Vines are very sensitive to the microclimate of the vineyard and to the soil conditions. Everywhere in the UK, we know that the vines that do best are those that do well in the shorter and cooler northern European summers rather than long hot Mediterranean climate. In Cornwall in particular, there are two extra factors: the vines must not mind the damp conditions that “west coast weather” sometimes brings, and they have to be able to tolerate our relatively acid soil.
Our soil here is surprisingly similar to the Alsace region on the France / German border, so it was there that we looked for inspiration. It takes about 5 years for new vines to begin to produce fruit, and they then mature over the next 50 or so years, so it’s a long term decision and really important to get it right. After extensive research we decided on these varieties for our first planting:
Bacchus is a cross between the Silvaner, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau grapes first created in Germany in 1933. It does particularly well in the UK and is the grape behind many international prizewinning wines. Bacchus vines are very vigorous and we have learned that it needs to be pruned back very hard in the winter, and again in the early summer, if it is to do well. It is hardy and does well even if the season is short.
Bacchus wine can have a distinctive and aromatic flavour, and matures well. The wines are full-bodied with attractive fruit and floral characteristics and have been compared to the better-known Sauvignon with hints of Muscat.
Our 2014 vintage includes a single variety Bacchus (white) and a blended Pinot-Bacchus (Rose)
We had a very long debate about whether to choose the white Schönburger variety as our “wild card” in the first planting. Not as widely planted in the UK and less tolerant than our other varieties to the local climate, it made the final four on the basis of its potential to produce wonderful, sweeter and aromatic wines similar to Gewürztraminer. Another German-bred variety, its parents are the interesting combination of Pinot Noir, Chasselas and Muscat Hamburg.
Having nursed the baby vines into good health over a long five year period and a string of wet summers, we had our first small crop of Schönburger in 2014 and were not disappointed. The grapes are green over the summer then turn a beautiful blush pink in the final weeks of ripening. We are excited by the potential of this newcomer and keen to see how we can develop the market for it in the future.
We have chosen to blend our 2014 Schönburger with Frühburgunder to create an interesting Schönburger-Pinot Rose wine.
Frühburgunder is our only red variety, otherwise known as early Pinot Noir because of its early ripening which makes it ideal for the UK climate. Generally sceptical about whether it’s really hot enough to produce a top class red in the UK on the advice of our German supplier, we decided that the hottest corner of our vineyard might just be able to ripen a decent red grape in a good year.
Frühburgunder is a direct cousin of Pinot Noir and produces sweeter fruit with a very dark purple skin. Generally said to be difficult to manage, it seems to like its new home and after several years settling in cropped vigorously for the first time in 2014. We intend mainly to use it to blend with Bacchus to make our Rosé wine, but might be tempted to try it on its own when we’re lucky enough to have a really long hot summer.
For our 2014 vintage, we have used the Pinot to blend with Schönburger and Bacchus to create two distinctive rose wines.
Solaris is the baby of our vineyard family, first bred in 1975 and planted by us later than the others in 2009 and 2010. Like Bacchus with bells on, it is extremely vigorous and needs to be kept well under control in order for it to fruit well. Its huge advantage is that it is resistant to many of the natural problems that beset other vines, particularly downy mildew, and it produces a large healthy crop most years.
We have had fun with a few Solaris grapes planting them in the pattern of a small maze, just below the winery. Although you won’t find any text books recommending this as the best way to lay out a vineyard for viticultural purposes, when fully in leaf we have found friends’ children have loved finding their way around it while their parents enjoy a bit of grown-up time.
The Solaris grape has a naturally high sugar content and is mainly used to produce off-dry fruity wine with good perfume.
We have made a single-variety Solaris white wine from our 2014 grapes.