Friday, 9 March 2018

A big milestone in the vineyard year, on Tuesday we packed the dogs in the truck (vineyard dogs have to share the big moments) and drove the hour up through Glastonbury to Steve’s winery at Bagborough, near Shepton Mallet, to taste tank samples of our 2017 wines. It’s always a nervous moment, the whole year’s work in a few tasting glasses. Though after 20 years of turning out low-intervention, international-award-winners for us, we’ve got a lot of faith in Steve’s ability to do it again. 

The snow had almost all gone after three days of rapid thaw. We’d had a small but not damaging flood in front of the house so thinking about how the Levels communities were faring.


Crossing the King’s Sedgemoor Drain (which actually is quite a wide, impressive tree-lined old waterway, on the far side of Bridgie) and then the wide views both ways across the levels and moors from the A39 along the top of the Polden ridge between Bridgwater and Pipers Inn showed the rivers and rhynes running full and fast, but thankfully not flooding any more than normal for winter water management storage.

Regular readers will remember that 2017 was our earliest ever harvest ( out of 29) and we have been on tenterhooks to see how the wines turned out. High hopes for the late-ripening, difficult-to-grow, serious-potential Kernling and a slight worry that the Madeleine had been a smidgeon over-ripe. We aim to pick it slightly green, so it makes the crisp, easy-drinking Sauvignon Blanc-y sort of wine that makes it our wow-factor best-seller. The grapes had been ripening fast in mid-September when we picked it, and as so often, picking with volunteers at the weekend, it had been a bit of a toss-up whether to go for the Sunday we did,  September 17th, or the weekend before. Had we overshot? The figures were good but just a shade on the ripe side for Madeleine, 7.8 g/l acid and 78 Oechsle sugar.

We tasted the Madeleine first. It’s the lighter wine. Well, yes, it was a bit different, but good. Clean, fresh and crisp. Recognisably Oatley Jane’s. Phew! We could taste the extra body and rounded-ness from the riper grapes. A slightly more grown-up version than usual, with more complexity and less gooseberry. Will our “Jane’s” regulars will take it to their hearts? We aim for terroir-driven wines that reflect the place and the season, not consistency, so we hope they will?

Next the Kernling. Despite the early season, we had picked 22nd October, normal time, to get these late grapes as ripe as possible without risking botrytis. No Indian summer in 2017. The October weather had been deteriorating so we hadn't hung on really late to Halloween or beyond. The grapes had been clean and dark pinky red, the sugars had got pretty high, 84 Oe but the acid had hung high too, 11.5 g/l. 

Steve told us he’d brought the acidity of the must down a little in the winemaking, and fermented out dry, as we always aim to. He uses a champagne yeast for the Kernling, after a couple of stuck fermentations in earlier years. Champagne is also fermented with high acidity, so the Champagne yeast strains can withstand the steely Riesling-parent acidity of the Kernling and ferment the sugars right out. 

How would it be? YESS! The balance was perfect! The nose restrained but elegant. The palate clean and long. Fully dry. Well-balanced. Delighted!

The next to be tasted was the previous year’s 2016 Madeleine that we had left in our barrique through last summer. The best way of keeping a barrel sweet is to put wine in it. You may remember our dash down to the tonnelleries of Cognac after the 2016 harvest, and the acacia-headed, French-oak-staved “Fraicheur” barrique from Seguin Moreau that we brought back. We knew the effect on the wine of seven months, March to September, in this new barrique would be pronounced, and expected to use the resulting wine for blending. But, definite as the flavour was, it was delicious, the brightness of the acacia offsetting the tannins of the oak and balancing the fruitiness of the year-old Madeleine. “That’s a REALLY good Barrel.” commented Steve. We decided to bottle it as it is. Different, and interesting. Now we need a name for it. We already have a 2016 Barrel Matured that we are about to release, from the barrel’s first use when we brought it back last November. Any suggestions gratefully received on our Facebook page here>>

Oatley barrique - the one in the corner

(Our is the barrel in the corner. It used to be the only one, but other local vineyards are getting into oak too.)

We also had the new, milder, 2017 Madeleine, that had been in the barrel on the lees since October, to taste and decide about. After trying it out and some blends, we decided just to add it to the new Madeleine. The wood is milder in this one and the proportion is small in the total, but it adds another dimension to what is going to be an interestingly complex “Jane’s 2017”.

The wines will be bottled in a few weeks. We’re sticking to corks and our usual lighter weight bottles. Getting the guys from Sedgemoor Tree Services back to trim the trees so the lorry can get through. Don’t want a repeat of last year’s unloading event, half a mile away up the lane!

Meanwhile it’s back to pruning. We’re about half way, with the Madeleine finished except for Frost Corner which I’m leaving till last in the hope of delaying the budding to help protect from spring frosts. We’re both on the Kernling blocks now. Iain the top, me the high-trained lower block.

Links to earlier posts: 

The Story of the Barrel >>

Unloading the 2016s in the lane >>

Madeleine Angevine Harvest 2017 >>

Kernling Harvest 2017 >>