'Breaking the silence'
These are the first Winery Notes you have received
for over a year. I apologise for this long silence. Many of you
will already know of the flooding at Breaky Bottom which started
in October 2000. For those who don't, and for people who have
heard but are not aware of the extent of the damage, there follows
a brief description.
Flooding started at Breaky Bottom on 12th October 2000, at 4 o'clock
in the morning, eight hours or so before the town of Lewes flooded.
Unlike the local and national floods of that time (flood-plain
flooding) the water here came from run-off and erosion from a
farmer's fields about a mile above us. This was the worst flooding
I have ever experienced, 31 separate inundations from October
through to April. By January we realised we had to try and prevent
water entering the house and we undertook major flood defences,
building a wall with tin sheets dug into the ground all round
the house. It worked, and the 10 subsequent floods still passed
through both vineyards but by-passed the house. Drying of the
house has caused the delay with renovations. Rebuilding the house,
which has been severely damaged, has not yet begun. I am hoping
that this gets underway before Christmas, but it will certainly
mean that we will have a second winter in our mobile home and
probably not return to the house until next June.
This has been a very stressful time for the whole
family adapting to difficult living conditions for over a year,
particularly during the winter. The vineyard and wine trade have
suffered as well. It has not been possible to welcome people on
the farm for tours and tastings during the summer. The 2000 crop
was lost and over 6000 bottles from previous vintages. The last
year has also involved extensive work on insurance claims and
working with lawyers to recover uninsured losses.
Despite these problems I am pleased to announce
that this year's crop was exceptional following a fine summer
with good flowering weather in late June. We harvested from 27th
October to 5th November, 10 days of brilliant autumn sunshine.
The weather in early autumn had been wet, with heavy downpours
and exceptional winds. The ripening fruit tends to get bruised
under these conditions and this favours the spread of botrytis.
In dry years this would lead to Noble Rot and very high sugars,
the prerequisite for great dessert wines. However the rain before
picking this year meant that this was not possible. I have made
a single tank of whole bunch pressed grapes for sparkling wine
and a substantial quantity of Seyval Blanc still wine, including
a tank of oaked fumé. This year the Muller Thurgau had
little flower, and therefore only a small crop. This variety is
always sweeter and lower in acid than Seyval Blanc, and our local
birds reduced a modest crop to barely half a trailer. I chose
to blend this away with the Seyval since it only amounted to around
2% of the whole.
For those readers who are not intimates of the family
this paragraph may seem a little strange. Close friends will understand.
My mother Jeannine died this year on 5th July. I had always intended
that these Winery Notes be a personal look at what is happening
around me, not just in the vineyard and winery but also other
important moments in my family's life. In the past I have recorded
joyful weddings and other happy events. Why not also the passing
of so wonderful a person as Jeannine. My thoughts have been so
much of her. For the first time since 1976 she was not with us
to pick the grapes this autumn. I have surprised myself at how
accepting I am of loosing her. The closeness we have always had
continues. I know that this family has been blessed by her extraordinary
life. And yes, any number of fond memories, but just now recalling
the late summer of 1999 when all the grape pickers were assembled
in the garden for a splendid luncheon. I clapped my hands to call
order and presented her with the first bottle of 'Millennium Cuvée
Maman Mercier', the 1996 fizz which we had dedicated to her. And
Jeannine? Modest at first, then surprised, delighted, proud, full
of tears and laughter.
As a footnote to these 'family announcements' I should tell you
that I am a grandfather for the second time. Toby's son Louis
was 4 this summer and my son Tom and his wife Stephanie adopted
Felix who comes from Northern Thailand. He was 3 in September
and is the brightest little button you have ever seen. Maman Jeannine
met him on one occasion a few days before she died. I marvel at
how generations can link up, however briefly, in this way.