Woodchester Valley Vineyard Harvest Day 2023
The perspective of driving a distance on a single-track road always disheartens me a bit. I’m an occasional driver and with practice, I am sure I could rather quickly become more confident with those quite common, especially in the countryside, types of road. Well until then I need a good motivation to convince me that the fight with this little weakness of mine is worthwhile, especially if this drive involves also endeavouring a long road up the very steep hill at the same time! But I worked long enough in wine to know that such roads leading to a winery are actually a very good sign and reason to get excited! And indeed – Woodchester Valley with its hilly vineyards is a special spot on the Cotswolds map.
Last week I visited Woodchester Valley at the Trade Harvest Festival, an event organised for Woodchester trade partners. At Corks, we have been fans and advocates of this Cotswolds producer for years and felt honoured to be invited to take part in these celebrations! The event comprised of a roam among the vines, followed by a visit to the winery including a chat with Jeremy Mount, the Woodchester winemaker, and finished with a tasting of freshly released 2022 vintage of their core wines. But before I crack on with the wines I sampled, let me introduce the Woodchester to those who might now be familiar with the producer.
Woodchester Valley Vineyards was established in 2007 when Fiona Shiner set up an experimental, single-acre vineyard near her house, to see if there was a potential for successful vine growing in the area. The premise was sound since the vine had grown there from as early as the Romans times. Around 1000 years later William of Malmesbury praised wines from now-Cotswolds as pleasant in flavour and wrote that the vines there were planted more densely than anywhere else in England. Fiona quickly realised that her predecessors were spot-on regarding the quality of grapes local vines can give and started a long-term project of rebuilding the reputation of the Cotswolds wine by planting more vineyards around the area, reaching 58 acres in total to date and building the winery in 2016. Since then Woodchester has gained the attention of critics and attained awards in many competitions around the industry.
Cotswolds are blessed with soils rich in limestone – a key factor for making successfully focused, mineral and elegant wines (am I right Champagne, Burgundy and Loire?). It is known for having a great balance between water retention (limestone often is compared to a sponge that fills with water and slowly releases it throughout the year) and drainage which is preferable to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. All three Woodchester Valley sites – the eponymous site of 20 acres, Doverow of 20 acres and Stonehouse of 18 acres – have generous layers of limestone, with the last one also being scattered with big pockets of clay, which is preferable for Bacchus and Pinot Meunier. During our winery tour Dylan, our host, showed us a place where a new barn will be erected where all sparkling wine production will be taking place in the future. The preparations of the land for that construction included evening out part of the terrain which exposed the stunning stratography of the soil underneath the Woodchester site and how abundant layer of limestone the soil has.
The weather in the Cotswolds wasn’t ideal this year. “The last three months were quite difficult” admits Jeremy. And indeed – when the world experienced the hottest summer on record this year, the UK had it quite wet and chill. While cycles of more and less favourable vintages happen in the world of wine all the time, sparkling wine production has a safety gauge to mitigate this variable. Reserve wines are still base wines that are a surplus after every year’s production and are being kept for the next vintages as the blending component in case the following growing seasons unfold us less favourable. “2018 was near perfect year, which provided excellent reserve wines for few vintages that followed” says Dylan. Jeremy, who’s now supervising the harvests of 2023 crops, is optimistic about the weather later in the month and hints that the weather should improve at the end of October when the harvests should be closer to completion.
So, now to the fun part! As mentioned before, the last part of the event was sampling 2022 vintages of a few of Woodchester’s main-line wines.
Woodchester Valley Reserve Cuvee 2019
This wine was actually served at the beginning of the event as a welcome glass just before we took a walk in the vineyard. Composed of 54% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay, and 8% Pinot Meunier, the Reserve Cuvee is aged on the lees for a minimum of 30 months. It has a great structure with biscuit and croissant notes well integrated with hints of lemon tart and sour raspberry. Elegant with a satisfying long finish.
Woodchester Valley Culver Hill 2022
A blend of equal Ortega, Bacchus & Seyval Blanc (plus a little Solaris and Pinot Gris). A beautiful intense aroma filled with fresh herbs, green apple, elderflower, and gooseberry notes. The high acidity, well balanced with a concentrated flavour, simply asks for some fatty counterpoint on the plate. Not looking far – simple chips would do great!
Woodchester Valley Bacchus 2022
A great example of the flagship variety of English still wines. Being a blend of early and late harvest, wine entices with notes of lemon, freshly cut grass, and nettle which are well exposed on a frame of high acidity. Cheerful and vibrant.
Woodchester Valley Orpheus Bacchus 2022
Wine is made only in selected years. Jeremy uses fruits from the oldest vines of Bacchus from the Amberley and Woodchester sites which 16% barrel ages for 3 months. The process certainly cuts the edge off the acidity, which is still on the higher registers, but lets the taste buds focus on riper fruit, green apple and juicy lemon.
Woodchester Valley Pinot Rosé 2022
The following wine was a cheerful rosé made with Pinot family grapes: 95% Pinot Noir Précoce (known in Germany as Frühburgunder, it is Pinot Noir early ripening mutation) and 5% Pinot Gris. Red fruits are packed to the brim, with hints of strawberry and raspberry mingling with rose petals. Great acidity balanced with a good essence of the fruit leads to a long, wild strawberry-driven finish.
After the main tasting, I got myself two more cheeky samples!
Woodchester Valley Blanc de Blanc 2017
100% barrel fermented Chardonnay with a minimum of 36 months aged on lees. The aroma opens with a subtle biscuit and white flower hints, leading to a very elegant, tight like a string, structure. Good acidity gives a good base for freshly cut limes, lemons and bread crust notes to shine. Top-tier English sparkling winemaking!
Woodchester Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2022
I meant to sample Sauvignon Blanc from Woodchester as soon as I knew I would be visiting the vineyard. Due to the highly limited production, the wine is available for purchase only through the cellar door. The 2017 vintage was the first English Sauvignon Blanc to get the IWSC silver medal in 2018. Since then the following vintages got great reviews with the most recently the vintage 2021 being awarded the highest score for unoaked Sauvignon Blanc in the prestigious Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters competition, beating many Sauv Blancs from New Zealand, France, Austria and others!
The wine has an imminent Loire-esque vibe with elegant and bright gooseberry and lemon notes supported with herbs and grass in the background. Stone minerality follows the track from the first sip till the long finish.
As mentioned before – this wine is sold only through cellar doors, so if you are around the Cotswolds, definitely do pay a visit to Woodchester Valley to grab yourself a bottle!