We’ve been here a tad over 15 years and have just completed our 16th harvest. Crikey. (Sophie, below left, was two when we arrived and Amelia and Tom were both born here. Georgie, away studying at Bristol, was four.) Another question we’re frequently asked is about how many bottles we make. It can be a sore point, especially with 2013 in mind, as the answer is anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000.
It is with some relief, with the crop safely in, that we can now move on from the cuvée grêle (right).
Actually, we’re quite stubbornly proud of our hail blend; despite the *ahem* challenges, the 2013 is the house white at Rick Stein’s and Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous three Michelin star restaurant in London. It’s a crisp, dry and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. There just wasn’t much of it though and, worse still, we had to be draconian with the selection of the final blend before bottling.
So, what of 2014? Tasting all the fermentation tanks again last night, the whites are showing well. All ten parcels, which are vinified separately to help us understand the character of each block, are good enough to be included in any assemblage, I reckon. I rank them in order of quality and compatibility, and have already decided on the blend for five separate ’lots’ at this stage. These ten blocks are being added together to form the five interim blends as I write.
Whether we blend it all remains to be seen and it may be that we don’t put tous les oeufs dans le même panier. Our private and restaurant customers simply want the best wine we can produce for a reasonable price, and that remains our primary focus. We are naturally mindful that to bottle, label and box up the wines costs 80 centimes per bottle: our golden rule, which dawned on us after some time and several costly errors, is that we don’t bottle anything unless we’d drink it ourselves.
The rosés, fermented separately at this stage from blocks of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, are delicious. We picked them early, as we’re looking for more freshness, acidity and lower sugars (and therefore less alcohol) than for making red wine.
It’s early days for the reds as they’ve only just been picked yet the initial signs are promising. Right now, we’re pumping the fermenting juice up over the mass of dark skins which lodge at the top of the tank; the tannins coming from the pips and skins are ripe and there’s good colour, balance and flavour.
The one big difference with our red this vintage, compared to this time last year, is that we do actually have some. In 2013, we opted to make rosé only: thankfully, we have a market for our popular, Provence-like pink, and aren’t obliged to make red if the quality isn’t really there.
It seems that nature has a way to remind us all to be content with what we have, and having a decent if not enormous crop feels like a huge victory after the decimation of the 2013 hailstorm. To put some numbers on it, and to get back to the question, we’re allowed to make close to 200,000 bottles under the strict ’appellation’ laws from our 24 hectares (60 acres) in production.
The 2014 yield is around 40hl/ha, in keeping with many of the leading Bordeaux estates. If we bottle the lot, we’ll make about 133,000 bottles, touch wood – from 100,000 vines, incidentally. (Gosh. That’s 22,000 cases of 6, our preferred format, which seems a great deal.) Last year, we produced just a third of that.
So it’s back to ’normal’ production levels then. I can now tell visitors that while we have the right and plenty of capacity to produce nearly 200,000 bottles, we make as little as 50,000 in dodgy years like 2013. We’ll settle for years like this one – somewhere in the middle.
Onwards and upwards.