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Grape Varieties & Wine Styles

It is said that 'the vine has to struggle to produce good, characterful wine'. Grapes grown in the southern part of Europe often suffer from too much warmth and sunshine, especially the vineyards planted at sea level where the summer heat can be extreme. By contrast, in England we have to seek out varieties that will ripen early enough in our cool climate. New varieties and earlier ripening clones of classic varieties are being produced from plant breeding research stations. Given that the grapes can ripen on a good warm site in the UK and that the wines are well made they will have the potential, with ageing, of producing wines with rich and complex flavours. This comes as a direct result of their having grown slowly and experienced the ups and downs of a typical English summer. The wines can develop very fruity flavours, often with floral or herbaceous tones, according to variety.

Seyval Blanc

Peter chose Seyval Blanc as the principal variety at Breaky Bottom for several reasons. He found some of the vines which flourish in the UK produce wines which are too fruity for the style of wine he wanted to make, varieties such as Huxelrebe and Reichensteiner. Seyval gives a cleaner more open taste, a balance between vinosity with a touch of fruit. He says that this style most closely resembles the fine wines of the Loire which he so admires. Seyval Blanc has a relatively high acidity, again suiting the wine style, and essential for long ageing in bottle. These properties are also the principal requirements for the making of Quality Sparkling Wine using the Méthode Champenoise.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier

In 1976 Peter planted a small experimental vineyard with many of the varieties which grow along the 600 miles of the Loire. These included Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Aligoté and Chardonnay. They failed to ripen fully, even after a warm summer. Since then more suitable clones have become available as plant breeders select for early ripening, allowing cool-climate areas to extend their range over the world. There is a debate as to how much this increased range reflects climate change against the contribution made by plant breeders. The last 15 years or so have seen a great increase in the number of UK vineyards and Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines. The Champagne varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier dominate. Some of the large-scale operations represent a considerable long-term investment in UK wine-making, and display a high degree of confidence in the future. In 2002 and 2004 Peter planted 1.5 acres of Chardonnay and Pinots and these now contribute to the range of wines available. Vintages now include wines made from 100% Seyval Blanc, wines exclusively from the Champagne varieties and, in some instances, a blend of the two.