Planted in February 2008 on a purely non-commercial basis, the "hobby" vineyard consists of three grape varieties: Syrah (Clone 470), Mourvedre and Grenache (Clone VCR3). Both the Syrah and Grenache are on 1103P rootstocks, whereas the Mourvedre are on 110R rootstocks. All vines are trellised and pruned in the "Guyot" style and the rows are aligned North-South to allow even ripening. The varieties were chosen to mimic the wines of the Northern Rhone in France (my passion!), and although it's true due to the differences in the climate and soil they will never be the same, it is hoped that as the vines age and develop they will give us a house wine of similar characteristics.
Syrah Clone 470 Mourvedre Grenache Clone VCR3
In 2011 we decided to introduce irrigation into the vineyard. This decision was not taken lightly as we have always believed that a vine should have to search for water, pushing it's roots deep, and in doing so benefiting the wines' flavour in the process. Irrigation can have the effect of promoting surface-rooting at the expense of a deep root system that is in a constant search for underground water and mineral reserves. Having monitored the vines over their initial years it was apparent that cane strength and vigour was subdued, which became more noticeable when the vines were asked to carry a crop in 2010. The clay soil contains a sufficient nutrient base for vines, however, without available water during the growing season, these become locked up (as although we get around 500mm of rainfall per annum, generally, the bulk of this falls in the months of April and October, with very little in between).
So to the root of the problem... getting water right where it's needed... a welcome drink for all...!
The Harvest and Wine-making:
The grapes are brought in from the vineyard, where they are put through a crusher-destalker. The skins and juice are then collected in sterile containers ready for fermentation...
...All matter other than grapes (leaves and stalks etc.) are removed and the must is sterilized before adding the pectic enzyme. This is allowed to work on the grape-pulp for twenty-four hours to further break down the skins and draw out more flavour. The must is then inoculated with the chosen yeast (71B) and fermentation is carried out over the ensuing week. When aerobic fermentation ceases the wine is then pressed and held in containers under an air-lock, where anaerobic fermentation can continue. At the end of this, the wine is then racked and allowed to mature for a further twelve months in bulk before being bottled.
Camp d'Estrelles Syrah
2010 Vintage: The grapes were picked at SG 1.105, giving a rather high potential alcohol value of 14.9% (this value is a little high, and we intended aiming for between 12.9% and 13.5%, but circumstances beyond our control meant that the harvest was delayed). They were then crushed, destalked and fermented on the skins for nine days using a 71B yeast.
Deep purple in colour, thick and inky, this is a full-bodied wine make no mistake. A heady brew, the high alcohol content means that you can almost smell the heat of the summer Sun beating down relentlessly upon the parched terraces.
A gentle swirl reveals ripe cherries coming through on the nose. The taste is firm, but not too tannic. Destalking has obviously helped to tame it to some extent...it's youth is still drawing in the sides of the mouth. Cracked peppercorns couple with ripe blackberry flavours to engulf the senses. The finish is good and well drawn out, with the warming effect of the alcohol adding a subtle 'glow' as it passes gently away.
2011 Vintage: The grapes were picked when they averaged SG 1.090, which gave a potential alcohol value of 12%. They were then crushed, destalked and fermented on the skins for eight days using a 71B yeast.
A rich purple, this is again a full-bodied wine, but slightly lighter in style than the previous years'. On the nose, there is a 'leathery' sensation and a herbaceousness akin to that of the freshly crushed green grape-stalks - even though they were removed at crushing. The mouth-feel is light yet tannic, with the rich flavours of raspberry and blueberry being easily identifiable as it is drawn from side-to-side. The farewell is long and pleasant, with no residual alcohol burn as in the 2010 vintage.
Camp d'Estrelles Mourvedre
2010 Vintage: The grapes were picked at SG 1.090, giving a potential alcohol value of 12%. They were then crushed, destalked and fermented on the skins for nine days using a 71B yeast.
Dark, cherry-brick coloured, a well-structured looking medium-bodied wine. On the nose is an intensity of plums I've not come across in a long time. The tannins are firm and mouth-drawing from youth. Bone dry and rich and fruit-filled, damsons and blackberries are the primary autumnal fruits coming through. A strong and lingering finish.
2011 Vintage: With the vines suffering serious defoliation due to a Summer drought, the grapes had to be picked at SG 1.078, giving a lowly potential alcohol value of 10.5%, which was then Chaptalised with sugar to raise the final potential value to 12%. They were then crushed, destalked and fermented on the skins for eight days using a 71B yeast.
Skin-to-juice ration was high due to the small berry size, which has obviously helped to counter the low sugar levels in the grapes, as this has produced yet another full-bodied example of this wine, the tears on the side of the glass barely moving after an initial swirl. A deep, rich purple, there is the scent of liquorice on the nose. The soft tannins open this wine up for immediate drinking, and the jammy flavours of black cherries and ripe plums is evident at first sip. The finish is long and rich, subsiding as it does to bring forth the final taste of fresh raspberries as it fades.
...and for the Grenache... we will have to wait a little longer. The 2010 vintage suffered heavily from wasp damage. A wine was made from what was available and came in at 12% potential alcohol level. This is obviously under-ripe for this variety and the resulting wine was thin and insipid. In 2011 we were hit by wasps yet again as the grapes were coming up to ripeness (the thin skins are just too inviting for the wasps to resist...!), but we were lucky enough to get them up to 13% alc and a resulting wine was made. Early indications are that this wine is an improvement on the 2010... all I can say at this moment in time is... "Watch this space!"
Camp d'Estrelles Grenache
2011 Vintage: Having managed to keep the wasps at bay for as long as possible, the grapes were picked at SG 1.098, giving a potential alcohol value of 13%. They were then crushed, destalked and fermented on the skins for eight days using a 71B yeast.
This has produced a dark, plum coloured wine, but only medium-to-light in body. A swirl reveals the aroma of raspberry on the nose. An initial sip exposes the taste-buds to its [still] high acidity, with the tannins drawing in the sides of the mouth. Beneath the dryness comes the indisputable flavour of raspberry and redcurrant, reminiscent of the fruit-based wines I used to make before venturing into grape wines. The finish is short and fleeting, a distant memory, with only the drawn inner mouth-wall reminding you that this wine is still in its infancy.