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Chapel Down celebrates biggest harvest ever

Despite difficult conditions during harvest, English winery Chapel Down had its biggest vintage ever in 2010 due to good flowering and fruit set as well as additional grapes from new vineyards.

Speaking to the drinks business, Andrew Parley, head winemaker at Chapel Down, said that the 2010 vintage was the first year the Kent-based business had incorporated its 72 acre Aylesford vineyard, planted in 2008, meaning that “there was a lot more fruit around.”

However, he added, “Some who had set a big crop struggled with ripening, and that’s why you find that sugars are a bit lower in 2010.”

Continuing, he noted that sugar levels were between 5-10 oechsle lower at harvest in 2010 compared to the previous year, and there was “disease pressure”, meaning Chapel Down couldn’t leave its Pinot Noir to linger on the vine for an extended period, but had to pick before botrytis destroyed the crop.

In contrast, “The Chardonnay stayed clean,” he said, “and 2010 was probably just a more normal English harvest compared to 2009, which was very good.”

Speaking more generally on winemaking in England, Parley, who comes from Marlborough, New Zealand, said, “Still wines are more difficult to produce [than sparkling] but if you work in the vineyard you can make something good,” referring to “attentive” leaf plucking and crop thinning.

“You got to make sure there is an open canopy combined with good disease control and then to make money, you have to sell your Chardonnay at £14, which puts you up against Chablis,” he said, further outlining the challenges.

As for varieties, he noted, “Bacchus is the horse people are backing and it seems to be a thiol wine, which means you get the grapefruit and passion fruit found in Sauvignon Blanc,” but, unlike the latter grape, “not the green pepper, the methoxypyrazines.”

On the other hand, he said of the Bacchus grape, “You’ve got to do a lot of work to get the acids right and make a dry wine – otherwise it can look like cheap fruity German wine. But if you want a crisp aromatic white, you can do it with Bacchus, and it’s what we are pushing as a still varietal wine for England because it’s the most successful and consistent.”

Parley has made some changes to the Chapel Down Bacchus Reserve from the 2010 vintage, including making a proportion – 20% – using naturally-occurring and not inoculated yeasts. The “wild ferment” Bacchus he said, “is a bit different aromatically, it is more Riesling-like, and has more texture.”

He also wants “to do a bit of malo” on the grape “just for a bit of weight on the palate,” and, turning to a different variety, Parley said he has allowed 90% of 2010’s Chapel Down Chardonnay to go through a malo-lactic fermentation, which is up from nothing in 2009.

This he said has been achieved through co-inoculating the Chardonnay must with malo-lactic bacteria, “to get the malo going in the primary ferment.” This has the advantage of reducing the chance of bacterial spoilage in the wine, but also, he stated, producing “a wine that is a lot less buttery”.

Concluding, when discussing the style of English wines, Parley said, “England tends to make wines with a nice primary fruit character.” And we can pick with 9.5% to 10.5% potential alcohol but the grapes are ripe, whereas in New Zealand they would be green and phenolic.”

“The sugar ripening curve is different: in England you get maturity and flavour at a lower sugar level than you would in a warmer climate – and we pick later than Champagne or Burgundy.”

For more on the English wine industry including the latest plantings and investments, click here

As previously reported by db
, English wines enjoyed their most successful year ever in 2010, with a record 30,346 hectolitres produced – the equivalent of over four million bottles.

Patrick Schmitt, 13.05.2011

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