Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Our Very First Harvest (Part Two)

Family and friends at the vineyard

Family and friends gathered on Sunday to pick the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which will be used to make a still rosé wine. After a day of picking the Chardonnay and Seyval on Friday, we had a better idea of how long the process would take so we drafted in a few more friends to help out. Overall 22 enthusiastic pickers had arrived by 9.30am.

The day went pretty well without a hitch, other than a couple of nearly pruned fingers! We finished at about 4.30pm (after another longish lunch) and delivered about a tonne of fruit to Ulrich at Vivid Wines at about 6.30pm. Ulrich declared the quality of the grapes to be "fantastic", although the Millerandage (Hen and Chicken) meant that there was a higher proportion of stalk to berry than normal. Because of this he decided to whole bunch press to minimise the tannins extracted from the stalks.

We now have about 625 litres of excellent quality, organic, salmon coloured must with a potential alcohol of 10.8% and acidity of 10.3.

Freshly pressed Pinot Noir/Meunier

Overall the harvest has been a great success. Whilst we picked far less fruit than we had hoped for, we none the less have produced some excellent quality fruit which will hopefully enable us to start our marketing activities next year.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Our Very First Harvest!

Alex with some of the Chardonnay

Our very first harvest took place yesterday when we picked the Chardonnay and Seyval grapes from the 5 acres of we planted in May 2009.

The yield was much smaller than we had hoped for, mainly because of the poor pollination and fruit set at the end of June, but also because the pheasant decided that they would dine out on the Seyval during the last two weeks. The pheasant are a real problem and we will have to develop a strategy for dealing with them before next year. In total we only picked about 700kg but the fruit was of excellent quality and we should be able to produce around 550 bottles of top quality English sparkling wine.

Clean bunches of Seyval

Pheasant damage

The whole process took much longer that we had anticipated, probably something to do with the two hour lunch break! Those who survived the whole day finally finished picking at about 5.00pm, which meant that we didn't get the grapes to the wine maker, Dermot Surgrue, until after 7.00pm. By the time we had weighed the grapes and watched the start of pressing it was 10.00pm - a long day!

A very English lunch with award winning sparkling wine from Camel Valley

Tomorrow we will be picking the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This will be used to produce a still Rosé (hopefully available next year), but some may be use to blend with the sparkling.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Monitoring Grape Ripeness

Ulrich Hoffman, winemaker, in his lab

It is essential to pick grapes at the right level of ripeness and, whilst this can be judged on appearance alone, most growers monitor berry sugar and acid levels. As the grapes ripen the the sugars increase and the acidity declines. The desired level of ripeness will depend on the style of wine you want to make. In cool climates like the UK acidity levels tend to be high which is ideal for producing quality sparkling wine.

Sugar is the major soluble solid in the must (grape juice) and it's concentration can therefore be measured by assessing the density of the must. This is done by using a refractometer, which measures the deviation occurring when a beam of light moves from air to the sugar solution, or by using a hydrometer, which measures relative density or specific gravity.

The acidity of grapes is monitored by changes in the titratable acidity and/or the pH of the berries. Titratable acidity is measured by adding a strong alkali to the must and measuring how much is required to neutralise the solution. Both sugar levels and acidity can be adjusted during the wine making process but ideally you want the right levels in the berries.

During the last few weeks we have been measuring sugar levels and acidity every few days. The Indian summer last week certainly helped us towards the right balance and as a result we are planning to harvest the grapes this weekend. Whilst this is a little early for the Chardonnay it is important to pick the grapes before botrytis (grey rot) takes a hold, which is much more prevalent in cool and damp weather conditions.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Never Mind the Weather!

I now feel like a proper farmer as I'm always complaining about the weather!

This year it has been pretty awful for growing grapes. The wind and rain at the end of June/early July resulted in poor fruit set, and we have had little sun since then to ripen the grapes. In July we had 12% less sunshine compared to the average of 1971-2000 and in August 20% less. Temperatures were also much lower and the average rainfall from June to the end of August has been more than 10% higher.

Comparison with 1971-2000 (Av)              June              July           August
Sunshine 11% -12% -20%
Temperature (C)   0.2 -1 -0.5
Rainfall 119% 106% 107%

Hopefully we will get some sun to ripen the grapes during the few weeks before we have to harvest. We monitor the grapes daily for disease, the main potential problems being powdery mildew and botrytis. Whilst some botrytis can be tolerated for still wine it is a big problem for bubbly.

If we can't get the pinot ripe enough it will be difficult to make a good still rose. This would set our marketing activities back a year as I'm adamant that the first wine we release will be something we are proud of. C'est la vie!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Canopy Management

Richard Smart at Denbies

Dr Richard Smart is an Australian viticulturist and a leading expert in canopy management. He is often referred to as "the flying vine doctor". See www.smartvit.com.au

Recently Richard visited our vineyard and also gave a Masterclass seminar at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking. The subject of his talk was "Practical Applications of Canopy Management" and covered optimum vigor, vine balance, summer pruning, shoot positioning, shoot and cluster thinning, leaf removal and vine training.

The produce the best fruit the ideal canopy should have the following characteristics:

  • Balanced growth
  • Intercepts as much sunlight as possible
  • Shoots that are spaced about 2.5 inches apart and 15 nodes long
  • 40% canopy gaps and 60% fruit exposure
To achieve this involves a lot of work during the growing season, much of which has to be done manually!

Powdery Mildew Lifecycle

Powdery Mildew on Pinot Noir

Unfortunately we now have Powdery Mildew on the some of the Pinot Noir and a few of the Chardonnay grapes. It's quite isolated at the moment and interestingly is mainly in the rows where the FrostGuard machine was sited which prevented proper spraying earlier in the year.

Powdery Mildew is caused by the fungus Erisiphe necator. It only infects green parts of the vine and the grapes but survives over the winter in dormant buds and in the bark crevices or leaf debris on the ground.

Powdery Mildew Lifecycle

Alex is spraying the whole of Block A this morning with sulphur and potassium bicarbonate which is the standard organic treatment. It is not curative but will hopefully prevent it from spreading.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Bunch Thinning

The 3rd bunch gets the chop!

Vines will often produce more fruit than the trunk and root system can support, which can stress the vine and also result in the bunches not ripening properly. This isn't a big problem for us this year, as many of the berries didn't pollinate properly which has resulted in small and incomplete bunches (see earlier post - Coulour and Millerandage).

Non the less Alex has convinced me that we should cut off any 3rd and 4th bunches on any one cane, so that the grapes have the best possible chance of ripening in this dreadful weather. Whilst good quality sparkling wine can be made from fairly acidic grapes, we need fruit with a reasonably high sugar content to make a good quality still rosé.

All in all it's been a pretty dreadful year so far weather wise. We are still hopeful of releasing our first rosé wine next year but will only do so if the quality is good enough. Hopefully an Indian summer!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Veraison - Pinot Noir

The Pinot Noir grapes are starting to change colour from green to red. This is the start of the ripening process and in viticulture is called veraison.

Grape berries have two distinct growth phases. The initial phase is when the cells divide and expand and the grapes begin to swell and fill out the bunch. After veraison the acidity decreases due to degradation of Malic acid, making Tartaric acid the predominant acid. At the same time sugars (glucose and fractose) are accumulated and the volume of water entering the grapes decreases resulting in an increase in sugar concentration. The level of sugar accumulation in the berries is dependant on leaf photosynthesis which is why we could do with some more sun!

As the fruit ripens it becomes more attractive to the birds. As well as the KiteHawk and Helium Ballon we will be netting the outer rows of the vines early next week.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Leaf Pulling/Plucking

A Pinot Noir vine before leaf removal  

After leaf pulling

Leaf pulling is the removal of leaves around the grape bunches, which allows the vines to dry off much quicker after rain or heavy dew which in turn makes the vines less susceptible to the spread of fungal diseases like mildew and botrytis. It also improves the coverage of spray applications, and improves sunlight penetration which helps to ripen the fruit and improve aroma.

In Germany they remove leaves early (soon after fruit set) as they believe that this helps to thicken the berry skin making the berries more resistant to botrytis.  Leave are removed again just before veraison.

We've just started the process of leaf pulling. Hopefully it will be worth it as it's very labour intensive; each row takes about an hour which equates to more than 20 man days for the whole vineyard. Next year we will investigate buying or renting a machine to do the work!


It seems that I have been too aggressive with my leaf pulling; it's important not to take off too many leaves as they are needed for photosynthesis. Also, not surprisingly, Alex is much faster and only takes 30 minutes/row!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Powdery Mildew, Sulphur and Compost Teas

Powdery Mildew

Sadly Powdery Mildew has arrived at the vineyard, at the moment primarily infecting some of the Pinot Noir on Block A.

Powdery Mildew survives the winter either within infected buds, which subsequently germinate to form mildewed “flag shoots”, or as tiny fruiting bodies that lodge in the bark on the vine which release new spores to infect young tissues in the spring. Leaves are highly susceptible to infection while they are expanding but become resistant soon after they’re fully expanded. Berries are highly susceptible from flowering until shortly after fruit set, but become much more resistant afterwards. Interestingly, research has shown that significant berry infection at harvest can almost always be traced back infection soon after flowering.

So far our strategy to deter fungal infections has been to use compost teas, the theory being that by populating the foliage with the good guys there will be no room for the mildews to infect the plant. Unfortunately recent weather conditions have been ideal for powdery mildew which thrives in temperatures between 15C and 25C with a high relative humidity and as a result the compost tea hasn't been fully effective.

The standard organic treatment for Powdery Mildew is Sulphur and Potassium Bicarbonate (baking powder), both of which are sprayed onto the foliage of the plant. Garlic sprays are also be used as garlic naturally contains high levels of sulphur. Rain and free moisture on the surface are also unfavourable for colonisation, sporulation and dispersal, so the sulphur and baking powder are often sprayed with high quantities of water in the morning so that the foliage takes most of the day to dry.

The problem with sulphur is that it also prevents the good bacteria and fungal content from the compost tea from doing their job; so unfortunately it's one or the other. We have decided that for the time being we cannot risk the further spread of the disease so we will be spraying the plants on Block A with sulphur and baking powder.

We will have to review our spray programme for next year; as sulphur is a preventative measure and not curative, we should really be using it from the beginning of the year if it is to be fully effective.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Organic Viticulture in the Rhinegau

Vineyards in Assmannshausen

The Rhinegau is one of the most famous and beautiful wine making areas of the world and is also a centre of competence for organic viticulture and wine making. At Geisenheim there is a grape breeding institute and research centre where organic viticulture is a compulsory subject for all of their 1000 students. In Germany there are 215 wine organic growers, farming 1,400 acres, who are members of ECOVIN, the Federal Association of Organic Viticulture which was founded in 1985. ECOVIN is the largest association of working organic wineries in the world.

Last week a group of 7 organic vineyard owners from the UK went to Rhinegau to visit the Geisenheim research centre and to gain first hand practical experience of organic viticulture in the region.

Much was learnt during the course of the 3 days we spent there and particular thanks must go to Professor Kauer at Geisenheim and vineyard owners and wine makers Michael Albrecht, Peter Asbach-Kretschmar, Axel Schmitt, Johann Schnell and Hans Lang, who made us so welcome during our trip.  Their passion for organic practices was truly inspiring and confirmed our belief that it is the basis for sustainable viticulture in the future.

Professor Kauer at the vineyard of the Research Centre at Geisenheim

Michael Albrecht in his Winery

Of course we also tasted a lot of excellent quality wine including many made from Riesling and Pinot Noir, which are the main grape varieties in the region. However we also enjoyed tastings of Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Dornfelder and many others.

Wine Tasting with Peter Asbach-Kretschmar and Michael Albrecht

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Coulure and Milllerandage (Hen and Chicken)



If the weather is bad during flowering it can effect pollination and fruit set. This can result in bunches with small and large grapes, a condition known as  Millerandage which is often called "Hen and Chicken". The big berries have been fertilised and have pips and sugar but the little berries are sour and seedless. Poor pollination can also result in Coulure, where large sections or even complete sets of flowers fail to produce fruit.

This year our Seyval have suffered and as a result yields may be lower than expected. However as we were planning to take off some of the bunches anyway, so that the young vines don't get to stressed, this might not be too bad news.

Interestingly the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier have much better formed bunches, probably because they flowered slightly earlier when the weather was a bit better.

As flowering generally occurs during Wimbledon fortnight, the weather during the tennis is often a good indicator of potential yields for English vineyards. If the weather is good it is normally a forecast of bumper yields. If it rains throughout I probably won't be in the best of moods!

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Bird of Prey to Keep the Snackers at Bay!

Birds can be a big nuisance in the vineyard, especially as the fruit begins to ripen when some like nothing more to snack on the grapes. This is particularly worrying for us as we are close to a landfill site which is often covered in scavenging birds.

Vineyard managers use a variety of techniques to try and protect the fruit, such as hanging shiny CD's on the trellising, automatic firecrackers, rockets, electronic audio bird repellers and of course netting.

One of the most effective deterrents is a bird of prey. However, as we don't have a local falconry, we've invested in the next best thing which is a kite in the shape of a hawk which swoops, dives and climbs in the wind just like a real hawk. It is attached to a 25m flying line with a 13m kite pole and should protect 3 to 4 acres of vineyard. We have also bought a Vigilante Helikite which is a shiny balloon filled with helium which flies up to 60m high and theoretically will scare birds off the whole of the vineyard. Both these products can be purchased from Allsopp Helikites

So far the Hawk Kite seems to be flying well; time will tell how effective it is keeping the birds away. Later this week we will try out the Helikite. Hopefully the birds in Albury will decide it's safer to stay on the landfill.

Monday, 18 July 2011

English Rosé Tasting at the Vineyard

Now that we are nearing our first harvest we need to start thinking about the style of still rosé wine we would like to produce. Hopefully we will get some good quality fruit and we will have something to drink next year.

To help form our views, a group of us met at the vineyard last week to taste some of the best English rosé wines, including samples from Camel Valley, Chapel Down, Hush Heath, Denbies, Stanlake Park, Three Choirs, Brightwell, Meopham and Gusbourne. The tasting was blind and lead by Stephen Skelton MW. Ulrich Hoffman, who will be making our still rosé, was also there amongst a number of friends and local restaurant owners.

The runaway winner was the Camel Valley which they describe as a light dry rosé with intense strawberry flavours. It is made from 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Dornfelder.

Our rosé will also be made from Pinot Noir but with Seyval instead of the Dornfelder. We will decide the percentage mix and even what rows to use in 4-5 weeks time when we will be better able to judge the quality of fruit.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Engagement at the Vineyard

Olivia and Jon get engaged at the vineyard

The vineyard has looked really beautiful recently with a swathe of poppies adding incredible colour to the landscape.

A local wedding photographer, Zoe Collyer phoned me recently requesting access to the vineyard so that she could take some engagement photographs of Olivier and Jon who are getting married this September and of course I was happy to oblige.

Sadly the poppies have now mostly gone. However maybe another potential revenue stream for the future!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Silent Pool Rosé

Silent Pool

Now that we are nearing our fist vintage we have to give some thought to the name for the still rosé wine, which will hopefully be available for sale next year. "Silent Pool Rosé" is the current favourite.

The Silent Pool is a lake of crystal clear water adjacent to the vineyard. The water feeding the lake comes from natural springs in the North Down's lower chalk resulting in completely clear water with a beautiful blue green colour.

The pool has a genuine ancient history and may have been a prehistoric religious site. In the nineteenth century Silent Pool became a popular place to visit and in 1858 a local man from Albury, Martin Tupper, wrote a story about about the pool which has now become folklore.

The story tells of a beautiful young woman, Emma, who took to bathing naked in the pool. Prince John heard of this and rode up to see for himself. He arrived to see Emma hanging from the branch of a tree, dipping in and out of the water. Emma saw John and his men arrive and tried to escape by wading deeper into the water. John pursued on his horse until Emma, out of her depth sank beneath the water. Her brother tried to rescue her but also drowned. The story ends by claiming that Emma's ghost now haunts the pool.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cap Fall and Flowering

Vines have flower clusters with several individual blossoms that form a closed “cap”. The cap falls off during blossoming and the individual flowers appear. Measurement of the blossoming period begins when about 25% of the caps have fallen off. It can then take 5-10 days for the majority of them to fall off, depending on the weather. This normally happens around Wimbledon fortnight but is a little early this year because of the warm Spring. Generally good weather at Wimbledon indicates a good harvest!

The flower clusters of grapevines are quite inconspicuous. They are panicles (loose, irregularly branched flower clusters) with individual flowers, or blossoms, on the end of each branch. If successfully fertilised, these blossoms develop into grapes. Grapevines self-pollinate and are therefore not reliant on outside help from insects or animals. The overall number of clusters provides an early estimate of potential yield.  This is currently looking good on our vineyard, especially for the Seyval and Pinot Noir.

A lot can happen between now and harvest to effect the yield with disease being the biggest risk, especially in an organic vineyard. Birds are also a worry. Also Alex and John Buchan are keen to reduce the number of bunches to encourage root growth and the strength of the plant for next year. We have agreed to leave two bunches per shoot on the majority of the vines but only one bunch on the Pinot Noir that will be used to make the still Rose to encourage ripeness (less important for the bubbly).

The Vineyard in June

Poppies in the Vineyard (photograph courtesy of John Powell)

The vineyard is looking fabulous at the moment thanks to thousands of poppies which have self seeded in Block B. Unfortunately they won't last for long as Alex is determined to cut them before they seed again in the woodchip mulch!

We are currently busy replacing about 350 young vines that died over the severe winter or were hit by the frosts in May. As this is a manual process it can take some time but Richard is helping out by drilling holes with an auger to make planting a bit easier for Alex. We have also been through the Block A (planted in May 2009) and pruned the canes that were left extra long to try and minimise the impact of frost. The new vines have all now had excess shoots removed and have been tied to the bamboo canes.

Overall the vines are looking healthy; the rain earlier this week was welcome and will help with growth but unfortunately it also brings with it the risk of disease. Next week we will spray the foliage with compost tea, followed a week later (when the vines have blossomed) by Serenade® which contains Bacillus subtilis, a soil dwelling bacterium that helps control Mildew and Botrytis.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Monty Waldin addresses the second Organic and Biodynamic UK Vineyards Meeting

The second Organic and Biodynamic UK Vineyards meeting was held at Laverstoke Park Farm last week. The theme of the day was Biodynamics and Compost Teas and we were lucky enough to have Monty Waldin give a talk on the application of Biodynamics in the vineyard. www.montywaldin.com

Monty explained that Biodynamics is based on organic practices but also uses natural forces (like those provided by the moon), medicinal plants (such as chamomile, stinging nettle and dandelion), minerals and natural cow manure composts. This strengthens the vines which also produce healthier, more vital wines, reflecting the character of the vineyard.

Presentations were also given by Vinodh Krishnamurthy, from Laverstoke Park Farm Laboratories, who explained the importance of the Soil Food Web, and Alex Valsecchi of Albury Vineyard who talked about the preparation and application of Compost Teas.

There were around 40 attendees representing 15 UK vineyards as well as a number of consultants and organic suppliers. A very successful day demonstrating the ever increasing interest in Organic and Biodynamic viticulture.

Sustainability in the Vineyard

I recently attended a very interesting Wineskills workshop on Sustainability in the Vineyard, facilitated by Professor Steve Wratten -a cockney living in New Zealand! Steve is a leading light in the Greening Waipara project in Lincoln, New Zealand, which aims to build biodiversity back into the wine experience.

Steve poses the question "How can nature help us with agriculture?" Agriculture, including viticulture, damages biodiversity and in New Zealand has caused major declines in their native plant and animal populations. He argues that the current high level of chemicals used in viticulture  is unsustainable.

So what to do? At Waipara they are conserving their remaining undisturbed habitats and introducing additional biodiversity to enhance the services that nature can provide for free in the form of biological control of pests, pollination, improved soil quality, conservation and eco-tourism, to add value to vineyards and reduce reliance on herbicides and pesticides. Fifty North Canterbury vineyards have already signed up to the scheme.

For our part we are already organic so we don't use herbicides and pesticides. However we we will be looking at surveying our current wildlife, planting cover crops to improve biodiversity and creating a biodiversity trail around the vineyard. We also look forward to adopting any sustainability standards that emerge from the current initiatives being undertaken by the UKVA and Plumpton College.

For more details of the Waipara project: http://bioprotection.org.nz/greening-waipara

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Vine Mortality

We have now made a count of dead vines that were planted last May. Overall we had a 2.8% mortality rate, with the Chardonnay faring the worse. The detailed analysis is as follows:

Cultivar Rootstock Dead Plants Total Planted % Mortality
Pinot Meunier 865 41B 24 1250 1.9%
Pinot Meunier 925 41B 33 1250 2.6%
Pinot Noir 115 Fercal 17 1100 1.5%
Pinot Noir 459 Fercal 3 1100 0.3%
Pinot Noir 870 Fercal 8 1100 0.7%
Pinot Noir 872 41B 7 1100 0.6%
Seyval Blanc SO4 27 1175 2.3%
Pinot Gris 457 Fercal 4 175 2.3%
Chardonnay 95 Fercal 36 1450 2.5%
Chardonnay 124 41B 83 1450 5.7%
Chardonnay 277 41B 110 1450 7.6%
Total 352 12600 2.8%

It's interesting that the Chardonnay 124 and 277 cultivars fared so badly and that the Pinot Noir did so well. In the next couple of weeks we will be replacing all the dead plants by hand. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chilly on the Vineyard

Gary and Philip after lighting the Boujies

I was rudely woken by the weather station alarm txt this morning at precisely 2.51am.... with news that the wet bulb temperature had dropped to 1.3 degrees and that the soil temperature was already below zero.

So it was off to the vineyard in the dead of night to fire up the frost guard machine and to light the orchard burners and boujies. Thankfully Philip and Gary responded to my call for help and between the three of us we had everything lit by around 3.45am.

There was a light ground frost with the weather station wet bulb reading reaching a low of 0.4 degrees and the soil temperature falling to -1.6 degrees at 3.41am.

Now back home at 6.30am with temperatures rising above zero now that the sun is coming up over the tree line. Thankfully no frost forecast for the rest of the week. zzzz

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Pearl Glands

Pearl Glands on a new shoot from a Chardonnay vine

What appear like insect eggs have appeared on the new shoots of the vines, mainly the Chardonnay. In fact these are what are known as Pearl Glands which are tiny balls of vine cells which result from seepage of stomata on the shoots. They often appear on the stems,tendrils, petioles or leaf veins on vigorous vines in warm humid conditions.

Pearl Glands are harmless but may attract ants as a food source.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Bud Burst and the Dreaded Frost

Bud Burst on the 10th April

Bud burst is now occurring throughout the vineyard. We are probably 3-4 weeks ahead of what we might expect as a result of the recent warm weather. On the face of it this is good news but it's also a worry as any frost from now on is likely to cause significant damage to the new growth.

Last night we had our first scare as temperatures at the bottom of the vineyard dropped to minus 2 degrees. As a result Alex and I were out on the vineyard throughout the night (ably supported by local friends JB and Peter) monitoring the temperature. We started the Frost Guard and lit the Orchard Burners but held off on lighting the Boujies as the temperature started to rise at about 3.30am as a result of some cloud cover. Eventually we got to bed at about 5.00am!

A sleepless night but worth it for peace of mind.

JB, Peter and Alex keep warm by an Orchard Burner

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Spreading the Woodchip

The Mill Creek Compost Spreader

Weeds can be a big problem in organic vineyards as we can't use herbicides to control them. We opted to use woodchip as a mulch which has generally proved to be an excellent solution.

Spreading the woodchip along the rows can be a difficult and time consuming task and so we initially hired a compost spreader from Laverstoke Park Farm to do the job. Initially we thought that spreading it would be a one off exercise but in practice we have already had to replenish some rows and so we have now invested in a compost spreader of our own. We will also be able to use it for spreading PAS100 compost, and possibly organic manure, to add nutrients to the soil.

The spreader (with operator) is for hire if anyone is interested!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

English Fizz better than Champagne?

Hosted by Stephen Skelton MW, a group of sparking wine luminaries recently met for a blind tasting of England's best fizz as well as some well known Champagnes from France. The tasters were (in alphabetical order): Susie Barrie MW (Winchester Wine School proprietor who wrote her MW dissertation on champagne), Dee Blackstock MW (champagne and sparkling-wine buyer for Waitrose), Sue Daniels (MW student and wine technologist for Marks and Spencer), Michael Edwards (journalist and author of several books on champagne), Victoria Moore (journalist, wine columnist for the Daily Telegraph), Jancis Robinson OBE MW (journalist and wine polymath), Julia Trustram Eve (English Wine Producers) and Stephen. 

The results were as follows:

RankingAverage scoresVineyardWineVintageVarietal blendRetail price 
117.17RidgeviewGrosvenor Blanc de Blancs2007Chardonnay 100%£21.95
216.82RidgeviewGrosvenor Blanc de Blancs in Magnum2000Chardonnay 100%£63.00
316.65SainsburysEtienne Dumont Rosé (Maison Burtin)NV???£18.99
416.64Gusbourne EstateBrut Reserve2006Chardonnay 46% Pinot Noir 41% Meunier 13%£21.99
516.5NyetimberNyetimber Rosé2007Chardonnay, Pinot Noir£34.95
616.46RidgeviewBloomsbury2008Chardonnay 54% Pinot Noir 26% Pinot Meunier 20%£19.95
716.43Plumpton EstateThe DeanNVPinot Noir 90%, Chardonnay 10%£20.00
816.42SainsburysJS Blanc de Blancs (Duval Leroy)NVChardonnay 100%£18.49
916.36Moet & ChandonBrut ImperialNVPinot Noir 50%, Chardonnay 10%, Meunier 40%£30.99
1016.32SainsburysDefontaine Premier Cru (Maison Burtin)NVChardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier£19.99
1116.25Plumpton Estate  The Dean BlushNVPinot Noir 94%, Chardonnay 6%£20.00
1216.2Chapel DownPinot Reserve2005Pinot Noir 70%, Pinot Blanc 30% £24.99
1316.05NyetimberClassic Cuvée2006Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier£25.99
1415.92LaithwaitesSouth Ridge Cuvée Merret (RidgeView)2008Chardonnay 60%, Pinot Noir 28%, Meunier 12%£19.99
1515.86Jenkyn PlaceJenkyn Place Brut2006Chardonnay 61%, Pinot Noir 23%, Pinot Meunier 16%£25.00
1615.81Hush Heath EstateBalfour Brut Rosé2006Pinot Noir 55%, Chardonnay 40%, Pinot Meunier 5%£26.99
1715.8DavenportLimney Estate Blanc de Blancs2005Reichensteiner 100%£16.50
1815.78Camel ValleyPinot Noir Brut2009Pinot Noir 100%£24.95
1915.73NyetimberBlanc de Blancs2001Chardonnay 100%£28.99
2015.7Breaky BottomCuvée John Inglis Hall2006Seyval Blanc 100%£20.05
It is clear that the best UK sparkling wines can now more than hold their own with champagne.