The excitement was HUGE in the Oxney team when we heard that we had won a Gold Medal in The Drinks Business Organic Masters competition. Out of 172 entries from across the world the competition awarded six gold medal winners only. It is wonderful when the natural approach we take in the vineyard and winery receive such amazing recognition. Hurrah!!
We have finished pruning and we’ve stopped tying down the canes to spend a couple of days spinning the most delicious (and smelly!) chicken manure pellets. The neighbours who are lovely are proving to be real country folk and we haven’t heard a peek! The chicken manure will compost and give the vines a kick start as they wake up from their winter rest.
The launch of the first sparkling was a great success. We had a huge amount of people on the day and through November and December sales rocketed culminating with Ben and I dashing around London for a hectic day offloading boxes of fizz. Lots of lovely reports of Oxney featuring heavily on the Christmas menu. A great end to the year.
From the frothy world of parties and tastings January came pretty brutally with Clive deep in to pruning assisted by Nick pulling out. ‘How is your wood’ is a question you often hear in viticulture circles this time of year. The wood in question is the growth on the vines from last year – preferably low on disease and good and balanced vigour.
Our wood was pretty good but aided by renowned viti expert Duncan McNeil we are pruning back harder than ever to ensure the energy in our young vines are concentrated on a few canes and bunches. Less fruit on a vine = more concentrated flavour = better wine. High yield is great for the bank balance but not always for the flavour.
2017 is our sixth growing season and we’re getting our heads around the work. 32,000 vines demand a special kind of concentration which Clive has in spades.
Oxney Organic Estate, the winery and vineyard in East Sussex, has launched Classic 2014, its first organic English sparkling wine. Oxney has already won medals for its still rosé and has established a distinctive house style of fruit driven, elegant and dry wines with great acid balance and texture.
The Classic 2014 sparkling wine, made by renowned winemaker David Cowderoy, is available at Oxney’s cellar door at the winery (Oxney Organic Estate, Hobbs Lane, Beckley, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 6TU) and online (www.oxneyestate.com).
Classic 2014 is made from chardonnay (40%), pinot noir (30%) and pinot meunier (30%) using the traditional method and has a low dosage of 4g/l. The wine spent a minimum of 20 months on lees and has a delicate and persistent mousse. 2014 was an excellent year at Oxney’s vineyard which now covers over 21 acres and is the third largest organic vineyard in the UK. The wine retails at £33.00.
Notes to the editor: The Oxney range includes a still white, still rosé and a classic cuvée sparkling. Oxney Organic Estate’s English Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, made by the estate’s winemaker Ben Smith, won the top trophy and gold medal at the English & Welsh Wine of the Year Competition 2016. The vineyard in Beckley, just north of Rye in East Sussex, was planted between 2012 and 2014 by Kristin Syltevik who with her partner has established a 850 acre organic farming estate with a diverse range of activities from livestock and arable production to holiday cottages and the vineyard.
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The 2016 growing season was interesting – at the start we had everything the weather man could throw at us. Rain during flowering (not good), prolonged low temperatures and more rain during veraison (not good). Our friendly banter about yields turned in to pained expressions. Then heading into late August and early September and we had, through until the first few days of November, the most glorious weather we could ever wish for. The vines lapped it all up and, while we had small bunches, produced incredibly sweet fruit. We had record sugar readings and the fruit was fully ripe. Both hard to get in this marginal wine making region. Our winemaker Ben smiled a lot. Yields were low but the quality is great. What more can we ask for. This year we will make our Classic sparkling again and the still rosé, forming the backbone of our range. But we also hope to make one or two different sparkling wines – still slightly on the drawing board but all will be revealed here soon.
The Oxney English Pinot Noir Rosé was awarded the Waitrose rosé trophy for the most outstanding still rosé wine at the English & Welsh Wine of the Year Competition this week. “Lovely, elegant, sophisticated, great balanced raspberry fruit and lemony acidity” said the judges. We couldn’t agree more! To stock up for the summer see our new online shop at www.oxneyestate.com/shop or take a trip down and see us in Hobbs Lane.
The 2015 rosé is our second vintage and made by winemaker Ben Smith with David Cowderoy as consultant winemaker. Clean and healthy fruit was harvested late October despite some challenging conditions during the end of summer 2015. The grapes were crushed and destemmed and left to soak in the press for twelve hours. After fermentation the wine went through partial malolactic fermentation to naturally reduce the acids and add texture.
This trophy is an incredibly important endorsement of the work the team is doing in the winery and the vineyard. The rosé has been very popular with our customers – last year’s vintage sold out in six weeks – so we realised it was a very special wine!
Paul was risking his beloved plough today preparing the soil for a new wild flower meadow on our large ex building site in front of the Thomson block. The vineyard is surrounded by unmanaged margins and ditches (we don’t go for the hyper manicured look here) but this meadow will for sure help increase our wild flower and grass diversity.
The buds are out. It is a great sight, and yet totally terrifying. During the winter months, i.e. post harvest, we have hand weeded, pruned, tidied up and burned the prunings, and tied down. Paul’s flock of Northern Mules ewes were in the vineyard and loved the grass, a perfect place for them just before they were due to lamb. It was a busy and lovely winter.
Now, on the cusp of the new season, everything looks neat and tidy. Clive has even started on one of the first of many rounds with the weeder. We have fine tuned and been creative and feel very ready for the 2016 season.
Only… we’re a bit worried about the weather! We compare favourite weather stations and portals, we log in to our own weather station and double check that the ‘it is nearly freezing’ weather warnings will arrive as SMS alerts during the night as the temperatures sink below zero. Clive owed up that he had his phone under his pillow last night – to make sure he heard it!
To guard against the frost we have hundreds of vineyard candles spaced out around the vineyard. They are large paint-tin sized metal cans with wax and a wick and when the terrifying bud killing frost arrives, we get the SMS alert and dash out and light the candles. Luckily, so far, we have not ever used our candles. Being six miles from the English Channel and 17 meters above sea level we are hoping that our location makes frost a rare occurrence at Oxney. We hope!
This time last year we had picked our first harvest and had started making wine. This morning I spoke with David Cowderoy, our consultant winemaker, and he talked about late October and even early November as possible picking times in England. You can safely say that 2015 is quite different from 2014! To get the right level of sugars and acids and not to mention lovely ripe flavours we’re waiting as long as we can this year before we pick.
So we’re playing the waiting game. The winery is getting very clean, we have studied different weather forecast models and the accounts have never been in better shape.
In the vineyard we’re doing what we can do keep the fruit disease free and making sure that the many creatures that want to eat nearly ripe grapes are kept under control. Last year we invested in a BirdGard system and this year we got another one. The system has a number of speakers which we position around the vineyard. The speakers emit intermittently what sounds like bird song to me but I am reliable informed is sounds of starlings in distress and sparrow hawks. Starlings are rather keen on grapes, and sparrow hawks are very keen on starlings. A smart solution to what can be a terrible problem. We’re not sure what to do with Freda the cocker spaniel who has also developed a taste for grapes. Not taking her to ‘work’ in the vineyard seems rather cruel.
Waiting this long to pick has its challenges – and not just the starlings and the resident vineyard dog. Botrytis, in England a not very noble rot at all, can be quite a problem. We spray with a product called Serenade which contains a bacterium, Bacillus subtilise, to fight the botrytis infection. We’re also going through the vineyard cutting out infected bunches by hand. It is for sure all a labour of love. Handmade wine is probably quite a good description!
It isn’t all doom and gloom though. In between the rain we are having amazing weather for this time of year. The 2015 vintage will be late for sure but the signs are, so far, good.
It is a slightly unreal moment. After what seems like a lifetime of effort we have a wine that’s bottled, labelled and with our newly acquired premises license ready to share with the world. Oxney Organic Estate English Rosé 2014 is a grown up rosé. Complex, very dry, summer fruits. Great with food and on its own. And of course organic!
The relief that we have a fantastic product is immense. I should not have doubted it of course – we had amazing winemaker David Cowderoy make it. He whizzed around, giving instructions to the rest of us who muddled through with more luck than judgement. This vintage David says he won’t hold our hands to the same extent, so another hurdle to jump.
The next item on the to do list is sales and marketing. We’re lucky that we already have a fab place just about to stock our wine – trendy Canada Water Cafe www.canadawatercafe.com and very soon the cool Ventnor Arts Club. We’re never, never bored!