December 2001  

Breaking The Silence



'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.

'2001 Vintage'

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.

'Jeannine Hall'

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.