With close to 24,000 hectares of vineyards in Marlborough, the time is right to identify just what is planted, and where. That’s the view of Wine Marlborough’s GM Marcus Pickens and Cloudy Bay winemaker, Nick Lane.
Harvest commitments in Champagne did not allow me to move any sooner, although my family moved in August so they could begin the school year in September.
The peak of the Covid-19 pandemic certainly made moving countries even more difficult and we are glad to have that behind us. So my time over the past six months has been split across two countries. Firstly, the harvest in Champagne: 2020 will turn out to be the third in a hat trick of superb vintages for this region. The comparisons with the trois glorieuses of 1988, 1989 and 1990 are tantalisingly seductive. It appears the real winner from Champagne in 2020 will be the Pinot Noir and Meunier wines. Time will tell.
Life in the UK has been challenging, to say the least, with an undulation of lockdown restrictions. The most recent (and the most severe) lockdown has just come to an end with schools finally now going back for the first time since Christmas.
I arrived at Defined Wine in early November. We are a contract only facility just outside of Canterbury, Kent, and we make wine for 29 different clients, offering a grape to bottle service. Getting stuck into the winemaking post-harvest was really interesting. 2020 was considered a good year, with the harvest dates ranging from 16 September until 22 October.
We make a wide range of wines, from sparkling with Champagne varieties to some fairly obscure grape varieties and quite a few Rosé wines along the way. Bacchus is presenting itself as the signature English dry white wine. It is not dissimilar to Sauvignon Blanc in some ways, herbaceous, zesty and full of life.
Since I have been here I have been quite encouraged to see the potential of a number of varieties and styles. We have made some delicate and flavoursome Pinot Gris, elegant Chardonnay and even some fairly chunky Pinot Noir. It seems that even in a marginal climate like in Southern England, Pinot Noir is as emotive as it is elsewhere around the world.
One thing I immediately noticed here is the very high acidity and very low pH. The cool nights during the last part of the ripening season really retain the malic acid concentrations in the grapes. That presents obvious challenges for the overall balance of the wines, in particular malolactic fermentation.
What England has really become known for is its sparkling wine and it is indeed true that there are some stunning examples. However, yields are naturally very low here and financial viability is far from given, especially considering the long lead times required to make sparkling wines. I feel the next step for English sparkling wine is longevity. Truly great sparkling wine lasts for several decades. In order to achieve this, the grapes must first of all acquire the appropriate balance between flavour, sugar and acid. This is not a given in this marginal climate. But there is the ambition, the dedication and the resources to do it.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen winter loosen its grip, after a very intense and cold, snowy period in early February. This will naturally flow into the imminent budburst that usually happens around mid to late April. Early season frost is a major factor here, so fingers are crossed that we can have some nice yields and ripening conditions like in 2018. In the meantime we are looking forward to simply being able to go to a pub for a meal and a pint!