2019 marked some dramatic changes in my life.
I moved into my newly refurbished home, complete with sauna (swoon).
I become a dog owner (have you met Otso yet?)
And I’m now officially a winemaker…I suppose! In fact this is the second year that I’ve made wine. I must be an expert.
I wrote and fully intended to publish a 2018 winemakers blog earlier this year, but as with a lot of things here, life got rather busy and it got delayed and delayed and delayed.
However, the stark differences between 2018 and 2019 means I may actually have a more interesting blog as a result. So 8 months delayed, here is my winemaking blog. Sorry for the wait!
The year of dreams. A faultless, easy, relaxing, vineyard owner’s delight. A year when all the grapes that came in were excellent. A year where everything that could go wrong would be my fault, not the grapes'. And although that is a daunting prospect, yields were so high that I had plenty of extra juice to experiment on. Given that this was the very first year that we ever made wine, the conditions were perfect. We felt blessed.
My goals for our winery were/are as follows:
• Embrace our boutique size by broadening the differences between each of our wines. Aromatic wines should be even more aromatic, crisp wines should be even more refreshing etc. Don't compromise, and always try to make unapologetically characterful wines.
• To make the very best wines regardless of market pressure. Make what we feel we should be made (in the most part). If that means having eight, or two wines in our range, be proud of each wine we produce.
• Reduce chemical, and general intervention. Not shy away from sulphites completely (as they do protect our product) but protect them in a much more appropriate, sensitive way. Embody our attitude and passion for sustainability.
In 2018, these goals were exceptionally easy to achieve. All of our grapes would unquestionably reach a good level of ripeness, therefore my task was to catch them at various, interesting points along their journey. Each grape variety was picked in two different parcels and treated differently in the winery. For example, I would have one Bacchus tank that was crisp, herbaceous and refreshing, and another that was rounder, fruitier and sweeter. Every experiment produced amazing results which made blending very easy in some respects.
Some noteworthy tanks from 2018 included:
• “Bacchus 2” – the riper, fruitier, sweeter tank of Bacchus. This was stopped prematurely to retain some natural sweetness, and displayed incredible ripe apple, almost apple sauce characteristics. This proved to be a very useful ingredient in our 2018 Bacchus and 2018 Severn Vale.
• “Kerner 3” – the penultimate pick of Kerner. Overnight skin contact and super ripe grapes produced beautifully aromatic, rich must. A cold snap stopped the ferment much too prematurely which worried us, but after a bit of work, we got it going again. This actually led to a wine that was fabulously textural and complex. A bit of yeast stress bought out some fascinating aromas, and it ended up being one of our favourite tanks of the year. 90% of our 2018 Old Vine Kerner is this one single tank.
• “Late Harvest Siegerrebe” – this is a story and a half, but to make it easier to digest... we intended to make our Late Harvest wine. Oeschele over 100. A nice mix of pristine grapes, and shrivelled botrytised grapes. Overnight skin contact. A slow start to ferment. And then BOOM, off dry. We missed our desired sweetness. The result, a deep pink, slightly smokey, off dry wine. Turning this into our dessert wine felt forced, but using it in a rosé (Branwen) felt like a stroke of genius. The tank that failed, but then produced one of our most popular, highly regarded wines. A learning experience and a half.
And now 2019. Not quite so easy.
Early September felt fine. Siegerrebe ripened nicely and we decided to bring it in on the early side to preserve some freshness.
Even our Madeleine, picked just a week or so later, looked absolutely superb. A good yield and really nice balance. My “Madeleine 2” with a bold 16 hours of skin contact and a decent amount of lees contact feels like it will be a really important tank in the 2019 blending.
And then the weather turned, and ripeness became an issue.
Compared to the easy 11-11.5% wines of 2018, 11% was looking like a struggle for some of our varieties. In fact I even have some 10%s hanging around (which I consciously decided not to chaptalize to represent the rather chilly year). A lot of malic acid and overall lower intensity were going to be the challenge.
2019 was our latest harvest since 1996, yet my wines are feeling like they were picked rather early.
So, if 2018 was the year of experimenting, relaxing and having fun, 2019 is the year of making something normal in a stressful year. That's not to say that 2019 is bad, but the wines are noticeably different.
Some noteworthy tanks from 2019, so far, include:
• “Siegerrebe 1” – our very first pick of the vintage. Because the must was light, I decided to give it some good lees contact (for an aromatic variety…). Spicy. Nice fruit balance. Although not much yield at all. This should make a lovely wine – albeit just 400 bottles or so!
• “Madeleine 2” – Lees contact is a bit of a theme this year, and this tank is another example. Rich, textural, and good intensity. A decent yield means this wines will likely contribute to several wines.
• “Siegerrebe 2” – My attempt to recreate our rose of 2018. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked “so if Branwen was a ‘mistake’, are you going to make it again?”. The answer is yes, and this it. 2 days cold maceration, plus I cofermented it with our minute quantity of Pinot Noir. Lighter and prettier compared to the 2018, but that was a brute of a tank. Quietly hopeful.
This only skims the surface of our winemaking experience so far, but any more would make this an essay. In short, 2019 hasn’t been a disastrous year. It has been fine. And in fact it has been invaluable in setting me up for the challenges we will undoubtedly face in years to come. Will 2019 be as magnificent as 2018? Probably not. But I do think we can make a few tasty things with what we produced.
Thanks for reading.