Summer 2002  





Soon after I planted the vineyard at Breaky Bottom I set up an experimental vineyard to trial other vine varieties. My choice was to look at all the varieties which grow along the 600 mile length of the Loire, from Muscadet in the West to the great Sauvignon Blanc of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. I included varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Aligote, Gros Plant, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.

This trial was started in 1976 and continued for 12 years. The vines grew well enough but they never produced grapes with sufficient ripeness for winemaking. Even picking well into November, after a good season, the acidity of the grapes was too high.

I have since realised that 25 years ago there were not the early ripening clones which are available today. These have been developed by plant breeders to grow in places like New Zealand where they continue to push the quality wine regions further south. Early ripening clones have been used in the last decade or so by UK growers and account for vineyards such as Ridge View Estate and Nytimber (both in Sussex) which have been set up in fabulous fashion, solely for the production of sparkling wine, using the three classic Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Menier.

In May 2002 Breaky Bottom planted 300 Chardonnay vines (clone 277). A modest start, but I have in mind to plant a further 3000 plus next year, more Chardonnay and a good proportion of Pinot Noir and Menier. I have yet to decide how to use these classic grapes. The Seyval Blanc which I have used since 1994 for the sparkling wine has made excellent fizz. I may decide to blend in the new grapes or make a separate cuvee, depending on the yields. The Champenois look for different characteristics from the three varieties - Chardonnay for firmness and zestful attack, Pinot Noir the backbone with power and depth, the Menier adding roundness, softness and fruit. A Champagne house will have its own style and will vary the ratios of each according to the summer and the intended life of the new wine. Blends for NV wines will differ from a fine vintage wine intended for drinking ten or more years down the line. The choice can extend to Blanc de Blanc with 100% Chardonnay through to Blanc de Noir using only Pinots.

So the possible variations are great when blending for sparkling wine and I am very excited with this new direction. Champagne is grown on the same chalk outcrop as Breaky Bottom and on a latitude only about 80 nautical miles south of us. Prospects for the future are looking good!