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Bacchus: England’s answer to Marlborough Sauvignon?

Flint Vineyard winemaker Ben Witchell believes his research project on the Bacchus grape could cement England’s claim to being a major cool-climate winegrowing region.

Flint Vineyard winemaker Ben Witchell will commence the first part of a two-part project on the Bacchus grape this year, completing the second phase in 2017 (Photo: Simon Buck)

The project, the first stage of which will begin “within the next month”, the winery said, will look to develop a clearer profile of the Bacchus grape through sample analysis.

Little is known about Bacchus other than its parentage (Riesling crossed with Sylvaner), and that it has certain distinct aromatic properties as a grape and wine.

Bacchus tends to be Sauvignon blanc-like, displaying similar levels of thiol-like aromas. Thiols are the chemical compounds responsible for grassy to tropical notes. The grape also has a unique smell when picked during harvest but no one knows exactly why, Witchell said.

Witchell believes that by developing a reliable organoleptic profile for Bacchus – England’s third most-planted variety – English winemakers will be able to get the best out of the grape and have a greater impact as a cool-climate wine region.

The winemaker cited the importance of such research in establishing New Zealand as the world’s premier Sauvignon Blanc-producing region.

“Thirty years ago New Zealand was virtually unknown for making wine. Now they make some of the most well-loved Sauvignon blanc on the planet. The success of this was helped by a significant amount of research, which helped winemakers harness the potential aromas within the grape, which is what I want to do with Bacchus”.

As reported in the drinks business in January, Flint Vineyard, which is based in Earsham, South Norfolk, has been awarded £23,000 in funding by the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative to conduct research aimed at helping English winemakers understand more about the Bacchus variety.

The winery has now released further details about the project, which will be split into two phases.

The first phase will focus on analysing a representative sample of Bacchus wines from England. The aim is to identify any common aromas in the wines, which characterising its style and providing evidence for typicity.

This will allow Flint to say for certain what the key chemical compounds are that make up the unique aroma of Bacchus, Witchell said.

The second phase of the project will take place in the winery. Witchell will carry out a series of micro-fermentations at Flint’s winery to test different winemaking parameters., such as fermentation temperatures, yeast strains, varying levels of grape nutrition, oxygen levels or differences in grape ripeness.

Flint has teamed up with Campden BRI, one of Europe’s leading food and beverage laboratories, to use state-of-the art analysis equipment and techniques for the project.

The main method is Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS) which will enable Witchell to identify the unique ‘atomic fingerprint’ of each Bacchus wine sample used.

The winemaker hopes to be able to determine whether a typical English Bacchus can be characterised, and the best winemaking techniques are to express the grape’s potential.

In further funding news, Flint is also hoping to receive another major cash boost from the Rural Development Programme for England.

The winery has applied for a grant under the programme’s Leader scheme, which has been set up to create jobs, grow businesses and to benefit the rural economy. The result of its funding application are expected soon.  

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