1975 Vintage Armagnac

Are you looking for a 40th Birthday Present or 40th Anniversary present in 2015? 1975 Vintage Armagnac would make a superb present. At Fareham Wine Celler we supply vintage Armagnacs from many years dating back to the early 1900s. There are vintage Armagnacs from most years as, unlike wine or Port production, the quality of brandy is less vintage dependent. Obviously the vintage does have an effect on the starting product, a fairly basic white wine, but the ageing of the brandy in oak barrels, and the time the brandy is aged, arguably has more effect on the finished product.

Why not see if we have one from your birth year here?

At Fareham Wine Cellar we sell Armagnac from two producers who specialise in the production of single vintage Armagnac – Baron de Lustrac and Baron de Sigognac.

Baron de Lustrac 1975 Vintage Armagnac

Baron de Lustrac 1975 Vintage Armagnac Label

Baron de Lustrac works with a number of small producers and growers and oversees production and ageing of their spirit – this allows them full control over their Armagnac. Only the finest eaux de vie from the best terroirs are used in the production of Lustrac’s vintage Armagnacs. Once distilled the colourless spirit is aged in 420 litre oak barrels. It is here, in barrel, that the Armagnac leaches vanillins and tannins from the toasted oak which lend the spirit colour and flavour. The depth of colour and complexity of flavour increase all the time the spirit is aged in cask, the colour can range from pale straw to rich amber. As Armagnac ages it becomes darker in colour and softer, smoother and more elegant on the palate whilst aromas and flavours of prunes, violets, fig, honey, butterscotch and rancio develop.

Their brandies are presented in an old-fashioned Armagnac bottle and wooden box, these rare vintage Armagnacs are available in strictly limited quantities. Each label is inscribed with the year of distillation, the name of the Domain of production, the bottle number and, where relevant, the grape variety. Baron de Lustrac 1975 Vintage Armagnac is presented in a wooden gift box with a hinged lid.

Buy Baron de Lustrac 1975 Vintage Armagnac.

Baron de Sigognac 1975 Vintage Armagnac

Baron de Sigognac 1975 Vintage ArmagnacThe Owners of Baron de Sigognac, The Guasch family, have been in Gascony since the 12th century. They have owned the Château at Bordeneuve since 1974 and are one of the region’s largest courtier and negociant operations. Today the father-and-son team of Jean-Claude and Thomas look after viticulture, vinification and distillation. The Domaine is almost unique in the region as all its production is distilled into Armagnac instead of wine. There is one short column still at the Domaine (almost 100 years old), which produces up to 50 to 60 casks of new spirit annually. The wine is distilled on its lees, and drawn off at 55 to 58%, depending on the harvest. Distillation is continuous through day and night and manually controlled to account for temperature and humidity changes. Once distilled the colourless spirit is aged in 420 litre oak barrels. It is here, in barrel, that the Armagnac leaches vanillins and tannins from the toasted oak which lend the spirit colour and flavour. The depth of colour and complexity of flavour increase all the time the spirit is aged in cask, the colour can range from pale straw to rich amber.

Baron de Sigognac 1975 Vintage Armagnac has a amber colour with mahogany highlights and a fine nose with aromas of cinnamon and raisins. Fine and elegant in the mouth, well balanced with aromas of dried fruit and a lightly spicy finish. Presented in a smart wooden box with a sliding lid.

Buy Baron de Sigognac 1975 Vintage Armagnac or see how the vintage Armagnac from your birth year compares here.

If you are looking to an alternative to Armagnac we also have Grahams 40 Year Old Tawny Port.

Baron de Sigognac Vintage Armagnac Chart

Baron de Sigognac are one of the top suppliers of Armagnac and specialise in older Vintage Armagnacs. We supply a wide range of their Armagnacs dating back to the early 1900s.

Thierry Beaumont from Baron de Sigognac gave me permission to post this Armagnac Vintage Chart which they have created to show how the various vintages compare in terms of their various main characteristics. You can cross reference the 5 main tastes – spices, fruits, bakery, floral and green – with three different weights ranging from fine, light and easy to drink to classic, rich and well-balanced up to the more powerful and expressive vintages.

Follow the link below to open the PDF file and check what the main characteristics of the Vintage Armagnac from your birth year are.

Baron de Sigognac Vintage Armagnac Chart

Armagnac is arguably France’s second most famous brandy, after Cognac, and tends to be richer, fuller-bodied and more powerful than the often more delicate, floral Cognacs. However, with age, Armagnacs become very soft, smooth and mellow indeed and often offer much better value for money than their rather more fashionable cousin.

Baron de Sigognac Armagnac Label

Baron de Sigognac has been owned by the Guasch family since 1974 and the family can trace their roots in Gascony all the way back to the 12th Century. They are now one of the region’s largest courtier and negociant operations and specialise in sourcing and bottling older vintage Armagnacs. The Domaine is unusual in the Armagnac region as all of its own production is used to distil Armagnac – they do not produce any wines at all. The distilling is done using a 100 year old short column still which produces around 50 to 60 casks of new Armagnac per year. The spirit is then left to quietly age in their cellars until the father-and-son team of Jean-Claude and Thomas either decide to bottle the Armagnac as single vintage Armagnac or use it one one of their fantastic blends – they do 10, 20, 25, and 50 year old blends, as well as a fantastic Platinum XO. Read more at the Baron de Sigognac website.

See all of our vintage Armagnacs, including those from Baron de Lustrac, here.

Winchester Cocoa Company Christmas Truffles

Edit 23/02/15 Winchester Cocoa Company website is now live. You can now shop online.

The Winchester Cocoa Company makes fine handmade chocolates in Winchester, Hampshire with some ingredients bought from Fareham Wine Cellar (Goyard Vieux Marc de Champagne and Pussers Blue Label Rum 40%). This is a new company formed by Chris Attewell and where possible he tries to use local ingredients – fresh cream from a herd of Guernsey cows near Winchester, Summerdown Hampshire mint oil, teas from Char Teas in Winchester. He has also recently made a chocolate flavoured with Twisted Nose Gin distilled in Winchester.

For more information about the Winchester Cocoa Company and matching wine and chocolate please follow my earlier blog post. There you will find lots of ideas for matching wines, particularly with Ports, dessert and fortified wines – these seem to make the best matches.

For Christmas 2014, chocolatier Chris has created a gift box containing 12 Christmas truffles, 2 chocolates of each of the following flavours,

Silver Foil – Marc de Champagne. Milk chocolate ganache flavoured with Goyard Vieux Marc de Champagne

Lilac Foil – Christmas pudding. Pusser’s rum ganache with christmas spices, citrus zest and sherry soaked raisins

Orange Foil – Grand Marnier and cinnamon. A Grand Marnier ganache centre, dusted with cinnamon sugar

Brown / Copper Stripes – Hazelnut and nutmeg. Piedmont hazelnut liqueur ganache, spiced with nutmeg and coated with caramelised hazelnut pieces

Red with Gold Stars – Whisky and orange. Tomintoul 14yr single malt ganache with crystallised orange pieces

Ruby Red – Sea salt caramel. Liquid caramel truffles made with Cornish sea salt and Madagascan vanilla

All of the Winchester Cocoa Company chocolates are made in small quantities.

Available whilst stocks last in the the run up to Christmas 2014.

Winchester Cocoa Company Christmas Truffles 2014

Winchester Cocoa Company Christmas Truffles

Christmas Wine Tasting

Fareham Wine Cellar Christmas Wine Tasting 2014

All free of charge, all at our shop. We will be running half an hour times slots for the second and third wine tastings, so everyone doesn’t turn up at once. As you know, we are a bit short for space! More information on this and the wines we will be showing very shortly. The Champagne Forget Brimont tasting is a matter of just turning up between 1pm and 5pm.

Christmas Wine TastingChristmas Wine Tasting Dates 2014

Champagne Tasting – Champagne Forget Brimont

Saturday 29th November 1pm until 5pm
Please turn up anytime between 1pm and 5pm for this tasting. We will be showing the full range of Champagne Forget Brimont wines including Brut, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs and Vintage Champagnes. You may be aware of Champagne Forget Brimont, they are a small, family owned Champagne producer who we have been buying from for over 20 years.
Champagne Forget-Brimont Cuvée Prestige Millesime Vintage Brut 

Find out more about Champagne Forget Brimont at my earlier blog post.


Christmas Wine Tasting with Richard Oldman of Louis Latour

Saturday 6th December 1pm until 5pm

Richard Oldman works for Louis Latour Agencies who Wakefield Estate Shirazrepresent, not just the famous Burgundian wine producer Louis Latour but also other wineries such as Wakefield Estate from Australia and Craggy Range from New Zealand. Richard will be showing a selection of wines for festive drinking focusing on Louis Latour and Wakefield Estate wines, including Wakefield Estate Shiraz 2013.This tasting will have 30 minute time slots so we can fit the most amount of people into our tiny shop and show the wines in (relative) comfort. Please email or telephone 01329 822733 to book a time slot.

1.00pm until 1.30pm
1.30pm until 2.00pm
2.00pm until 2.30pm
2.30pm until 3.00pm
3.00pm until 3.30pm
3.30pm until 4.00pm
4.00pm until 4.30pm
4.30pm until 5.00pm


Christmas Wine Tasting with James Wilson of Hatch Mansfield

Tuesday 16th December  5.30pm until 7.30pm

@ Fareham Wine CellarDomaine Carneros Brut

Hatch Mansfield represent a number of very well known wine brands in the UK, here are our selection of some of their very best wines for Christmas.

Sparkling Wine

Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage, Methode Traditionelle

White Wine

Esk Valley Pinot Gris, Hawke’s Bay

Santenay Clos de Malte, Domaine Louis Jadot 2009

Red Wine

Moulin A Vent, Chateau des Jacques, Louis Jadot

Domaine Carneros Avant Garde Pinot Noir

Grant Burge The Holy Trinity Grenache / Shiraz / Mourvedre, Barossa Valley

Lanzerac Pionier Pintage, Stellenbosch

This tasting will have 30 minute time slots so we can fit the most amount of people into our tiny shop and show the wines in (relative) comfort. Please email or telephone 01329 822733 to book a time slot.

5.30pm until 6.00pm
6.00pm until 6.30pm
6.30pm until 7.00pm
7.30pm until 7.30pm

Any questions about Christmas Wine Tasting, please phone or email. We hope to see you there!

Nomad Outland Whisky

Nomad Outland Whisky

Whisky is the 2nd fastest growing spirits category globally (after Cognac) It is reckoned to be growing at 12% per year, so it is not surprising that there are lots of new whiskies and bottlings creeping out of the the woodwork. It also seems that the whisky-buying public are open to trying new and different brands or recognised brands perhaps with a different wood finish. For example, Compass Box Whisky has had enormous success with their premium blended malt whiskies and Glenmorangie’s limited edition whiskies have been finished in all sort of casks recently. Which is where Nomad Outland Whisky comes in.

Nomad Outland Whisky Bottle

What is Nomad Outland Whisky?

Potentially, this could be a whole new category of whisky. Basically it is a blend Scotch whisky (grain and malt) aged for most of its life in Scotland, shipped to Jerez (the Sherry capital) in Spain and finished in ex Pedro Ximenez dessert Sherry casks. This is not unusual, of course, most whisky is aged in old Sherry casks, and producers have aged Whisky in old PX cask – the difference here is that is aged in two different countries. This is also why is can’t be called Scotch Whisky and I think the term Outland Whisky is as good as any.

Buy Nomad Outland Whisky at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Nomad Outland Whisky is a joint venture between The Dalmore and González Byass, who own Dalmore, so perhaps this idea is not so strange as it might seem. It is a a collaboration between master distiller at Dalmore, Richard Paterson, and the master blender at Gonzales Byass, Antonio Flores. The initial Scotch whisky is a blend of over 30 single malt and grain whiskies, selected by Paterson, aged from between 5 and 8 years and principally from Speyside. The blend is aged for 3 years in Sherry butts in Scotland before it is shipped to Gonzalez Byass’ cellars in Jerez where it is finised in Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry casks for a further year. The cellars’ location next to the sea, native yeasts in the cellars and the temperature and humidity combined with the old PX Sherry casks all influence the character of the whisky.

Nomad Outland Whisky Tasting Notes

Nomad Whisky has a Dark amber / gold colour. The nose is very aromatice. There are aromas of orange / citrus notes, raisin, honey, vanilla, oak with malty, funky, tangy sherry notes. The palate is full, round, rich and complex. Sweet mid-palate, lots of raisin flavours and spicy oak with a good dollop of sherry character. The finish is long and sweet but drying out at the end.

So there you have it. A unique category of whisky. If you like sweet, sherried whisky, then this is one for you to try.

Pussers Rum Blue Label 40%

Pussers Rum Blue Label 40%

Pussers Rum Blue Label has been relaunched in the UK bottled at 40% abv rather than the old 54.5%. Do not worry however, the Pussers Rum bottled at 54.5% will not disappear from the UK markets, so there is succour for all those old sailors out there. It is being rebranded as Pussers Rum Gunpowder Proof and will have a black and gold, instead of a blue label. You can read more about the reasons for this change and the more about Gunpowder Proof at my earlier blog post. This is part of a slight modernisation by Pussers which also saw the lauch of Pussers Spiced Rum in autumn 2014.

I have not tried the 54.5% bottling for quite some time but the good news the sample of the 40% bottling that I tried smells, and tastes, remarkably like the old 54.5% bottling. All that is missing is the slightly fiery kick at the end of the palate and a little bit of viscous texture in the mouth.

Pussers Rum Blue Label 40% Bottle

Pussers Rum Blue Label 40% Tasting Notes by FWC

Pussers Rum Blue Label has a good burnished golden colour. It has a classic Pussers demerara nose with a good amount of brown sugar and molasses aromas. There are also smokey, leathery notes complimented by baking spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg etc.) and caramel and toffee aromas. The palate is full and rich. It is initially sweet on entry but dries out with time. There are rich, buttery, creamy and toffee flavours. There are some woody / rancio notes, spicy cinnamon, raisins and something somewhat reminiscent of Cognac (the rancio-type notes). It has a good long and lingering finish but without so much of the alcohol burn one gets from the 54.5% bottling.

So then, a welcome addition to the Pussers range and hopefully one that will bring Pussers to a much wider audience. The 40% bottling means that (due to the massive difference in duty between 40 and 54.5%) it will be on sale for a little over £20 a bottle, a good £12 to £15 a bottle cheaper than the 54.5% bottling’s retail price. This makes it much more attractive to the on-trade and cocktail bars where price has previously been prohibitive. It is also at a retail price that fits along side other golden and dark rums. I predict an increase in sales!

Buy Pussers Rum Blue Label at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum

A new name and packaging for Pussers Blue Label Rum! Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum will be launched in the UK in early 2015. As I write this both Blue Labels are available, so be careful which one you are buying!

It may come as a surprise to some, but did you know that there are various different Pussers Rums bottled at different strengths? In the UK we have basically had a choice of 2 Pussers Rums – Pussers 15 Year Old Rum with a red label, bottled at 40% abv, and the Pussers Blue Label Rum which has always been bottled at 54.5% abv. The only other market in the world to take the 54.5% rum was Germany which I suspect is a hangover from the many Army bases and forces personnel we once had there.

In the meantime the rest of the world was drinking Pussers Blue Label Rum bottled at 40% or 42% abv (80 or 84 proof). Pussers Rum are undergoing a period of modernisation and change which means a certain consolidation, rationalisation and the release of a new product, Pussers Spiced Rum.Pussers Spiced Rum

There will now be 4 expressions of Pussers Rum as well as Pussers Spiced Rum.

Pussers Blue Label (International) – 40% abv
Pussers Blue Label (North America) – 42% abv
Pussers Black Label Gunpowder Proof – 54.5% abv
Pussers Green Label “Overproof” – 75% abv
Pussers Spiced Rum – 35% abv

Therefore, the Pussers Blue Label Rum for the UK market will now be bottled at 40% and the old Blue Label 54.5% (it’s not disappearing, don’t fret) has been relabelled and rebranded as Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum and will have a smart black and gold label, the abv remains at 54.5%.

Pussers Rum Blue Label 40% Bottle


Why are they doing this? I would think the release of the Spiced Rum and the new bottling of Pussers Blue Label at 40% are an attempt to connect with the younger generation of rum drinkers. It is certainly true (although we very near Portsmouth and Gosport) that currently the majority of Pussers Rum that we sell at Fareham Wine Cellar is bought by, or bought as a gift for, old sailors that most likely used to draw the Rum Tot in the Royal Navy. Obviously this generation of rum drinkers won’t be around forever and it is essential to get the younger generation of rum drinkers interested in Pussers. There are a couple of other very good reasons for reducing the alcoholic strength by volume down to 40%. Firstly, the lowered abv will allow Pussers to regain distribution on Naval bases where the maximum strength allowed is 40% abv – this will clearly open up what is a natural market for the rum. Secondly, due to the fact that duty is such a killer on spirits in the UK, the lowered abv will mean that the Blue Label will be able to be sold at around £22 a bottle rather than its current £32.50 (Fareham Wine Cellar price, correct 23/09/14). I can imagine this will make it a much more attactive price to both retails consumers and also to bars or cocktails bars who were previously put of by the relatively high price tag. Having not yet tried the new Blue Label, I cannot tell you have the two different bottlings compare.

Why Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum is called Gunpowder Proof?

Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum is so-called due to a method of testing the quality of rum that formed part of British Navy wages in the 18th Century. In an effort to make sure that they were receiving good quality, high strength rum that had not been watered down, sailors would mix a little of the spirit with some gunpowder and try and set fire to it. If the alcohol in the rum was sufficient to allow the gunpowder to burn the flame with a blue flame was considered “proof” that the rum was good and strong. Any rum that would not catch alight would be considered “under-proof” and a rum that burnt more readily than normal, i.e. had a higher proportion of alcohol, would be considered to be “over-proof”. The minimum alcohol concentration that gunpowder would burn in was found to be 57.15% and this was considered 100 degrees proof. From these early beginnings of testing alcohol, the modern methods of alcohol by volume and proof are derived.

Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum is bottled at 54.5%, so I suppose it is not strictly Gunpowder Proof Rum in the truest sense of the meaning. Whilst mentioning Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum it is also worth mentioning Navy Strength Gin. Navy strength gin must be bottled at no less than 57% abv. At Fareham Wine Cellar we stock two Navy Strength gins – Plymouth Navy Strength Gin from the UK and Leopolds Navy Strength Gin from Colorado in the USA. Both are bottled at 57%. I assume that Navy connection in the name comes from the similar thing to the Gunpowder Proof rum, after all gin was a very popular Navy drink. However various sources state that this strength derives from the fact that gunpowder could be lit if Navy strength gin was spilled on it – somehow I doubt if there was much gin sloshing around gun decks during battle. It is most likely derived from being tested, like the rum, as being gunpowder proof.

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Pussers Spiced Rum

Pussers Spiced Rum now available in the UK

Last week, I was lucky enough to meet George Freegard, the International Brand Manager for Sales and Procurement, and Gary Rogalski, President and CEO of Pussers Rum. They were on a whistle stop tour of the UK visiting various suppliers, retailers and bars that distribute Pussers rum. They were in our area taking the time to make a considerable donation to The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) at the charity’s home of HMS Excellent, Portsmouth (just down the road from us at Fareham Wine Cellar). Amongst other things we discussed the new Pussers Gunpowder Proof Rum and a new Pussers Spiced Rum – a gentle modernisation seems to be creeping through the company.

Buy Pussers Spiced Rum at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Pussers Spiced RumQuite frankly, I am surprised it has taken so long for Pussers to get into the spiced rum market. Going back 10 years or so, there were only a handful of spiced rums on the market, today there are well over a hundred spiced rums. In the UK popular brands include Captain Morgan, Kraken, Barcardi’s Oakheart, Sailor Jerry, and many more, varying in style from dark and sweet all the way through to more elegant, dryer styles. Some are made in a very artisanal way using aged rums and steeping the herbs and spices, some are made by colouring and sweetening flavoured white rum with caramel and there is a whole range of intermediate styles in between! Spiced rum is one of the fastest growing spirits categories. Rum sales in general are growing and the WIRSPA (The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association Inc.) in their report 2013 “A Decade of Rum” state that, between 2000 and 2010, “rum enjoyed a growth rate of +40%, ahead of one of the most talked about categories of the decade, vodka”. In the same period, “spiced rum has more than doubled in size over the last ten years and flavoured varieties are up by over 50%.”

Pussers Spiced Rum

So what makes Pussers Spiced Rum different from all the other spiced rums on the market? Obviously Pussers Rum has a long and historical association with the Royal Navy that no other rum has but what is the Pussers Spiced Rum USP?

The base rum is a blend of young Barbados column still and pot still rums. The secret blend (naturally) of herbs and spices are obviously Caribbean spices, but the dominant one here is ginger. There is also some citrus, cinnamon, vanilla, anise and “other spices” – these are steeped in the base blend for 7 days. This not only allows the herbs and spices to steep it allows for the column and pot still rums to blend together too. Only natural ingredients are used. Imagine a liquid rum and ginger cake.

Tasting notes from the Pussers Rum websiteThe colour is a rich golden amber. This lively, aromatic spiced rum first provides distinct notes of fresh culinary ginger and cinnamon, followed by layers of orange zest and baking spices such as nutmeg and allspice. Pussers Spiced Rum is not a typical spiced rum and has been crafted with great care resulting in a spiced rum of superb quality.

Pussers Spiced Rum Tasting Notes by Fareham Wine Cellar

Pussers Spiced Rum has a light golden / amber colour. The nose is full with predominantly ginger notes and baking spiced, it is not surprising that Pussers were toying with the idea of calling this Ginger Spiced Rum. There are aromas of allspice, nutmeg, anise / star anise and peppery spice. It also has nutty, caramel and dried fruit notes. The palate is complex, round and smooth. It is initially quite sweet. There are flavours of brown sugar, demerara, ginger and some orange / citrus. Finish is good, clean and lengthy, drying out with a good gingery kick at the end.

Pussers Spiced Rum in Glass

Pussers Spiced Rum is bottled at 35% abv which is a little bit low in my opinion. It falls in line with Foursquare Spiced Rum and Sailor Jerry at this strength, but I can’t help but wonder what this would be like if it was bottled at 40% abv. All in all it is a fantastic spiced rum, great for ginger lovers and hopefully it will entice a new generation of rum drinkers to try Pussers rum.

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Madeira Saturday

In conjunction with Raymond Reynolds and Barbeito Madeira

 Saturday 15th November – 1pm until 5pm

@ Fareham Wine Cellar
55 High Street
Pop in anytime from 1pm until 5pm and try some fantastic wines from Barbeito Madeira and, if you get here early, a slice of Bolo de Mel, a traditional Madeiran cake, made by Alan Williams of the Buxton Cake Company.

 Follow and Tweet about Madeira Saturday on Twitter using #MadeiraSaturday

Barbeito Madeira for tasting

Barbeito Rainwater Reserva Madeira Meio Seco (Medium Dry) 50cl

Barbeito Rainwater Reserva Madeira has a youthful golden colour, it is quite pale. The nose is full with nuts, almonds, orange peel and quite spicy notes. The palate shows a bit of sweetness and there is very good acidity, meaning that none of the sweetness is cloying at all. It has a very good, clean, long and nutty finish.

Read more about Rainwater Madeira

Barbeito Malvasia (Malmsey) Reserva 19% 50cl

Barbeito Malvasia Reserva has a lovely golden colour. The nose has aromas of toasted almonds, honey and a bit of smoke. Slightly caramelized on the palate, fresh and polished.

Barbeito Single Harvest Colheita 2003 Meio Seco 18.5% 50cl

Barbeito Single Harvest Colheita 2003 is a golden colour with slight green hints. On the nose there are soft caramel aromas mixed with candied yellow fruit, honeycomb and citrus notes. The palate is full, silky and elegant with a consistent freshness in the aftertaste.

Barbeito Madeira is a family-owned company formed in 1946 by Mário Barbeito. Today Mario’s grandson, Ricardo de Freitas, runs Vinhos Barbeito. Barbeito is a very traditional canteiro style madeira and undergoes no de-acidification nor addition of caramel. Barbeito work closely with local producers and have input with them to ensure that each harvest the grapes are harvested to the specification of winemaker Ricardo de Freitas.

Read more about Barbeito Madeira at their website.

Hambledon Vineyard 2014 Harvest

Thursday 9th October 2014

I was invited to Hambledon Vineyard, along with various other great and good people (including wine merchants, customers, shareholders), to “help” with their 2014 harvest. I use the word “help” loosely as between us we only managed to harvest the best part of a single row of vines and I am sure we were probably more of a hindrance than anything else. On the drive up to Hambledon Vineyard, the weather was ominous. Do you remember the Crowded House song Four Seasons in One Day? That just about sums it up – heavy rain showers, bright sunshine and localised flooding in the roads around Hambledon.

20141009_114553If one has been following the 2014 harvest in the UK, one might have read that there has been “near perfect” conditions and that some wine producers started harvesting their grapes two weeks earlier than usual. For example, the harvest at Camel Valley began on September 23rd and was finished by the 7th October, Nyetimber began harvesting on the 7th October. The harvest at Hambledon Vineyard started a little later, beginning on the 8th October, and they expect the harvest to take about 7 days.

So why was 2014 such a good harvest?

As it was explained to me at Hambledon Vineyard, the conditions were almost perfect throughout the growing season. 2014 started with good, spring weather no major frosts. There was an early bud burst, very good flowing conditions and good fruit set. The summer was good and was followed by a mild, warm and dry September. Therefore the yields are very high and at Hambledon Vineyard they expect the harvest to be as good as the very abundant 2010 crop, with less than 1% rot.

Healthy Chardonnay Grapes at Hambledon Vineyard harvest 2014

Healthy Chardonnay Grapes at Hambledon VineyardAs mentioned above, there was some pretty heavy rain storms around at the beginning of October, and indeed there were on the 9th, when I was in the vineyards. However, the chalk soils and sloping vineyards are very free-draining and I was surprised by the lack of mud in the vineyard. If the soils are not well-drained, this can be a problem, especially so close to harvest as the vines can suck up all the water. On the 9th it was also a very windy day in the vineyard ensuring that the grapes dried very quickly after the rain storms and I Chardonnay grapes in the wine pressam told that bringing wet grapes to the winery can dilute the wine.

Back to the harvest… after a quick cup of tea we were taken out in the vineyard to the row of vines we were to be harvesting, row 118, Chardonnay. We were kitted out with pruning shears, 20kg boxes and set to work. Between about 10 of us, we managed to finish one row of vines in a little over an hour. The Hambledon Vineyard 2014 crop seemed very healthy, most vines had a good amount of bunches on them and there was very little rot. Peeking over the vines into the adjacent rows the Pinot Meunier vines seemed to be well laden with many bunches of healthy grapes.

PINOT MEUNIER Grapes at Hambledon Vineyard Harvest 2014

Healthy Pinot Meunier Grapes at Hambledon VineyardThe fruits of my labour, literally

20141009_122010After grape picking we returned to the winery for some sandwiches and a glass or two of Hambledon Vineyard Classic Cuvee Brut and a chat with founder and managing director Ian Kellett, head winemaker Hervé Jestin and Didier Pierson, Champagne producer, wine-making consultant and co-owner of Meonhill Wines with Ian Kellett.

The next bit was something I was interested to see: the loading of the presses and crushing of the grapes. Funnily enough, I had not really seen this being done before as most visits that us wine merchants get invited to at wineries are not at harvest time as they are too busy. Hambledon Vineyard is the UK’s only gravity fed winery which basically means the juice and wine travels throughout the winery, over four floors, via gravity with no pumping. You can read more about this in my previous blog post.

The grapes had been harvested into 20kg boxes, loaded onto pallets and taken, via a lift, to the top floor of the winery where the presses are located. Ian Kellett gave us a quick demonstration on how to load the grapes into the press and two or three of us all had a go at emptying the grapes. It takes two people to do this and once you can get a bit of rhythm going it is quite satisfying. Apparently a similar press would be filled in about 3 minutes by some burly Frenchmen in Champagne (using 50kg boxes), I didn’t time it exactly, but it must have taken us about 15 to 20 minutes!

Loading The Presses at Hambledon Vineyard

As the grapes are crushed the juice flows into the collecting bins (known as belons in French) which are located on the floor below. These are custom built and compartmentalised into 4 sections – two larger ones for the first and second Cuvées, and two smaller ones for “les tailles” (the “tails” or ends) of the pressing. This allows the winemaker far more control – the juice from different parts of the pressing can be treated differently. Contrary to popular belief, the free-run juice and the first part of the pressing is not necessarily the best juice. Head wine-maker Hervé Jestin constantly tastes the juice as it comes out of the press to decide when to switch the juice going into the small container for “les tailles” over to the large container for the main pressing, “the cuvée.” Watching Jervé, there seemed to be a very definite switch from “les tailles” to the main cuvée, something that he has learnt from years of making Champagne. He was ably assisted in all this by Hambledon Vineyard winemaker Antoine Arnault.

At this stage I tried some of the juice and it was certainly very sweet and grapey but it also had a good bit of acidity on the finish. Unfortunately, at this stage we had to leave, and the grapes were still being pressed when we left. Read more about the next step in process from a previous visit.

Thank you to Ian Kellett and all the kind people at Hambledon Vineyard for an very enjoyable and informative day. I urge you to take the time to visit the winery or to attend one of their winemaker masterclass evenings.