The long dry summer
The 2018 summer will be remembered by many farmers as a year of uncompromising drought, comparable with the notorious summer of 1976, indelibly etched on the minds of those who experienced it.
Perhaps one notable difference is that the ’76 drought was confined to the United Kingdom whereas the 2018 drought was felt across the whole planet. Another noticeable difference is that British grape growers, virtually non-existent 42 years ago, have had a universally celebrated harvest of abundantly ripe fruit, that will inevitably lead to a memorably stellar vintage for wine-lovers.
Rising from the chalky Hampshire soils...
In Hampshire, Hattingly Valley’s winemaker, Jacob Leadley has been working hard on his own small batch sparkling wine, Black Chalk Wine, made in the traditional method, using the three main grapes of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.
The grapes are sourced locally in Hampshire and the fermented juice is left on the lees (dead yeast deposits from the fermentation process) in oak barrels, in order to add additional complexing characters to the wine.
We enjoyed a bottle of the award-winning Black Chalk Classic 2015, before lunch recently, and there was agreement on the pleasantness of upfront fruit, bright and lively acidity, and a finish in the mouth that leaves the palate fresh and wanton for the next sip. This is a premium wine for sparkling lovers that sits very nicely in the emerging list of top-class English sparkling wines.
I am very grateful for Jacob taking the time to answer my questions, during his 18 hours-a-day harvest period.
Q&A with Jacob Leadley, winemaker, Black Chalk (25th September 2018):
1. When you were standing at the precipice of starting Black Chalk Wines, what were the defining characteristics of the wine you wanted to produce?
“Our first wines were blended from the 2015 harvest, but the planning started a number of years prior. I had a few vintages under my belt and was starting to build up a great understanding of Hampshire vineyards. I wanted to produce something that was 100% Hampshire and grown on the chalk soils that I felt were producing some of the finest fruit. In particular the Pinot Meunier was bringing some beautiful fruit and weight on the palate that can be a challenge in England. I wanted to celebrate what Hampshire could do; pure bright fruit, weight and complexity.”
2. Do you feel you are on track?
“Yes. The 2015 wines are showing elements of all this, and first tastings of the 2016 wines are very promising. I think with any project like this (vintage wines) the goal is to produce the best wines in any single year. I know that the perfect Hampshire wine is the aim, but that getting it right might never happen. The hope is that pushing for that aim will ensure we produce excellent wines and keep pushing the quality.”
3. Do you currently, or have any plans to, establish a reserve of wines for blending into future vintages?
“I use a tiny amount of reserve wines currently, but as the project grows I expect I will use more reserve wines in some blends. I would be keen to continue the two original blends (Classic and Wild Rose) as vintage wines as I enjoy the challenge of those blending sessions.”
4. English is a wine that has benefited from climate change, but many other traditional regions are having to adapt and mitigate the effects. Do you have considerations around sustainability or environmental practices throughout the business that will likely be attractive to younger drinkers?
“At present we buy fruit from some excellent and very responsible growers and the wine is produced in a winery that is partly solar powered. It is always a consideration and I think everyone in this new industry has a responsibility to include sustainability in their business plan. As we look to expand and grow Black Chalk we are including thoughts on how we can limit the impact on the environment and how we can include more aspects of sustainability.”
5. The 2018 drought has been a boon for English winemakers. What is your view on the quality of crop in 2018 and has it altered your perception of the possibilities of making wine in England?
“We have just started harvest and the lack of a spring frost followed by the amazing dry warm weather will ensure that 2018 is the largest harvest England has seen. All the signs are that the quantity will be matched by quality, sugars are pushing high and acids are dropping fast. The challenge is now to harvest it all and get it safely into the winery. Winemaking and growing grapes is a long game, in the past 7 years we have had wildly different vintages 2012 was a wash out, 2014 was big with high quality while 2016 and 2017 were hit by big spring frosts. People get carried away either with the negatives or the positives, but if you take the last 7 years and say ok some good and some bad, in all we have made some great wines and it just about works as a business. Every vintage is a challenge in some way and we remain on the edge of what is possible, but it is great fun being involved regardless of the vintage.”
Black Chalk Classic and Wild Rosé can be purchased online here.
Nick Breeze can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @NickGBreeze
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