Making our own wine
Since the lockdown started to lift, it’s been brilliant to see people coming into the shop to try some new wines and to bend Jamie’s ear on recommendations. A lot of people didn’t realise that we were planning to make our own wines and wanted to hear a bit more!
Unlike a brewery, where the ingredients are available all year round, winemaking is a once-a-year thing. Grapes are generally ready to harvest between late August and October. When they come off the vine, you’ve got a race to turn them into wine as quickly as possible.
One Tesla-load of Malvasia ready to go!
We had some big plans for investing in advanced winery kit such as temperature control for our ferments, but we’ve put it off until until next year because of the financial uncertainty thanks to COVID, so we’re going to work with what we’ve got for now, and just produce a bit less. But it should still be delicious!
As you know, we don’t have a vineyard of our own (other than some Chardonnay in my garden), but they’re popping up all over the place in England now, so we will have plenty of grapes to choose from here.
Berkhamsted Chardonnay ripening up...
COVID is also messing up our plans to hire a refrigerated van and go off on a road trip around Europe looking for the best grapes. But, fortunately, we have an importer who will be bringing in some excellent grapes for us from Italy, Sicily and Spain.
Our car filled to the brim with Shiraz from Puglia in Southern Italy
We’re only going to make still wine this year. Sparkling wines are great (and one of the things we do best as in England), but they need specialised equipment and take up a lot of space – something that we are not overflowing with!
How our craft winemaking is different from big wineries.
Hand-picked grapes. We only work with 100% hand-picked grapes, that come to us in tiny 8kg boxes to avoid damage.
Hand-sorting. On arrival, the grapes go onto sorting tables where we cut out and discard anything we don’t want in there – unripe berries, any rot, leaves, etc. This is probably the most important and labour-intensive step!
A couple of grapes affected by Botrytis Cinerea / Grey Rot – you don't want that going into your wine...
Whole grape clusters. We add complexity to our wines by partly using whole-cluster fermentation (where the stems are ripe enough) which introduces interesting and complex flavours.
Protecting the grapes. Before the yeast get going turning the sugar into alcohol, other bugs can get in and ruin your day. We layer in dry ice to keep the grapes nice and cool; the carbon dioxide helps protect the grapes too.
Gentle extraction. While making red wines, we don’t pump over the wine automatically many times a day or punch it down with massive metal tools; we want to carefully and slowly control the release of the tannins and colours into the wine so do this all by hand, mostly towards the end of the ferment.
Manual basket pressing. Rather than putting our grapes into huge, computerised machines that try to squeeze as much juice out as possible, we gently squeeze them in the most traditional of ways, tasting as we manually press so we only take the highest quality, least tannic juice.
Loading our basket press with some Merlot
Low intervention, clean wines. We aim to use as few additives as possible – preferably none –keeping our wines suitable for vegans and low in sulphites.
Gentle clarification. We try to use time and gravity to clarify our wine, rather than aggressive fining and filtering.
- Small batches. We only ever make at most a few hundred bottles of anything, so we can keep experimenting and having fun, even with individual demijohns of wine!
What all this means is that our wines will hopefully be delicious, natural, interesting and different year-to-year, each with their own story. When they’re gone, they’ll be gone!
We're thinking of doing some more Italian Shiraz, possibly some Primitivo and Nero D'Avola, Hopefully some Bacchus, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from England, and maybe some Tempranillo / Garnacha from Spain. We're still negotiating on getting access to some Burgundy Pinot Noir, but that might have to wait for next year!
We had planned on getting people involved from the local community and offering winemaking experiences, but we need to be very careful this year (for obvious reasons) to make sure that the wine we make and sell is safe, so that might have to wait for a year.
In general, wine is an incredibly safe drink – the acidity and alcohol kill off things like viruses, but of course our top priority is keeping you safe, so we’re doubling down on our efforts to keep everything as safe as possible during our first proper vintage.
If you want a bit of a sneak peak, you might find a free sample of one of the wines I made at home last year in the pack with your Italy vs Spain tasting, on Friday... But watch this space, follow us on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram and you’ll get a good idea of what we’re doing!
Crusher/De-stemmer ready to separate Cabernet Sauvignon berries from the stalks