A MOST WONDERFUL HARVEST
The 2009 grape harvest was as good as any I have seen in 33 years. The first was back in 1976 after a very dry summer, a small crop but with spotlessly clean ripe fruit. This year the crop was as clean but with a good weight of fruit as one would expect from mature vines. I have two big tanks of Seyval Blanc and one of Chardonnay/Pinot safely in the winery. All will go for sparkling.
The primary fermentations are finished and the wines are fully dry. Now the yeast lees begins to accumulate as it settles to the bottom of the tank, a process which I liken to the pre-historic 'snow' that some 130 million years ago would have gradually descended into the depths of the chalk sea - the minute skeletons of microscopic plankton as they slowly sank to the sea-bed. Much later these layers were pushed up to form the great chalk cliffs and escarpments, upwards of 600 feet of solid chalk, which have become the soft rounded hills and folds of the Sussex Downs. Breaky Bottom is one such valley. Here, as in Champagne, this most singular geological history has given rise to a unique soil, perfect for the cultivation of vines, a rich, calcareous, free-draining loam. While I work in the vineyard I often find in amongst the chalk matrix larger fossils, beautifully preserved bivalves, belemnites, sponges and sea-urchins, the shepherd’s crowns which so delight children. And I could find them a box full of sharks’ teeth within an hour, so plentiful was the top-predator in what was once a warm tropical sea.
REYNOLDS STONE CENTENARY 1909-1979
Around 1975 I commissioned Reynolds Stone to design the Breaky Bottom wine label. This year celebrates the centenary of his birth. He was unquestionably the greatest of wood engravers, cutting end-grain boxwood, the hardest of materials to produce the finest detailed work. I only knew him for about four years but in that short time, like so many who met him, became very fond of him and his wife Janet, herself a most accomplished photographer. Sophie Schneideman and the Stone family have mounted a fabulous exhibition of Reynolds’s work which runs from the 5th -21st November. It is really worth seeing - phone to make sure it is open.
When I received the email from Sophie about the exhibition I wrote her a few words (below) to try and describe my feelings for RS.
"Reynolds was such a fine artist, and so modest and charming. He used to say to me that his life was 'just the greatest piece of luck'. Of course it was more than that - he had such artistic talent and the application to develop it, but nevertheless I think more of us should show gratitude for our lives in that way. His engravings of the countryside were very intimate, even private, his own gentle expression of the profound joy he found in the world about him. When showing me the garden and the woods beyond The Old Rectory at Litton Cheney he would forget I was with him, he walking on ahead and wondering at the plants around him as if it was the first time he had seen them. When he was on his own (or thought he was) I watched him being very 'boyish'. Suddenly he would look up and see me and pretend that he had not momentarily forgotten me (because that would have been most rude!) and would encourage me to look with him at how the light fell on the trunk of a tree or a beautiful dragonfly at the edge of the water".
It is not possible to list all his achievements but here is a reminder. This is the man who engraved the £5 and £10 pound notes of 1962 and 1964 and the fine ‘Victory’ postage stamp of 1946, with the dove of peace to mark the end of the war. Reynolds also cut letters in stone. He made the great memorial to Winston Churchill in Westminster Abbey and to TS Elliot in Poets’ Corner, and the headstone of his friend Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh.
Much of his work is familiar to us. We remember his ‘Times Past, Times Future’ masthead for the Times. We nearly all carry with us a piece of Reynolds Stone’s artistry because it is his bold royal coat of arms which is stamped on the front cover of our passports.
I am lucky indeed to have had Reynolds engrave the Breaky Bottom logo, vignette and crest for the wine label. He produced many privately commissioned works throughout his life, including superb bookplates and letterheads. I fancy that ours was one of the last because he spent the last few years of his life painting in the beautiful countryside around his home at Litton Cheney in Dorset.
Peter Hall - November 2009