Winery Notes - December 2008
New Excise Duty and Tax
While the global economy is in a mess, I allow myself a childhood flashback...
Rangeworthy Court in Gloucestershire, my grandmother's great house and farm where I was born
was a place of magic and delight, a small boy’s paradise where we went for holidays.
Rural England over half a century ago is gone forever, yet rests a while longer in the
memory of those who were there. Mr Clarke was farm manager, reputed to have fathered
most of the children in the village. The sheep were all named after the women of the village,
prompting comments like "Mrs Hoskins had triplets last night, madam" when granny came to see him.
Clarke always had the same greeting, an all-embracing question, as if trying to check on the
whole of humanity. "Tell me Mrs Thompson, and how's the world?" How would she have explained
today's financial blow-out to a man who hardly left the village all his life? Well,
she might have said the following:
"The rates of duty for alcohol will be increased by 8 per cent (making the increase this
year a whopping 17 per cent) at the same time as the 2.5% reduction in VAT takes place.
This will come into force at midnight on November 30th 2008. The increase in duty will
be maintained when the VAT rate is returned to 17.5 per cent in January 2010. The 2% above
inflation duty escalator announced in the 2008 budget will still be applied in March 2009."
An Extraordinary Year
I think we would all agree that the summer of 2008 was not one to write home about.
I particularly recall the terrible August when skies were always grey, it rained nearly
every day and the winds blew like autumn gales. About 150 wooden posts snapped off in the
vineyard and every morning the job-in-hand was to check out the overnight damage and effect
repairs. Sometimes I would have to rig up a special winch to lift half the row off the
ground while driving in a new end-post. But it was all worth it. The vines had set a
reasonable crop after the fair weather at flowering time and the year proved again that
with care and patience the grapes will ripen. We picked in fine autumn sunshine during
the second half of October. This is the first year that I have made a substantial amount
of base wine from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – nearly 4000 bottles.
In a few months from now, at assemblage, I will decide whether this should be bottled
separately or better suited to be blended with Breaky Bottom’s famous Seyval Blanc.
After floods and snail attacks it has been a long time coming!
The pickers continue to be an eclectic mix of folk, some old faces, some first-timers.
Their occupations are too numerous to mention but I am tempted to have a go... a professional
Spanish singer, a guitarist, a judge, two lawyers, a cranial osteopath, four Fulbright
scholars from Cambridge, a Rolfing practitioner, a teacher, a nurse, an editor
from the National Gallery, a woman truck-driver, two archaeologists, an interior designer,
a tree surgeon, a micro-light flying instructor and a poet from New York... you see,
I shouldn't have started... so I'll finish with mentioning some wonderful mothers and
fathers with their beautiful children.
The Wine List
Vintages come and go, and this is just as it should be. But one can feel nostalgic for a
particular wine, either because it was so good or that its cuvée dedication evoked memories
of someone close to the family, or more often than not I hope, a wonderful combination of both!
The 1999 (Rémy Alexandre) is finished and there is only a small amount left of the 2003
(Alex Mercier). The 2004 (Donna Elvira) is selling fast and will run out early in the New Year.
The delicious Kir Royal continues to be many people’s choice, especially at Christmas.
The recently released 2005, Cuvée Brian Jordan, is showing exceptional depth of flavour
and intensity for such a young wine. It won a Gold Medal in the South East Vineyards
Challenge this year.
And Brian Jordan? He was a very dear friend, whose company I miss, a
one-in-a-million who became part of Breaky Bottom and lived and loved this
place unequivocally – and my good fortune that he happened to be a fine engineer
(Chief Engineer, P & O Ferries) so he made sure everything was ship-shape around the
farm. Had he not been so gifted my affection for him would remain undiminished.
He died four years ago. When you drink his wine you should raise a glass to him...
Oz Clarke and Owl Boxes
Oz Clarke and James May were filming here this autumn, part of a new series for TV
coming out in the New Year. They drove down the long bumpy track to Breaky Bottom in an
old convertible Rolls Royce, towing a caravan, so you can picture it! I'll try and let
you know when it's screened.
My son Toby (master timber-framer and bespoke furniture maker) has turned his skills
to housing the local Barn Owls. Years ago there were Barn Owls nesting at Breaky Bottom,
I believe because there was always at least one bay of straw in the Dutch Barn left
untouched in April/May and they could nest up there undisturbed. Nevertheless they
seem to be around again as evidenced by my finding Barn Owl pellets (regurgitated undigested
food, mostly fur and bones) in the winery quite recently. The photograph shows our new
owl box to be a very chic residence and I hope that, even as I write, a couple of
lovebirds are within, sheltering from the cold night air and waiting for the days to
lengthen so that they can begin to do their 'stuff'.
Peter Hall - December 2008