Tuesday, 13 December 2016

To the Power of Poo

Everyone knows there’s nowt like old fashioned farmyard muck to get gardens blooming and crops flourishing. But a single bucketful of cow poo to fertilise a whole 12 acres of vineyard?  This is not your average muck spreading spree. 

Last week, the vineyard was the scene of a fertility ritual on Friday. The practice itself only dates back to 1924, but it draws on a concept of harmony in nature that goes back millennia: A pile of clean, hollowed out horns from female cows lay waiting for a team of enthusiastic helpers to fill them from that one bucket of fresh organic cow dung.Watch us explain why in this video!

This ritual is fundamental to the practice of biodynamic agriculture founded by the Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner who promoted ‘spiritual science’ in the 1920s. His biodynamic agriculture was the first of the organic agriculture movements and dealt holistically with the whole natural circle of soil, plants and animals, including, importantly, cosmic forces.

As our regular blog followers will know, we believe in the power of biodynamic farming for soil fertility and plant health. Though we are one of few to practice this in the UK, we are not alone. Major supermarkets Tesco and Marks and Spencers follow the biodynamic calendar when the buyers do their wine tasting. The year is divided up according to the lunar influence into leaf, flower, root and fruit days and fruit days are regarded as the most auspicious for wine drinking. It is believed that the wine actually tastes better on fruit days. 

So back to those cow horns, each now neatly packed with poo. We carried them up through the vines to a pit where they were laid carefully to rest, mouths pointing down so that they did not fill with rainwater and go mushy over the winter. They were covered with soil and the burial finished with a pile of stones to deter animals. And there they will stay until April or May, when they will be lifted out again and their precious contents emptied out. 

By then, the manure will have a completely different consistency – dark and crumbly and according to biodynamic principles, packed with cosmic forces. Finally, cricket ball sized roundels of the dung are dissolved in barrels of water and the liquid gets sprayed on the vineyard. Like homeopathic medicine, a little is said to go a long way.

We bury horns at three places around the vineyard. The horns are from female cows as they are the most fertile animals and they absorb the cosmic influences. The best way to describe it is that when we spray it, even though it is only a tiny amount, it acts as a trigger to regenerate tired soil and improve its fertility.
We have actually seen first hand in France and Australia the difference between the quality of soil on biodynamic vineyards and that on chemically sprayed ones. It is the difference between living and dead soils Many of the great vineyards and wineries around the world are convinced by the biodynamic approach, including Domaine Leflaive and le Roy in Burgundy, Coulee de Serant in the Loire, Beaux Freres in Oregon, Hensche in Australia and jean-Pierre Fleury in Champagne.

"But does it make a difference to the wine?" I hear you cry! Well, if you ask us, biodynamic practices in the vineyard encourage a natural harmony between the earth, the vine and the cosmos as nature intended, without the need to use systemic chemicals. We believe that this results in a more naturally healthy bio-diverse and sustainable vineyard, producing better quality fruit and ultimately better quality wine, with a unique sense or place or terroir.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Albury Vineyard Harvests Best Fruit Yet!

Owner Nick Wenman harvesting grapes
Well the harvest for this year is now complete after a tricky season of some worrying lows and exciting highs, all down to the unpredictable English weather! 
We had a difficult start to the year with some severe frosts, followed by a cold early summer and a challenging onset of downy mildew in the vineyard. However, we are delighted to have picked some of the best fruit we have ever had since planting the vines seven years ago! 

Temperatures on the vineyard in August and September were much higher than average (as the graph shows) and, as a result, the fruit we picked was very ripe. Yields quite a lot lower overall than the last couple of years but, as everyone who follows our blog knows, quality is much more important to us that quantity. 
Analysis of weather on the vineyard compared to previous years
As in previous years, we were lucky to have the support of our Albury Wine Club members, plus a reliable crew of enthusiastic locals to help us pick the grapes. 

These wine club members are always the first to taste the new release of our Silent Pool Rosé and the 2016 vintage will be ready in May. But they will have to wait a bit longer to taste the sparkling wine made from this year's grapes as that won't be ready until 2019!
Albury Wine Club Members helping to pick grapes
In other news, demand for our wines is again soaring following the announcement that we were voted Producer of the Year in the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards 2016. Seary's St Pancras (Europe's longest Champagne bar) and the Michelin starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth are the latest restaurants to feature Albury wines on their lists.
Thanks to the harvest volunteers - cheers!

Monday, 22 August 2016

"Short term pain for long term gain"

Wine club members picking Seyval grapes
On Saturday we started picking some grapes. If you are thinking this is a bit early to harvest then you're right! Most years we have a 'green harvest' at this time of year, especially if the weather isn't in our favour and we need to help the ripening process. This grape thinning involves picking some of the grapes early in order to give the others a better chance of ripening. Hopefully this will result in a good harvest this October!

This video was filmed when we made Monty's Pet Nat and it explains a bit more about why we do a green harvest, and why there is always a debate between owner Nick and vineyard manager Alex! But Nick has come round to Alex's way of thinking: "Short term pain for long term gain..."
Owner Nick Wenman
Some loyal wine club members braved the changeable weather conditions to help us with the picking and they were rewarded with some delicious food provided by Four Gables. Four Gables are also going to be helping us make some cordial from the 'verjus' - the juice obtained from pressing the grapes at the stage.
Pickers were rewarded with pulled pork sliders provided by Four Gables
The earliest reference to verjus dates back to 71AD, where a Roman recipe cites three different types of grape juice: grape juice syrup, wine and verjus, and it was commonly used in medieval kitchens until other sour ingredients including lemons arrived from Europe. Recently there has been a verjus revival and it is starting to make an appearance in modern recipes; Nigel Slater has a recipe for chicken with verjus, celery and cream, and Ottolenghi braises fennel, capers and olives in verjus. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

Four International Awards for Albury Estate Sparkling!

We are delighted to have received four prestigious international awards for our Albury Estate sparkling wines!

Our Albury Estate Classic Cuvée has been awarded a silver medal in both the Decanter Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge, and our Albury Estate Blanc de Blancs a bronze in both competitions.

"These are our first vintage sparkling wines and we are thrilled that they have done so well. As we all know, English wines have been successful in international wine competitions for a number of years now and we are very proud of what Albury Estate sparklings have achieved this year. We will be celebrating with a glass or two this evening!"
(Nick Wenman, Owner)

This news comes at an exciting time for us, as we will be releasing the new vintage of our gold-award winning Silent Pool Rosé at our wine club member's event this weekend, as well as our first ever sparkling rosé. Next week sees the start of our popular vineyard tours and you can be one of the first to taste the new releases, as well as the award-winning sparklings of course, by booking a place on the first tour of the summer - Friday 20th May.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Royal Visit with a Toast to The Queen!

Last week we were lucky enough to have a visit from His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. We were incredibly excited to have the Duke come to the vineyard, and very much enjoyed sitting with him and relaxing in the sun with "A glass of Albury"!
HRH The Duke of Kent with Nick & Alex

We showed the Duke and the Lord Lt of Surrey, Michael More Molyneux, the different varieties of vines and explained how critical the next few weeks would be with the threat of frost. The Duke was very interested in the ‘boujies’, the candles that we light throughout the vineyard to lift the temperature above freezing.

The Duke and other guests including Deputy Mayor of Guildford Gordon Jackson and his wife Sue were invited to taste all of our wines, as well as the Albury Royal, a cocktail created in honour of the Queen’s birthday and made from Albury Estate Blanc de Blancs with wild hibiscus flowers and hibiscus syrup. As the visit was the day before Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, we proposed a toast to Her Majesty!

Nick and The Duke proposed a toast to The Queen
with the Albury Royal Cocktail
Nick showed The Duke our wines and brandy
The Duke particularly enjoyed the Duke’s Reserve Brandy which is named after the Duke of Northumberland who owns the Albury Estate, and which is made from our wine distilled by Silent Pool Distillery.

It was a terrific honour to have HRH The Duke of Kent visit Albury Vineyard and it was great to have the opportunity to show him how we grow our organic vines and tell him about our naturally produced, award-winning wines. We are proud to be part of the rapidly expanding English wine industry, and are thrilled that his HRH enjoyed tasting our fine wines from the Surrey Hills.

It was a beautiful sunny day, the neatly pruned vines looked immaculate, and several guests told us afterwards how the Duke looked happy and relaxed, sitting chatting with the team. A very surreal moment for us!

HRH seemed relaxed chatting to Nick, his daughter Lucy,
Alex and Mike Florence, our winemaker from Litmus Wines

Friday, 15 April 2016

Introducing the Albury Royal Cocktail!

The Albury Royal, designed in celebration of the Queen's 90th birthday this year, is made by adding Albury Estate Blanc de Blancs to a wild hibiscus flower, with a dash of hibiscus syrup.

Hibiscus flowers come from the foothills of the Blue Mountians in Australia. The beautiful crimson fowers unfurl when added to liquid, and can be eaten when the bubbly has been drunk! They have a delicious rhubarb and raspberry flavour.

With the Queen's 90th birthday next week (and official birthday in June), St Georges Day on 23rd April and English Wine Week starting on the 28th May, we think it's the perfect time to be drinking English fizz!

You can try our cocktail and sample #AGlassofAlbury at the vineyard on Saturdays - we are open between 11am and 4pm and have a lovely patio area with beautiful views of the vineyard. Children, dogs and muddy boots welcome!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Warming up the vineyard at 4am!

Vineyard friends help us to light boujies in the middle of the night!
Visitors to the vineyard over recent weeks have been asking us what all the white tins positioned in between the vines are for. They are called boujies and are essentially large candles that we light on frosty nights to warm up the vineyard, and this week we had to use them!

Bud Burst
Last Saturday night temperatures fell towards zero resulting in our weather station sending us a text message at around 1am to warn us that temperatures were dropping. The vines are currently at the 'bud burst' stage and are vulnerable to frost at this time. Although no damage will be caused to the buds at -1.1C, a temperature of -2.2C will cause a '10% kill' of the buds and -3.8C will lead to a '50% kill'. 

Nick and friends came up to the vineyard to start lighting the boujies as soon as the warning came through, and they managed to stop the temperature falling below -1.3C. This is good news as the buds are fairly resilient up to around -1.9C at this stage.

So think of us on frosty nights - we will try to limit our wine comsumption and be early to bed!