Step back in Time
It must have been a mighty warm climate in Roman times. We know they introduced viticulture (grape-growing) and winemaking to Britain some 2,000 years ago when they planted vines as far north as Hadrian’s Wall. It is believed that the vine variety they planted was Bacchus. It is a little known fact that the English also produced fizz before the French! In 1662 the English scientist Christopher Merret deliberately added sugar to the bottle for the production of a second fermentation without fear of explosion — thanks to the advances in the strengthening of glass. Thus the first English sparkling wine was made.
Back in 2013 we were most fortunate to find the stellar wine makers, Emma Rice and Jacob Leadley at Hattingley Valley in Hampshire and to get their agreement to make our fizz. At that stage we had not planted a single vine! We love their style of wine. Their winery is state of the art and more akin to a large science laboratory. They are hard taskmasters, and rightly so, requiring that our grapes meet exacting standards of sugar and acidity levels before we can harvest.
The two grape varieties we use are Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Each variety has its own personality. Chardonnay is elegant, fruity and fresh, whereas Pinot Noir brings body and structure. Classic sparkling can be made from either just one variety —for example the popular blanc de blancs is made from 100% Chardonnay— or from a blend. Winding Wood Classic Cuvée is a blend.
The grapes are pressed at Hattingley Valley within hours of us having delivered them in picking crates. Each variety is pressed separately using a Defranceshi press, which is very gentle – just what’s needed to produce great sparkling wine.
The grape juice is then fermented in temperature-controlled tanks, or in second-hand oak barrels, and left until the following year when it is bottled — by a French team who take their bottling machine across the channel and to do the rounds of English wineries —along with the addition of yeast and sugar. At this stage the wine goes through a second fermentation in the bottle known as méthode traditionelle. This is where the fizz comes from.
Bottles lying on their lees
When the second fermentation is finished the bottle is placed on its side and the now dead yeast settles to the bottom of the bottle and starts to degrade. This process is called autolysis. During this stage the wine acquires some interesting flavours, for example, burnt toast, brioche, bruised apples etc.
Two Years Later...
After two years the bottles are placed in a riddling machine, which riddles all the dead yeast into the neck of the bottle. The photograph above shows the dosage production line. Historically in Champagne this process of riddling was done by hand. The neck is then treated with a coolant agent, which freezes the dead yeast and a small amount of wine in the neck. The frozen plug under the crown cap is then extracted and replaced by the liquor d’expedition/dosage.
We joined Jacob in February at Hattingley Valley for the dosage testing: this consists of deciding what levels of sugar (a tiny amount) is mixed with our wine and added to each bottle. Four bottles plus a control were laid out on the boardroom table with different levels of sugar added from 7 to 10 grams per litre. Wow, they all tasted so different! We sipped and swirled the bubbles around in our glasses. By a unanimous vote we all plumped for the 8 grams per litre option.
Fill your Cup
Once this process is complete the bottles need to sit and settle for 6 months. After which the labels are affixed and, hey presto, it’s ready to pop the cork.