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.