The land on the farm here was rigorously assessed for its suitability as a vineyard prior to being planted. The soil is sandy loam and the underlying geology is Newhaven chalk, an exceptional combination for vines. The sandy loam allows water to drain very efficiently and the chalk has powerful water retaining properties. Vines do not like wet feet but in times of drought the chalk provides vines with essential water. The aspect of our parcels ranges from south-west facing to south facing. The aspect is important, south facing being most optimal, as this can be the difference in required sunlight hours for effective vine growth and grape maturation and ripening. The slope of the parcels is gentle (ranges from 2-5% slope). The gentle slopes increase the efficacy of the sunlight the vines leaves receive for better photosynthesis. This can also increase the heat within the vineyard, which is extremely important in ripening.
Now knowing our land we needed to get to know what to plant. We wanted quality. We took a leaf out of the French wine growers book for this one. There are parts of Champagne that have very similar conditions. So rather than reinvent the wheel we decided to learn from their success. We chose high quality varieties and clones from Burgundy, in France and paired them with rootstock that thrive in chalk soils. The combination of these factors are extremely important in order to produce high quality grapes to create great wines.
The varieties, some of which will be recognisable, are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. These varieties are well known and widely planted across the globe. They thrive in varying conditions but produce hugely different results depending on where they are grown. Here, in south-central England they are perfect for creating sparkling wines of the highest quality. They ripen to the point where flavour develops beautifully and retains great acidity, both essential in producing great sparkling wines. This profile is very different from what you’d find from the same varieties in say, California, Chile, Australia or South Africa.
Grape growing is farming. It’s just not very common in the UK, but is increasing year on year. The farming of grapes is very hands on and labour intensive. There are ways in which vineyard managers or viticulturalists can manipulate the vine to perform how we would like them to. We can alter quality and quantity through various activities. In sparkling wine production there are many jobs that cannot currently be replaced by machines. It is a much more delicate and painstaking process. Even though vines are all genetically identical they each interact with their environment individually and so do not all act the same way. The job of the viticulturalist is to interact with the vines, on an individual basis, in order to maintain yield and the health of the vines.