December saw the long-awaited launch of our first ever red wine; a Pinot Noir from the 2016 harvest. The wine spent 17 months maturing in French oak barrels before being bottled in early 2018. It was then allowed a further 9 months to age in bottle before release. We were only able to produce a small quantity and released just under 600 bottles on 10th December. By the end of that week, the wine had sold out. The response to the launch was overwhelming and we’re thrilled that it was so well received by everyone who tasted. We often get asked if we have any red wine available and we knew this would be a popular wine. So why didn’t we just make more?
Producing red wine in the UK poses several challenges. Firstly, we only have a certain number of vines and can only produce a finite amount of wine from the grapes they grow (sounds obvious, but stay with me).
Secondly, we operate in a cool-climate zone for winemaking. It’s important that we choose varieties that will grow and ripen well in our climate, which is why you won’t find a bottle of Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon grown and produced here in the UK. These varieties fare much better in hotter climates, and need much more sunshine and heat to ripen.
Thirdly, in order to make a red wine, we need the red grapes to be riper than if we were using the same fruit to make rosé or sparkling wine. More specifically, winemakers look for sufficient “phenolic” or physiological ripeness. This refers to the physiological and chemical changes in the grape, most notably affecting the tannins in the skins, pips and stalks that produce the chemical compounds which make the fruit taste bitter, astringent or overly herbaceous. The rate of ripening is influenced by the climatic conditions of the vintage and so it can vary from year to year. In essence, the warmer the weather and the higher the intensity of sunlight, the faster the rate of ripening. The rate of ripening is also increased if the vine has fewer bunches or small bunches. It’s therefore not possible to simply allocate more of our Pinot Noir to making red wine if they’re not as ripe as they need to be; nobody wants to drink a red wine with green, unripe flavours. In years where the grapes don't ripen sufficiently for red, they will be allocated to our rosé or sparkling wines.
Whilst we may have sold out for now, the positive news is that there’s more red to come! We were able to produce a slightly higher volume of Pinot Noir from the 2017 vintage, which should be released around November this year. It may already seem a distant memory to many of us (especially as I look at the snow outside the window as I type), but 2018’s hot, dry summer resulted in near perfect conditions for winemaking… and almost 10 times as many bottles of Pinot Noir!
More exciting news on our red wine will be coming in the near future, including information on the release of a new wine, our ‘Atcombe Red’, so watch this space.