Thursday, 21 August 2014

We've made it into print in the Western Daily Press - 

West vineyard has something to celebrate

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 07, 2014
Guy Smith and Laura Evans of the vineyard in Aller celebrating the first batch of Somerset's only sparkling wine   PICTURE: SWNS
Guy Smith and Laura Evans of the vineyard in Aller celebrating the first batch of Somerset's only sparkling wine PICTURE: SWNS
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Somerset's first sparkling wine to be made from the same grape varieties as champagne was launched with a pop last week at a vineyard in Langport.
Guy Smith and Laura Evans, of wine-makers Smith & Evans, based at Higher Plot farm in Aller, celebrated the success of their unique venture at an official launch party at Great Bow Wharf.
The 2010 Vintage was made from grape varieties harvested four years ago and is the first sparkling wine ever made in Somerset using the same techniques as champagne.
The sparkling wine will now be on sale at outlets across the county including Williams Supermarket in Somerton and Evans The Butcher in Langport.
Mr Smith, who has been in the wine industry for most of his working life, said: "I always wanted to make wine but I thought I would have to go abroad to do it.
"But we realised that England had this potential for sparkling wine. You need grapes with a very long growing season to get the right flavour.
"The process we used is only really used in Champagne. There are a few sparkling wine makers in Kent, but no others in Somerset.
"I have worked as a wine trader for years but wine making is what we want to do in the long term."
He added: "The launch went really well with around 40 people there – these were the people who have supported and encouraged us throughout and it was good to share our product."
For years the couple dreamed of owning their own vineyard and searched across the county to find the right spot.
In 2007, they discovered the ideal south-facing plot, enriched with Burgundy-style soil, in Aller.
In 2008 they sowed 3,200 vines and transformed a former meadow at Higher Plot Farm into a vineyard.
The first harvest was finally ready for picking in 2010 and the couple were joined by 20 villagers armed with secateurs, wellies and hundreds of storage crates.
The first wine was ready a few years later but today's sparkling wine – made from the grapes harvested in 2010 – has been through a double fermentation process which has taken the best part of four years and gives the wine its fizz.
Mr Smith explained: "The flavours and aromas in our sparkling wines are made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.
"We don't produce homogeneous wines year in year out as we want to fully express the character of each season.
"In some years the wine may be a bright white and in others it may have a delightful pink tinge depending on what the grapes decided to do that particular year. Some years are fuller and rounder, others elegant and focussed."
The couple live on the farm with their black Labrador Fred.

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Friday, 6 June 2014

Miguel - Grandpa to Smith and Evans.

Miguel Merino.

The man in this photo is Miguel Merino who in some ways is the inspiration for Smith and Evans wine. In the mid 1990s when I was working for the Spanish company Freixenet, I was asked to have dinner with the export guy for a Navarra winery called Ochoa. This sort of thing could be a real chore but Miguel was great and we had a lot of laughs. He was talking about buying a building a winery from scratch.

 In his own words -
Since the beginning of my exporting career I have long dreamt of having my own small "bodega", where I could make a few bottles of wine of the best quality possible. Briones, in the heart of the Rioja Alta,  gathered all the conditions  I was looking for: old steep vineyards of Tempranillo grapes, chalky soil and a climate showing a marked Atlantic influence. Declared a town of historic and artistic merit, Briones is where we decided to site our bodega.
 Twenty years ago, we restored an old 19th Century house on the outskirts of the town. On the adjoining land we built facilities for  vinification, barrel and bottle ageing and planted a small experimental vineyard.
 Now, as one of the smallest and youngest wineries in Spain —our first vintage was 1994— our wines are among the most prestigious in the country, and we are exporting them to over 30 markets. This encourages us to grow, not in quantity, but to constantly improve our style; how to get the best from each grape and each barrel. To continue to enjoy our wine-making
Miguel's Bodega.
It had honestly never ever occured to us that a regular bloke with neither a trust or  hedge fund could do this. One of the first adages you are taught  is that to make a small fortune in the wine trade you have to start with a large one. Looking back on the first seven years of the vineyard I think that actually maybe that's true. Many of those that are now planting vines in England seem to have biographies that say so and so bought the land in their second life after making piles and piles of cash in their first life.

We have always called him  Big Mig in hommage to the great Indurain  and over the years we have always seen each other at the various wine fairs around the world but as is often the way, we rarely had time to properly catch up until this week when I showed him a picture of our bottle number 1 ( I doubt he remembers but he gave us his bottle number 4). Miguels advice? Congratulations, you have done the hard bit. Now that your wine is going out into the wide world the real worrying begins.  Suffice to say, he and his sons make truly great wine. You can read more about them at  If we ever finally get an online shop going, we must try to get some of his wines.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Double Decker Vines.

Double Guyot.

When we planted at Higher Plot we chose a system called Double Guyot. Not because it had my name in the title but just because that's what French people did.  Not exactly scientific but as good as anything to start with as it wouldn't stress the vines too much. What we have found is that the plants are happy here, maybe too happy and we can't have that. They give a good yield of grapes but they are also pretty vigorous growing lots of greenery and there's no market for leaves unless you are a Dolmades producer. What we need to do is to transfer that energy into extra grapes.

Scott Henry

This year we're experimenting with double decker vines. This will mean more shoots but shorter ones. This has benefits in that less greenery means that there's better airflow which reduces the risk of disease and also potentially better quality as there's less shading and more light to ripen the grapes. Just to name drop, it was recommended to us by the illustrious Richard Smart no less. There are downsides.  The bottom row is trained downwards to just about bunny height so they will be munching on the tips. The top deck is trained upwards and so we'll be looking for people with very long arms to harvest.
Will it work? Maybe, watch this space.

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!