Wednesday, 6 February 2013


I'm terrible at writing the blog so, I thought I'd film it.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Not Pretty but they work!

The Romance of Winemaking.

For me our 2012 wines have existed as two spreadsheets on my laptop that show a series of chemical analysis and wine making steps. Once the grapes are delivered and pressed we issue instructions based on the initial readings as to how the juice should be handled. After that unless there's a proble, there is really not much point tasting the wines as it's easy to make snap judgements on something that is changing so quickly. Eventually no amount of analysis will compensate for getting some of it and having a great slurp to see how it tastes. The result is that yesterday in between meetings I called into the winery and was standing in a lab in front of two cheap plastic jugs that represent the better part of a years work. One a tank sample of 2012 sparkling wine and the other our still wine. Always a nervous moment. As we are now three years in, we have a much better idea of the context of how wines will develop and I am pleased to say that I am pleased! The numbers had looked OK but you never know. The guys at the winery said that the still - which will be a very light rose colour, is one of the best if not the best through there this year and the sparkling base wine is really good. We were worried that it would be light and without a distinctive character but really not so. Shame that there's so little of it! Laura and I are going to have to be on strict rations for personal consumption which is not going to be easy.
We also have some reserve wines in barrel from the last two vintages kept for a rainy day ( well that could be any day) and these are superb - I am really trying to be objective! They have gained richness and depth that on their own would make for something that could be over powering. We will use these as top dressing as the whisky folks call it or maybe sometime we will bottle some up on its own - a super Smith and Evans.
Watch this space.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Glass Half Full. 2012 Vintage.

Thanks to Liz Weber for the Picture.

Thinking back on the difficulties of  growing grapes in 2012 anybody sane would have just put the secateurs away, polished the tractor and opened a bottle of 2011 Rosé in memory of sunnier times and then sat in front of the telly for the whole "summer". All the way from late April to the end of September it has been like a stuck record - as long as the weather improves from now then all will be well but, it never did. Twice the work for half the crop. That just about sums up 2012 for us. But looking back we do have reason to be quite happy. The site has withstood all the ravages of the worst summer for 100 years and still produced 1.5 tons of clean ripe quality grapes that will make quality wine. This is remarkable considering some illustrious names have made nothing at all and others are up to 90% down. You can always tell that it's a low volume year when we drop off the crop at the winery. There are normally stressed people in various states of sleep deprivation from 14 hour days pressing and pumping juice but this year it was all very relaxed with plenty of time to plan the wine making and  have a gossip with Kev the cellar manager.
Thanks Celia for the picture.
It's also great to say that harvest itself is becoming a joy. Everybody has a good time and it's great for us as for the rest of the year it's just the two of us working together and all of a sudden you have the sounds of lots of happy people amongst the vines. For the first two years I think my prevailing mood was the stress it being the climax to a whole years hard graft and all the things that could go wrong.  Now we have done it a few times we have a two week timetable of preparation that means that once we get to the day itself you have a chance to relax a bit more and get into the spirit of things.

The few days post harvest are strange. You have yet to kick your five times a day Accuweather habit and planning your weeks around spray intervals. Without the grapes the vineyard instantly looks bare and has a very different feeling that is hard to explain, autumn has now begun. Inevitably, your mind starts to think about next year and I found myself picking grapes whilst also looking at where I would make the winter pruning cuts. 2013 starts here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why the price of wine will go up and up.

Things are changing in the world of volume wine trading which makes my job quite interesting at the moment. A series of factors have come into play that mean that wine as a whole is going to become a bit more of a luxury item for most people rather than the first thing that they thoughtlessly reach for from the fridge after a hard day at the office. This is not just down to high taxation although this plays a part. What used to happen was that if the price of something like Chilean Cabernet went up because a poor harvest or more likely foreign exchange movement, then buyers would just drop it and move onto whatever else was cheap which could be Spanish Tempranillo or California Merlot, it didn't matter.
  For years there has been over supply particularly from the European powerhouses of France, Italy and Spain. Growers have been desperate to get anybody to buy their grapes but also with the full knowledge that if nobody did then a friendly EU official would come along and take them off their hands to distill into industrial alcohol. For a few years now governments have been encouraging people to plant alternative crops to cut out the surplus. Unfortunately good sites are just as likely as bad sites to be grubbed up and so it doesn't mean anything for quality. 

Another factor is that the world has become smaller and so growers have cottoned onto what  everybody else is getting for their grapes and coupled with rapidly rising demand particularly in the USA and China means that there is less chance of trading off one region against another. It only took one important Chinese buyer to take a trip to Spain last year to hoover up a six or seven million litres to have a major knock on effect on pricing. 
You now hear from many important producers that they are less interested in selling the the UK when they can get more money and get treated better elsewhere. It is true that some supermarkets can be abominable in doing things like delisting lines without warning for stock specifically labelled for them that can't be sold elsewhere. It has to be said not all of them do this and it's certainly not necessarily the ones who are always seen as being the bad guys in the media!
 In the shorter term there have also been poor harvests in some of the real volume regions of Spain, Italy and to some extent France. New Zealand is also short from 2012 which all stacks up to price rises.
What does this mean - well in general it should be good news for growers. The suppliers of raw materials are always the ones that feel the real pain of our insatiable desire for cheap goods. People need to look to providing them with more secure long term contracts that they can take to banks in order to borrow money for cash flow, expansion and maybe even better quality who knows! 
What does it mean? In the long term it will also be interesting to see where new plantings emerge. It will be dependent on climate change and  water availability in particular  which would rule out places such as Australia, California and maybe South Africa. My money is on serious expansion in China where they have already proved with crops such as apples that they are capable of large scale consistent and efficient production. Much as I would love England and Wales to fill the gap we will always be a niche high cost region however much growers currently worry about oversupply.
My other prediction is that consumers will turn to wine based drinks that have fruit juices or other flavourings added and probably lower alcohol - Peach Bellini or a Cranberry Cabernet anybody?

Watch this space!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Launch of the 2011 Wine

Jo Trendall at alliterative Lettuce and Lovage in Langport has just sent us the menu for our 2011 still wine  launch on June 6th. Can't wait it sounds wonderful and hopefully our wines will do the food justice in a great riverside setting. Apparently we are up to 15 people already so looks like it could be a sellout. We will also be serving our Two Tuns Shiraz which in someways is where it all started - buying grapes in the Riebeek valley in South Africa and making wine at the local cooperative with our friend Zakkie Bester. We really should revive this, at almost seven years old the wine is still developing. If you want to book then the details are at the bottom of the post.

I wonder if there will be a few surprised faces when they see that this years white wine is pink.

Lettuce and Lovage Logo

Smith and Evans Wine launch & tasting Evening

6th June 2012


Warm bread, cannelini bean and olive puree

To Start (rose)

Mackerel fillet, rhubarb compote, Israeli couscous, mint

Main Course (Shiraz)

Braised shin of beef, parmesan and thyme polenta, salt roasted beetroot


Fresh Strawberries, sweet ricotta, lemon shortbread


Exmoor Blue, honeyed walnuts, dried fruit

Tickets £35 per person

Booking essential – call Jo on 01179 856767 or email at

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Natural Wine

An often used cliché is that to become a great abstract artist you have to first learn to be a great figurative one. To mix clichés we are very much learning to walk before we can run both in the vineyard and the winery. Making wine from scratch is such a long process that you often rethink and change tack as you learn what you land is like, how the vines settle in and the effects of various winemaking techniques. The orthodox view is that you need to have massive control  over every step of  the process and that any deviation will cause disaster.An alternative  is a growing movement that is making minimal intervention wines. In the 1970's and 80's you would probably have a hit rate of 30-40% faulty wines and many of these new wines remind me of those days. I think that most of us just want to have something that we know is going to be tasty.

After harvest this year the sun continued to shine for a couple of weeks and some of the grapes that were too unripe at harvest matured and we decided to make some wine with no interference. No added yeast, no sulphur, no temperature control, fining nothing just crushed grapes in a demijohn. On Sunday we tried the Chardonnay. I was sort of expecting something not 100% clean and fresh, maybe a bit funky and smelly but hopefully interesting. The true taste of the Terroir.
Natural Chardonnay.
Well, it was completely clear, clean  fresh and pure with zinging acidity. Young but really good. Is this really the pure expression of our land? Later this week we will be getting samples from the winery of the controlled proper version and it will be interesting to compare them. Maybe we are all a bit too anal about winemaking and just letting it happen naturally might be an option. On the other hand, are the flavours different enough to justify the risks? This question is one that will run and run for us, probably for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dumb, Dumber and Marketing

Solutions to what exactly?
 I rarely feel the urge to rant on a blog. Actually, I rarely feel the urge to rant full stop.In a nice gentle way I have vines, winemaking and cider to write about . If people are interested then that's lovely but I suppose that I write the stuff mostly as my way of recording what changes on the farm.As a middle aged Englishman I obviously have an inbuilt genetic hatred of people who throw litter out of car windows and of people that queue jump but that's unavoidble.
In my day job I get to write quite a lot of copy for products whether it's for back labels, websites or press releases. I enjoy it but there are those lazy lazy words and phrases that you could so easily slip in to save having to use a single brain cell, it's so tempting but you know that you would feel ashamed and unclean afterwards.
Authentic - as in, Authentic Italian Pizza produced in Germany/Ireland
Edgy -   any product aimed at middle aged people trying to believe that they are cutting edge as in This Premium Foccacia Slicer has Edgy Italian design.
Cutting Edge -  Edgy for Top Gear viewers.
Premium - Cheap but with more Alcohol, Fat, Sugar ( delete as appropriate)
Crafted - Made by the millions by Robots.
Hand Crafted -  Made by Robots and packed by a Robert.
Passionate -  I have honestly seen "We are passionate about toilet  and personal hygiene products"
Innovative -  Same product, new pack.
Excellence - Ordinary. The phrase "Excellence as Standard" gives 153 000 000 results on Google.
Pursuit of Excellence -  Can't even do ordinary. 
Best Practice - We adhere to a strict set of rules and have no imagination or flexibility.

Mission Statement -  All of the above rearranged in random fashion.