When Simon and I first set up Hattingley, we were adamant that we would not be making still wines. We didn’t feel that the quality of those wines on offer at the time justified the necessary price tag.
Well, here we are, eating our words. 2018 gave us the first inkling that it might just be possible to make world class still wines in England, but we didn’t have the right varieties planted in the right places that year. 2019 was another warm year, and as luck would have it, a new vineyard in Kent, planted solely to supply us, brought in some Pinot Noir Précoce that just demanded to be made into the STILL Rosé.
That wine was a huge success for us during the first lockdown of 2020, so during the summer, which you may remember was warm, sunny and ideal for both humans and vines, we set about working with that grower and several others in Essex, to see what kind of ripeness we could achieve with both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
To make our stellar quality sparkling wines we like to pick the grapes at around 10.5-11% potential alcohol whilst retaining a fairly high acidity. In order to make still wines you want the potential alcohol to be well over 12% and with much lower acidity. For this to occur naturally on the vines there are several things we do.
First, select the plot that ripens earliest in a normal year. Then reduce the number of bunches you are asking each vine to ripen – if they produce 16 bunches for sparkling wine, then we will ‘green harvest’ to make the total number roughly 8-10 per vine. And we will remove nearly 100% of the leaves growing immediately around the fruiting zone. This maximises the sunlight, reduces risk of rot (increases airflow), and means the vine has few bunches into which it puts its energy. It costs money to do the extra work and it reduces the overall tonnage per hectare, therefore it actually increases the cost of the grapes significantly, and there is no guarantee that it will work!
The almost textbook perfect growing conditions of 2020 saw all that work pay off and we were able to repeat the Rosé but this time with a higher proportion of Pinot Noir as well as Meunier and Précoce. We have also made a 100% Chardonnay wine, in a light Chablis style – minimal oak, a light touch of malolactic fermentation and bottled whilst young and fresh.
We couldn’t make either of the wines in huge quantities so I encourage you to get them whilst you can!