Hampshire harvest watch – picking grapes

Auxerrois grapes

Auxerrois grapes

For the past two months on this website, six top producers from Tuscany have been giving a day by day account of their harvest. We have now got to the end of the grape picking and there are some great pictures of the celebrations with the workers – the full moon over Southern Tuscany, whole families celebrating and a barbecue fire of epic proportions. It has been a challenging year with a pretty good set of outcomes – but I will return to summarise the year in Tuscany soon.

Here in Hampshire the harvest has been going on over the last couple of weeks. Tim and Julie from Grape Expectations and I had a perfect day on Saturday at Danebury Vineyards helping to finish off their harvest. I went on my bike which was slightly eventful as when I got to the hill fort I discovered that the lane the Google map showed as taking me on directly to the estate is in fact a rough track and not suitable for a townie bike like my beautiful Brompton … I then chose the wrong option to go around the hill fort and added a few unnecessary miles to the journey!
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But it was all more than worth it. The sun shone, the grapes were on the whole in a good condition, the hospitality was excellent. We finished early and were treated to a wine tasting and great lunch with owner Ernst Piëch and his wife, and the estate manager Simon. For those of us who live nearby, it would be good to go as a group another year and do our bit – picking the grapes (easy) makes you feel that you have justified all your drinking of the resulting product!

People may be surprised that the 2011 harvest seems promising, given our miserable apology for a summer. But that is not the whole picture. We had an excellent, unseasonably warm spring and a warm, even hot, late summer/early autumn, both of which have helped grape growers. The key challenge in the main summer months was high humidity and therefore the danger of rot. Danebury appear to have dealt pretty well with this.

Danebury produces a number of white wines, with its sparking, bottle fermented Cossack, probably being the (wait for it) best of the bunch. Tim stocks the wines in his Andover shop and will have a special offer for the sparkling for this Christmas. We tasted:

Danebury Madeleine Angevine 2008 – From Austrian stock planted in 1997. Aromatic, moderately fruit nose and palate – hedge row, acacia – dry and light.

Danebury Schönberger 2007 – from an unusual year with warm days and nights and therefore low acidity. For this reason, the estate made no sparkling wine that year. Dry, floral, with some green leaf notes, greater complexity, quite a full flavour on the palate, good length. Very good with fish pie (we had an excellent one to prove this!) or with cream-based sauces.

Danebury Reserve 2010 On the whole Danebury only produces single varietal wines but are now experimenting with some blends. The first pressing of the Auxerrois goes into the sparkling wine, and now the second goes in with everything else (Madeleine, Schönberger, Ruländer) into this wine. Good nose with some spice and floral notes, green apples on the palate, moderate length, slightly unrefined finish. I am not sure about the use of the term ‘reserve’ for this wine but it is a perfectly drinkable table wine.

Danebury Cossack 2002 As the company’s website states:

‘Cossack sparkling wines are made from a blend of the Auxerrois Blanc (Auxerrois Blanc is a cross between Gouais blanc and Pinot noir, the same ancestry as Chardonnay) and Rulander grapes (A German synonym for Pinot Gris). It is made using the traditional bottle fermentation method and aged for at least 5 years on its lees.’

So we are talking about a wine made with a grape mix related to those which make Champagne, grown on similar chalky soils, and made exactly like a vintage Champagne – though of course we are rightly not allowed to call it that! This older bottle had rounded aromatics, ripe fruit and some attractive mushroom aromas due its five years on the lees and a nearly five of further ongoing development in the bottle. Drink now. A good example of the sort of complexity English sparkling wine can develop.

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