Talking about weather; don’t mention the ‘F’ Word!

RIDGEVIEW VINEYARD MANAGER: MATT STRUGNELL

Bud burst has happened, and a green hue starts to appear in the vineyard as this year’s new growth emerges. The vineyard takes on a different appearance at this time of year. There is one thing that is high on the agenda and that is the potential for a spring frost. At this stage, after bud burst, the critical night time temperature is -1 degree Celsius. If the temperature was to get as low as this, we would expect to see some damage occurring.

We use a professional weather forecaster to help us predict whether this is likely to happen. We also have a weather station in the vineyard that enables us to keep an eye on temperatures throughout the night. The weather station will send an alarm via text message at a set temperature. If it looks as if we are in for a frosty night, our tried and tested ‘bougies’ (French for candles) are deployed ready for lighting. We need about 400 of these to offer adequate protection, so we will be watching the temperatures to allow us enough time to get the bougies lit, before it gets too cold.

There are many hours spent waiting; Bougies aren’t cheap and each one lasts about 8 hours, so it isn’t just a case of lighting them on the off-chance. We must make the most economic use of them to ensure that we have enough to last us for the whole of April and May. So, it is a case of staying awake and monitoring and waiting, constantly checking the temperature, watching the forecasts throughout the night. There are many things to consider such as the likelihood of cloud to move into the region. This has happened on a couple of nights already this spring; we may have been anticipating a frost event to occur but having cloud move in can raise the temperature by a few degrees which means that the frost risk has passed. Conversely a night can start cloudy, but we will be looking out for clear spells to develop in which case the temperature can fall to damaging levels.

There is an alternative that we have been trialling, and so far, this year with very positive results. This is the use of electric trace heating cables. The fruiting canes of the vines are tied to these, and they are automatically switched on by a thermostat. We need to properly evaluate the economic and environmental benefits of installing this system further.

Think for us until the end of May if the temperature drops, what you might see as a beautiful spring morning may have meant we were up all night protecting our precious budding vines. The ups and downs of cool climate viticulture!

If you would like to learn more about our dedication to the vines please join one of our tours 

From blending to bottling

 By Simon Roberts, Ridgeview Winemaker

Blending sparkling wine involves a very tough day at the office…. sitting in our tasting room looking out over the vines tasting each tank, carefully adding a little of this batch, a little of the other, until we are happy with the selection. We have a number of growers who we work in partnership with, so where possible we keep each variety, from each vineyard, from each grower separate. Different vineyards will bring different characteristics to the wine, depending on elevation, soil type, exposure and age.

For those who have visited Ridgeview you will have noticed we have lots of small tanks even though we only make wine from three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It would be very easy to have only large tanks, one for each variety. Using small tanks means we can use a little from each vineyard to create a complex and expressive wine.

Once we have decided on the blend, we must physically make the wines. We have several large blending tanks which we transfer into. After blending we have to cold stabilise the wines which involves chilling the it to -4c for 72 hours. We can then very gently filter the wine, leaving it clean, clear and stable.

Finally, we get the chance to put the wine in the bottle and create the fizz. This is done through secondary fermentation in the bottle. The morning of bottling we add some yeast and enough sugar to take the wine to 12% alcohol. Rather than a cork at this point we use a crown cap, similar to a beer bottle cap, to seal the wine, so that none of the CO2 created escapes, trapping the bubbles.

The bottles are taken down into our cellar and stored flat in caverns, naturally keeping the wine at around 15c, which is the most sustainable way of storing. It is here that they slowly go through secondary fermentation and the wait begins…..

If you are interested in learning more about winemaking, why not book one of our tour and tastings

Going Underground – Our New Wine Cellar

Well, that’s a big hole!  Actually 3.5 meters below ground. Just as well as it needs to house over a million bottles during their important lees aging process.

Why build a wine cellar?

All our wines are made in the traditional method which means each and every bottle has its own secondary fermentation after which a process of lees aging takes place to improve the quality of the wine.   This can take anything from 15 months to 10+ years, which means we have to have space for numerous harvests to be cellared at any one time. The perfect conditions for this process is at a constant, cool temperature without daylight and very limited hours of artificial light and this is exactly what a cellar provides.  It is also the most sustainable way of achieving these conditions with no need for air conditioning systems to be run  24 hours a day 365 days per year – costly to the environment and the pocket long term.

Cellars do not come cheap however, the cost of this one is approximately 30% of the total build cost so you can understand why they are unusual in English Sparkling Wine Industry and wine trade generally.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of our build.

Pruning Vines for Perfection

As soon as winter properly sets in, we start the pruning marathon. Pruning is the most important annual job a viticulturist does. There are 16,000 vines to work on which means we will make 96,000 cuts, plus some tidying up. Each of those cuts is made to keep the vine in balance by ensuring the correct number of buds are retained, it helps determine how much fruit the vine can potentially yield this year and it sets up the pruning options for following years. It is also the most direct contact one has with their vines. There is an opportunity to evaluate, spot potential problems and get a feel for how healthy the vines are looking. This is where attention to detail comes to the fore.

So, all of these things are assessed by the pruner: quite a lot to think about when one is aiming to prune a vine in 45 seconds. By pruning, we are removing almost 90% of the previous season’s growth, leaving just 2 canes which will provide the growth for the coming season. From this comes the next task which is to remove about 6½ tonnes of prunings. The unwanted material is stripped out of the trellis, followed by a mulcher that shreds and collects the prunings.

Tying down follows pruning and is now well underway. This job involves tying the retained fruiting cane horizontally onto the trellis wire. Each bud along the length of the retained cane has the potential to produce a fruit bearing shoot. We train the vines in this manner so that the shoots grow vertically. Once that is done, we can deploy the bougies (frost prevention candles) and then we are all set for the coming season. As I mentioned earlier about an early start to the season: there is a lot to get done before the vines wake up in the spring and an early budburst means less time. It also means a longer period in which to be vigilant for spring frosts, but that is for another post.

 

The Art of Blending

In the build up to bottling our 2018 wines, one of the best and biggest vintages we have ever had, we thought we would catch up with Ridgeview’s Winemaker Simon Roberts on the art of blending.

How long have you been doing the blending at Ridgeview?
I have been part of blending the wines for Ridgeview since day one in 1995. In the first years it was Dad and myself blending together. After Dad’s passing in 2015, as the Head Winemaker at Ridgeview, my team and I have continued to manage this process.

Can you explain blending?
The process of blending is taking different parcels of wine, from either different varieties, vineyards or regions and blending them together to create a complete and harmonised base wine. Each batch will have different flavours and profiles which when added together create a fuller, more complex wine than they would individually.

What are the skills required for blending? How do you use your imagination?
When blending the base wines you are creating a wine that generally will not be tasted for a considerable time; in the case of Magnums it will be over ten years. You therefore need to imagine how the wine will develop over time. As part of ‘traditional method’, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle and this changes the character of the wine. The flavour created from the yeast develops over time, creating a taste from “yeasty”, bready through to Brioche and if left long enough this will eventually become the dominant characteristic; almost burnt toast. Along with this, the bubbles from the second fermentation will have an impact on the profile of the wine. All these stimuli will have a big influence on the wine and need to be considered when blending.

Where can you train?
Plumpton agricultural college run several courses that help with the skills required for blending. Either the winemaking degrees for the science background or the WSET courses for understanding different styles and varieties, ideally both! Ultimately, a bit like a chef, developing a palette for blending does require natural skills that can be trained over time.

What characteristics are you looking for in the base wines?
Characteristics we look for are varied with acidity being one of the most important. We choose to pick the grapes at a point when we are happy with the acid levels; high enough that we can put the wine through malolactic fermentation. This is a process that changes the complexity of the acid by converting it from a hard acid (malic) to a soft acid (lactic), this also brings a soft, silky structure to the wine which we like. We strongly believe the old cliché that winemaking begins in the vineyard, therefore we want the fruit to be the hero of the wine, we want all the complexities each variety brings to the blending table.

Can you explain the different nose/palette characteristics of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier?
Chardonnay brings freshness and austerity from the acid, with tropical and citrus fruits and in truly ripe years, coconut. Pinot Noir is softer and more rounded than Chardonnay, with forest fruits, black cherry and sometimes tobacco leaves. Pinot Meunier adds more structure and linear characters than Pinot Noir, with strawberries and redcurrants. This is more savoury than fresh fruit.

Can you tell the difference between the different sites of the vineyards and age of the vines?
The location of a vineyard also has a big impact on the wine: altitude, geographical regionality and exposure. Along with this, the older the vine, the more complex the fruit.

 

With all these influencing factors to consider, you can see how the art of blending is a complex and specialist skill. If you enjoyed reading more about the wine making process, why not book onto one of our tour and tastings to learn more 

NEW YEAR, NEW WINERY

Exciting news! Building work has finally begun on our new winery and wine storage cellar. After nearly two years in the planning, it is a great relief to finally get this project off the ground. The project not only includes the new winery and cellar but also road improvements and a new customer parking area. To assist with the £1.8m cost, we are extremely fortunate to have been awarded a Government Grant.*

We have selected local building specialist firms to deliver the project, which at the time of writing, should be completed during August 2019. Our project surveyors are Brighton based BLB who will also be project managing the contract for us. Sussex based specialist contractors, AXIO (Special Works) Ltd have been chosen to undertake the construction work.

Production is set to at least double in the next five years and this new 18,000 sq ft (1,675 sq m) building, will provide the essential cellar storage space we need to age our wines sustainably, and in perfect conditions. The ground floor area will give us the necessary space for all aspects of our winemaking process as we develop and grow.

With the record breaking 2018 harvest in our tanks the timing is perfect. More details to follow as the build progresses – stay tuned.

*Funded through the Rural Payments Agency, using funds jointly provided by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Defra (the Department for the environment and rural affairs).

Celebrations at Ridgeview

It has been an amazing few weeks at Ridgeview, we have been living by our mantra ‘Life is for Celebrating’.

Our recent run of success kicked off with one of the greatest accolades we could have dreamed of, when we were awarded “Winemaker of the Year” in the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition 2018. The first time in the IWSC’s 49-year history that this has been presented to an English producer. Such a wonderful reward for Ridgeview’s decades of passion and dedication in helping establish the blossoming category of English sparkling wine.

Hot on the heels of this we were honoured to be awarded a Gold for our Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs 2014, at the International Wine Competition. As one of only two golds for sparkling wines outside of France, this is a great achievement considering the amazing competition of incredible sparkling wines from around the world.

Our exclusive blend for M&S, Ridgeview Marksman Blanc de Blancs 2014, has been receiving wonderful press, crowned the winner of the Daily Mail Awards “Best English Sparking Wines” by Matthew Jukes and top pick by Olly Smith as Best of British for Christmas, “Up there with the best fizz in the world”. Jamie Goode also recommended our Ridgeview Wine Society English Exhibition range in the Express, as ”delicious … with a real zip”.

Whilst celebrating all these achievements, it was a fantastic reward for our CEO Tamara Robert’s tireless efforts for Ridgeview and the wider industry, to be awarded joint winner of ‘International Business Woman of the Year’, at the Sussex Business Women in Excellence Awards.

It has been a busy few weeks, making history for English Sparkling wine, however 2018 has marked many more achievements for Ridgeview. We launched our contemporary new branding in May at the Savoy; successfully opened our Ridgeview Wine Club, named OurView, in September with numbers excelling expectations; held our first RidgeFest; and most importantly celebrated our biggest, most fruitful harvest in history.

With export markets up 25% this year and our recent listing at one of the world’s most prestigious, 3 Michelin Starred restaurants, ‘The French Laundry’ in California, our current issue is keeping up with demand, which is a nice situation to be in! Thankfully we are thrilled to announce we will be building a new winery at the start of 2019 which will allow us to double our production facilities and enhance our visitor facilities over the next few years.

There is only one thing left to do this year and that is thank everyone for your continued loyal support and to remember our founder’s philosophy, ‘Life is for Celebrating’.

2018 Amazing harvest for English Wine

Ridgeview’s 2018 harvest is officially over and on record as our biggest and best since we were established in 1995.

We were very fortunate with the weather throughout the year, dry and sunny at the key viticultural points, budburst, flowering, ripening and harvest. We anticipated the heavy volumes early on and therefore decided to invest in quite a lot in fruit thinning (green harvesting). A large crop can make ripening difficult, however our hard work pre-harvest paid off and veraison was early at around mid-August.

The September spell of great weather with clear days and a drop in the night time temperatures was crucial in maintaining acidity levels, which is key to quality. We began accepting grapes into the winery at our earliest ever date. The quality of the fruit was amazing with very large bunches and incredibly clean which made it a dream to pick.

“Honestly, hand on heart this is the best crop I have ever seen in my 17 years at Ridgeview, phenomenal!” commented our Vineyard Manager Matt Strugnell.

A difficulty we have had this year is fluctuations on yield estimations which resulted in a challenge for logistics. With so much fruit coming in and above predicted weights we have had to have last minute orders for tanks to make space in the winery which has been an industry wide issue.

Our Winemaker Simon Roberts remarked: “It is unusual for a harvest to have both high yields and incredible quality in both sugar and acidity. The juice is tasting amazing with lots of complexity and length”.

We have pressed 560 tonnes which will be our biggest ever harvest since 367 tonnes in 2014. This actually equates to over 3 million bunches of beautifully clean ripe fruit. We are incredibly excited about the quality and importantly quantity of the 2018 vintage wines due for release during 2020 when we will be celebrating Ridgeview’s 25 anniversary.

 

Insights on English sparkling wine in the USA

By Tamara Roberts – CEO of Ridgeview

Being back in the USA telling the Ridgeview story and convincing Americans to shun the French Champagnes in favour of ‘British’ Bubbles is great fun.  I have now spent time in New York, Washington DC, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Francisco, Denver & Colorado Springs over the past two years of market visits and expect that list to grow over the next two. In fact it’s the 4 hour coach journey between Houston & Dallas that is giving me the opportunity to write this blog. The USA has some rather complicated rules associated with alcohol or liquor as they like to call it. In order to navigate these complex rules in the US we have to work with an importer to bring the wines, a wholesaler to distribute wines nationally and then local distributors to sell the wines in each state.  This is the three-tier system referred to in the USA.

Since 2016, we have been working with Banville Wine Merchants, set up by Lia Tolaini, an Italian American with serious drive and ambition. For those of you who interested in the nitty gritty, Banville operate as an Importer, wholesaler and also have their own distribution in certain states.  In the states they don’t have their own distribution they form relationships with third parties who they trust to deliver their portfolio successfully.  They therefore have national coverage which make it easier for Ridgeview to get wide distribution quickly.

So, how does the USA differ from the UK? Firstly, Sommeliers rule.  They are the rock stars, holding almost celebrity status within their towns, cities or even states dependent upon their profile, particularly the Master Somms.  They decide which wines are ‘cool’ and worthy of listing on the top restaurants wine lists.  It is no surprise that the key wine competition in the USA, Texsom, was set-up and run master sommeliers.  This has become a significant wine event for sommeliers across the USA. It pleases me to say that Ridgeview were the first English Sparkling Wine to enter this competition in 2016 and we won a gold medal for our Bloomsbury 2014 in the 2018 competition.  I am also rather proud that this wine also won gold and Class Champion (Sparkling) at the Rodeo Uncorked competition 2018 held in Houston every year and judged by the consumers, the harshest critics of all.

One thing for certain in the USA is you have to get Sommeliers to love your wines and your brand to have any chance of making it.  Secondly, each state has different rules as to where / how consumers can buy their wine.  For example, in New York a grocery store cannot sell liquor so there are hundreds, if not thousands, of mainly independently owned liquor stores which need to be convinced to list your wines.  If you then go to Texas, the sale of liquor is dominated by grocers with Specs, Central Market and HEB being among the largest chains.  Colorado sits somewhere in between. Thirdly, consumers are extremely loyal to their domestic production, Californian and other local wines rule and value for money is not a factor in many cases.  Something we should practice more the UK I think, but I am slightly biased.

One thing for certain is that the choice available to consumers out here is phenomenal.  Sparkling wines are a booming category but still considered by most as a celebratory drink and it is up to us English producers to teach them otherwise – sparkling wines are to be drunk at ANY time.  The reception I get in my many tastings with sommeliers, buyers and consumers over here has changed dramatically since my first visit in 2011 when I barely got the time of day by many.  Now most have heard of English sparkling wine and are very eager to taste.  Our wines rarely disappoint on tastings but we still have some price resistance due to the stronghold Champagne has on the market, particularly grower champagnes. But hey, we’ve been there before at home so nothing we can’t overcome if we persevere.  It’s all about the quality, people and place after all.