Wine. According to our wonderful host and translator Rachel Ritchie we were the highlight of the evening with large numbers of people enquiring about, and sampling our wines, so much so that we ran out of the 12 bottles that we took with us. We were greatly encouraged by the positive comments and compliments we received.

We had a wonderful weekend, meeting some fascinating people, and tasting a variety of phenomenal wines. The wines of Priorat, seem to be one of the best kept secrets in the wine world. In particular the wines made from Grenache, and Carignan grapes really stand out. The industry is made up mostly of smaller sized producers, who pay great attention to detail, and have tremendous passion for what they do. It seems that the combination of climate, terroir, aspect of the slopes, and choice of grape varieties all come together here to produce some of the best wines in the world. Indeed we felt honoured to be invited to present our wines alongside wines of such distinction. Catalonia, Priorat, Montsant, its wine, and its people, have left a long lasting impression upon us that we will never forget.


‘Taking Charles Palmer to Europe….

Well this year is turning out to be quite an exciting one…..

Not only have we had a very good start to spring with bud burst two weeks earlier than normal and four weeks earlier than last year. Yes you read that correctly four weeks earlier!!! This bodes extremely well for an exceptional year, but let’s not go counting our chickens just yet.

Anyway we have been invited to take our wines to, firstly Epernay no less for a tasting!! What a coup that would be to sell Charles Palmer English Sparkling Wine in the very heart of Champagne. Then less than a week later we are off to the Priorat region of Catalonia, Spain where every year they hold a weekend long wine fair/festival to showcase their DOCa. Priorat and DO Montsant wines. “It is a great weekend and one of the highlights in my opinion is the Friday night (2nd May this year) White wines of Priorat and Montsant / White wines of the world tasting held in Falset castle in the evening for around 2 hours. The Aguiló family-run wine merchants based in Falset runs the event (now in its 5th Edition) and they asked me if I knew of any white wine/Sparkling Wine Producers from the UK who would like to be our guests this year….” Says Rachel Ritchie Wine Guide and Translator in Priorat, and our contact there. So that’s where we come in, apparently the Catalans ( they are NOT Spanish) have never tried English Sparkling Wines. So we will grasp this opportunity to showcase what we consider to be some of the finest English Sparkling Wines for them to try.Charles Palmer Brut 2009, and Charles Palmer Brut 2010.

You will have to watch this space, when I will report back on our intrepid travels. CP.

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‘Growing Aspirations….

The gang made a different visit to the winemaker this week because the first release from 2013’s crop will be out in a matter of weeks. Our debut still wine is going to be a rose made from Charles Palmer’s Pinot Noir grapes, and as it’s now ready to be bottled we thought we should give it a taste!

As far as tasting notes go it has loads of soft fruit notes on the nose, with strawberry and plum on the palate. It is crisp and dry, a great summery number for the scorcher we have been forecast for this year. But perfecting this one is all down to mother nature, anyone who doesn’t want to read the technical stuff, look away now….. The key things for us will be to harvest the grapes at 70 Oechsle or above, and to keep the Titratable Acidity at around 13.5 max. We managed to get these levels in 2009, 2011, and 2012 vintages, so it is perfectly achievable.

We did discuss with our winemaker, Will Davenport, the possibilities of blending the rose with our Chardonnay and producing a sparkling rose, having discovered that the still one can be so good. Watch this space, but having such limited stock for now we thought we should wait another year – with only 220 bottles produced it is obviously very exclusive!

The tasting didn’t stop at rose, oh no, next we started on the 2013 sparkling!

Will has already carried out the primary fermentation of both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as two separate wine bases – this is the first year that we have picked sufficient volume of both grape varieties to be able to do this! It will allow us to produce three different sparkling wines of 2013 vintage; a Blanc de Noirs (white bubbly made form the black Pinot Noir grapes); Blanc de Blancs (bubbly made solely from the Chardonnay grapes); and our classic blend of the two.

Back to the tasting, and the Chardonnay displayed typical still Chardonnay flavours and characteristics but the Pinot Noir was quite different from what you would expect a still wine of this variety to be, it did however present some interesting fruit flavours and a nice subtlety. Obviously we were tasting these base wines before their secondary fermentation and it’s not like drinking wine from a bottle as the process is only half complete. Really it is just to check that there’s no fault in the wine, and that we are happy with the flavours they are creating for the blend.

With our 2013 classic bubbly we are going to stick with the Pinot Noir predominant blend that has worked so well in previous years and become our hallmark. We think it’s definitely a trend to keep running with and it seems to be continuously gaining in popularity throughout other sparkling wine and Champagne producing regions at home and abroad, for its softer and more mellow results. This will be the 5th vintage sparkling wine that Charles Palmer Vineyards has produced, but a first with respect to variety, and there will be a lot more of it this time round which leads me on to…..

Spring 2014, and we have had a successful year so far for attaining new stockists and appearing at shows and competitions with more still to come, only this year we can present more than just our first vintage; our 2010 sparkling is already billed to join the award winning 2009 in upcoming judgments. The inclusion of a still wine into our repertoire also means that we will not be adding to the market just once a year, which is going to be better for getting the name of Charles Palmer out there.

In February we were delighted to connect with Sam Gould, the creator of Mimi Macarons. Her macarons, I must tell you all, are spectacular! The Valentine’s season saw the birth of Sam’s new ‘Champagne’ macaron, made with a white chocolate ganache and Charles Palmer 2009 Brut. We were both very eager to marry up local producers of premium artisan food and drink products and the result is wonderful thanks to Sam’s passion and expertise.

The ongoing Twitter and Facebook campaigns are still working well with 260 followers, likers, and commentators.We’ll be looking at creating more competitions and chances to win bottles, vineyard tours, or tastings for small groups of people, so keep your eyes on our Social Media for updates on these, and get all your friends to join in too! We’re also going to be doing more events in the area, hosted by stockists (both merchants and restaurants). We already have private party tastings lined up for early summer but there will be plenty of opportunity to find us as we pop up here and there throughout Sussex and Kent. All this and still a Charles Palmer Rose label to design, oh, and the small matter of storing 8,100 bottles of bubbly after a whopping 2013!!

 


2009 Vintage

2009 is our first vintage, producing a total of 956 bottles, it is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. The wine achieves a perfect balance of sugar and acidity that results in a deliciously soft and rounded taste, with classic tones of apple, cherry and freshly baked pastry.

Charles Palmer Brut 2009 is a new one on me, with a lovely smooth mousse, which I found particularly impressive and a slow-building, gentle richness of fruit. Quite remarkable for a first vintage of less than a thousand bottles!

Tom Stevenson, June 2013