Breaky Bottom Winery Notes - December 2014

Breaky Bottom Winery Notes - December 2014

We have had a wonderful season this year, prolonged sunshine through the middle of the summer followed by rain in August to swell the crop to perfection. The vineyards of the UK will all have enjoyed these conditions and it is likely to produce the largest ever national crop.

Peter Hall & Miles Jenner in conversation

2014 has also been special for Breaky Bottom as it marks the 40th year since I planted the vineyard. We have hosted two celebratory dinners; one at Moshi Moshi, Liverpool Street Station, and a large party at Pelham House Hotel in Lewes; both joyful events. Lastly, I am delighted that the Seyval Blanc from 2010 has been awarded a Gold Medal in the International Wine Challenge – a good way to please a wine-maker!

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We wish you a Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

Peter and Christina

Breaky Bottom Winery Notes - December 2012

It's hard to know how to balance, in a few short sentences, the ups and downs of this year. Maybe I should start with a good up-story...

Welsh slate and peg tiles – the up-story

The beautiful flint barn at Breaky Bottom and the adjacent studios in the yard date from 1827. Natural England has offered us a generous grant to restore the roofs to their original state, of slate and peg tiles respectively. We became eligible for this scheme when we entered into a Higher Level Stewardship agreement wherein we guaranteed to care for the holding in an environmentally sensitive way. The picture below shows the barn already re-roofed and the workshops covered in a blue tarpaulin, awaiting the new clay tiles. You can just make out the Exmoor ponies we use to graze the coarse Tor grass on the steep bank to maintain this HLS status – encouraging the finer chalk species to flourish.

2012 Harvest – the down-story

There is no disguising the fact that the weather this year has been appalling – the worst I have ever known since the establishment of the vineyard 38 years ago. The national grape crop has been badly hit and many growers, including Breaky Bottom, harvested nothing. In our case a small potential crop was lost after an invasion of pheasants from the local shoot. Roll on 2013...

The Queen's Jubilee and Wine Awards 2012

We were delighted when the Chardonnay/Pinot 2008 'Cuvée Princess Colonna' was selected by the Government Hospitality cellars at Lancaster House, St James's, as part of the celebrations for the Queen's jubilee and the Olympic Games.

Awards this year include the 2007 'Cuvée Francine' which won Silver medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards and the 2008 'Cuvée Alexandre Schwatschko' a Bronze medal. The 2008 'Cuvée Princess Colonna' won Silver medal in the International Wine Challenge.

An Ornithological Footnote

I have for years taken pleasure bird watching in and around Breaky Bottom. The great and the small are all my delight. Sit still in one place for a while and one becomes an accepted part of the landscape. Barn owls are now permanent residents in their well-appointed nest box and this year reared two males who can be regularly seen at dusk, quartering across the rough banks in search of unfortunate short-tailed voles. Buzzards are now common-place and I have seen as many as six together this summer, soaring high overhead.

Years ago Lapwings were very common in the Downs at a time when spring sown barley was the main corn crop. Now that winter sown wheat is the norm they have become rare in these parts. The crop is too well grown for the ground-nesting birds to afford them a good look-out and they nest here no more. But this morning, although in deep winter, I had the pleasure of seeing a great skein of 60 or more Lapwings flying quite low over the buildings, as if inspecting the smart new Natural England roofs. They are the first Lapwings I have seen here in 20 years or more. I hope some will return at nesting-time.

Christmas Wines

All the wines mentioned in this Winery Note are available from the vineyard, by Mail-order and phone, or by email for Christmas and the New Year. Local delivery is free - Please call me if you need further advice!

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A WINTER LANDSCAPE

A WINTER LANDSCAPE

Deep snow last week left Breaky Bottom briefly cut off from the rest of the world, yet had we chosen we could have walked along the track and out of our valley. That would always have been so, the option to walk, but in the past the feeling of isolation would have been greater; no car, no phone, no electricity, no radio or television, no deep-freeze…. Yet on reflection, we only miss these because they have become part of daily life. When I first came to Breaky Bottom there was no electricity or telephone. It was wonderful!

We have had the pleasure of our friend Axel Hesslenberg photographing at Breaky Bottom, monitoring life in the vineyard over the year, his lens focusing on particular images he is drawn to - from fine traditional landscapes to the most delicate study of the tendrils of a vine.

THE WINES, WAITROSE AND 2010 AWARDS

The past twelve months have seen a considerable increase in wine sales. Waitrose branches in Lewes, Brighton, Eastbourne, Burgess Hill, Horsham, Worthing, Tonbridge and Paddock Wood all stock Breaky Bottom and Harvey & Son of Lewes, famed for the excellence of their beer, continue to sell as much Breaky Bottom as ever. This year Waitrose encouraged me to enter the Sparkling 2006 into competition and the wine did exceptionally well, gaining a Silver Medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards and a Silver Medal and Best-in-Class in the International Wine & Spirit Competition. This wine and the 2005, which won a Gold Medal in the UK competition, are both available for Christmas orders, along with the ever-popular Kir Royal.

Over 30 years ago I planted a trial plot of all the vines grown along the length of the Loire, including the renowned Champagne varieties. None ripened sufficiently to be considered for serious winemaking. More recently-established vineyards have profited by plant-breeders selecting from early ripening clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. I am not able to judge whether it is this cloning or the (apparently) warmer summers of the last few years which have allowed the young Chardonnay and Pinots at Breaky Bottom to ripen to such perfection. But they do, and the 2007 will be released next summer, the first of the classic Champagne varieties. I have blended these with the Seyval Blanc, as I had originally planned. They seem to support the elegant sweet-natured Seyval by adding extra weight and authority to the wine. In Champagne the assemblage (blending) of the various cuvée is the principal skill which the assembleur brings with him to a great Champagne house – at the peak of his profession.

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It was our pleasure last week to welcome to Breaky Bottom Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, a much respected man of Champagne. He was full of enthusiasm for our 2007, including in his tasting notes "…good mousse, nose clean and delicate, citrus as in fresh lime, a wine with good balance which will age well."

A SHORT WINERY NOTE

There was a really nice piece in the Saturday 27th February Telegraph about Breaky Bottom. It was written by Jonathan Ray, the paper's wine columnist. I had a date with him and Paul Morgan, manager of the stylish Pelham House Hotel in Lewes where we met earlier in the month. For me it was an opportunity to make new friends and re-affirm old, relaxing in the comfortable main bar and tasting wines till late afternoon. I refrained from looking over his shoulder as he scribbled his notes, being patient, content to see Johnny’s thoughts in print ten days later. It was enough for me to see his smiles and nods of approval as we sat there. He is clearly an admirer of English fizz...

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A MOST WONDERFUL HARVEST

The 2009 grape harvest was as good as any I have seen in 33 years. The first was back in 1976 after a very dry summer, a small crop but with spotlessly clean ripe fruit. This year the crop was as clean but with a good weight of fruit as one would expect from mature vines. I have two big tanks of Seyval Blanc and one of Chardonnay/Pinot safely in the winery. All will go for sparkling.

The primary fermentations are finished and the wines are fully dry. Now the yeast lees begins to accumulate as it settles to the bottom of the tank, a process which I liken to the pre-historic 'snow' that some 130 million years ago would have gradually descended into the depths of the chalk sea - the minute skeletons of microscopic plankton as they slowly sank to the sea-bed. Much later these layers were pushed up to form the great chalk cliffs and escarpments, upwards of 600 feet of solid chalk, which have become the soft rounded hills and folds of the Sussex Downs. Breaky Bottom is one such valley. Here, as in Champagne, this most singular geological history has given rise to a unique soil, perfect for the cultivation of vines, a rich, calcareous, free-draining loam. While I work in the vineyard I often find in amongst the chalk matrix larger fossils, beautifully preserved bivalves, belemnites, sponges and sea-urchins, the shepherd’s crowns which so delight children. And I could find them a box full of sharks’ teeth within an hour, so plentiful was the top-predator in what was once a warm tropical sea.

REYNOLDS STONE CENTENARY 1909-1979

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Around 1975 I commissioned Reynolds Stone to design the Breaky Bottom wine label. This year celebrates the centenary of his birth. He was unquestionably the greatest of wood engravers, cutting end-grain boxwood, the hardest of materials to produce the finest detailed work. I only knew him for about four years but in that short time, like so many who met him, became very fond of him and his wife Janet, herself a most accomplished photographer. Sophie Schneideman and the Stone family have mounted a fabulous exhibition of Reynolds’s work which runs from the 5th -21st November. It is really worth seeing - phone to make sure it is open.

  • SOPHIE SCHNEIDEMAN RARE BOOKS
    331 PORTOBELLO ROAD
    LONDON W10 5SA

  • +44 7909 963836
    +44 20 8354 7365

When I received the email from Sophie about the exhibition I wrote her a few words (below) to try and describe my feelings for RS.

"Reynolds was such a fine artist, and so modest and charming. He used to say to me that his life was 'just the greatest piece of luck'. Of course it was more than that - he had such artistic talent and the application to develop it, but nevertheless I think more of us should show gratitude for our lives in that way. His engravings of the countryside were very intimate, even private, his own gentle expression of the profound joy he found in the world about him. When showing me the garden and the woods beyond The Old Rectory at Litton Cheney he would forget I was with him, he walking on ahead and wondering at the plants around him as if it was the first time he had seen them. When he was on his own (or thought he was) I watched him being very 'boyish'. Suddenly he would look up and see me and pretend that he had not momentarily forgotten me (because that would have been most rude!) and would encourage me to look with him at how the light fell on the trunk of a tree or a beautiful dragonfly at the edge of the water".

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It is not possible to list all his achievements but here is a reminder. This is the man who engraved the £5 and £10 pound notes of 1962 and 1964 and the fine ‘Victory’ postage stamp of 1946, with the dove of peace to mark the end of the war. Reynolds also cut letters in stone. He made the great memorial to Winston Churchill in Westminster Abbey and to TS Elliot in Poets’ Corner, and the headstone of his friend Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh.

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 Much of his work is familiar to us. We remember his ‘Times Past, Times Future’ masthead for the Times. We nearly all carry with us a piece of Reynolds Stone’s artistry because it is his bold royal coat of arms which is stamped on the front cover of our passports.

I am lucky indeed to have had Reynolds engrave the Breaky Bottom logo, vignette and crest for the wine label. He produced many privately commissioned works throughout his life, including superb bookplates and letterheads. I fancy that ours was one of the last because he spent the last few years of his life painting in the beautiful countryside around his home at Litton Cheney in Dorset.

Breaky Bottom selected for a prestigious occasion.

Great British Menu - BBC 2, Tuesday 16 June/ repeated Sunday 21 June.

Breaky Bottom selected for a prestigious occasion.

The new release Sparkling 2006 Cuvée John Inglis Hall was served as the reception wine at the RAF's Halton House in Buckinghamshire last week. It marked the beginning of proceedings at a banquet which was served to honour returning service men and women from Afghanistan.

No direct feedback yet but it seemed to be an excellent party!