Winemaker's Comment - Spring 2016

An Autumn in Provence

For the first time in 20 years, I am not writing this newsletter from my office with the stunning and uplifting view across the vines of Blocks 3 and 2; but from the sunny terrace of a country villa in central Provence, France. In August, after the bottling of our 20th vintage, I celebrated by heading off to the UK, France and Italy. It’s hard for a winemaker to take a holiday without including wine but I do claim wine as a genuine hobby.

Our trip started in the UK where we visited the prominent sparkling wine house of Nyetimber. It was great to finally walk in an English vineyard to better understand more about where these wines (predominantly sparkling) are coming from. We were graciously received and the wines exceeded our already lofty expectations: laser like, mineral and amazing quality across the range. It is not surprising the Champagne houses of France are paying such interest. That was pretty much it for wine in the UK, except for friends and long-time customers Rick and Diana in Bath, and Nigel (our owner) at his home in rural Devon.  Rick and Diana delved deep into their cellar, generously sharing several well-aged French classics over a couple of delicious dinners.  With Nigel, we held our AGM: AKA sampling and discussing a decent range of the latest vintages and releases of white and red Burgundy. An important board matter to keep abreast of the latest from our friends in Burgundy….

Crossing over to France, I finally made my first trip to Bordeaux to visit our French importer who is based there, and some leading chateaux. As a Pinot Noir winemaker I almost felt like I needed a special stamp in my passport to visit this famous, yet to me, rather foreign wine region. We enjoyed in-depth and generous visits to the fascinating biodynamic Chateau Pontet-Canet and the modern and lavish wineries and cellars of Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Latour. We immediately contrasted this with the vineyards and wines of the Roussillon to the south-east. From hundreds of Euros a bottle to just several Euro, from beautiful chateaux to rustic farm houses…..the disparity could not be greater; yet, these somewhat humble wines have every bit as much appeal for me. The steep hillside vineyards with arresting views of the Mediterranean made wines of great character and drinkability. Unassuming, yet with great honesty, detail and deliciousness.

Where we are now based, we are surrounded almost exclusively by the famous and delicious Rosé wines of Provence.  These contrast very distinctively with the Piedmont regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, which we visited recently being just a four hour drive away. Again we were treated to gracious and generous visits at many leading estates with great focus and commitment. What almost all of the interesting wines we have tasted so far on our travels have in common, are strong facets of somewhereness, authenticity, and deliciousness. Seeing winegrowing from the pure peasant form to the ultimate in high end luxury has been both humbling and illuminating. At the end of the day, we are all just farmers and any hierarchy is no more than a fiction of the market.

Through all of this, back in Bannockburn, our new cellar door and tasting facility have been completed and I find myself filled with inspiration to apply many of the insights I have gained and re-think the way we receive our guests; be they old friends or new arrivals. I haven’t tasted the 2016’s for some time now, but rest assured that they are well deserving of celebrating our 20th vintage. Speaking of which, on my return we will begin planning a celebration next year to celebrate this milestone and to and officially open the winery extensions. We will be in touch with details, but in the meantime, enjoy these new releases!


Blair Walter