No vintage at Hush Heath is ever identical or predictable and 2011 certainly met those criteria. We had a pretty early start with a warm spring encouraging early flowering and everything started coming to life around three weeks earlier than we might typically expect.
There was a small cold snap in May, but we came out relatively unscathed, particularly pleasing was how the new Sandhurst vineyard and our Pinot Meunier vines emerged untouched.
In fact, despite the summer we all experienced in the UK this year, it transpired that the maturation of the grapes was somewhat quicker than expected.
We were blessed with very good conditions from the last two weeks in September in to the first weeks of October. The sun couldn’t have come at a better time ensuring a wonderful balance of sugars and acids.
We enjoyed a pre-harvest party on the 19th of September and then commenced the harvest on the 29th of September. By the 11th of October we had harvested 35 tons of grapes (exactly the same quantity as the preceding vintage). – the quality was fantastic, sugars and acids were perfect, and there was no disease. A pretty unique harvest with no enrichment taking place in the winery at all.
The wine underwent tirage and bottling in July 2012.
The 2010 year started off as a potential disaster as the vineyards were heavily frosted around budburst. As the year progressed it became apparent that the vines, particularly the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier had recovered, though the crop on the Chardonnay remained pretty sparse. Vines not affected by the frost carried a massive crop (a result of the fantastic weather in 2009 and very good flowering weather in 2010) which, when combined with the miserable summer, condemned many other English Vineyards to unripe and diseased grapes. Not Hush Heath I hasten to add! So it’s an ill wind as they say. June was excellent, July, August and September awful, Harvest was 10 days later than 2009 starting on the 15th October and brought to an abrupt end by a sharp frost on the 21st October. An emergency picking of the Chardonnay brought in some stunning fruit with natural sugars of 10.2% potential alcohol. Sugar levels were average in the Pinot Noir at around 8.7% potential alcohol although yields were double that of the Chardonnay.
The 2009 harvest in England was probably one of the finest in the last 20 years. Sugar levels were high and conditions were such that picking could be done when the sugar-acid balance was at its best. The grapes at Hush Heath were of a fantastic quality in this respect.
Chardonnay unusually was picked first being harvested on the 11th of October (16 days earlier than 2008), 7662 kg were picked at 10.9% potential alcohol and 11g / l TA (very ripe – the Chardonnay required no chaptalisation). 10,674 kg of the Pinot Noir were picked on the 11th and 12th, with sugars at 10.2% potential alcohol and between 10.8 and 11.9 g / l TA.
The Pinot Meunier was also taken on the 12th, 2,011 kg at 11.1% potential alcohol and 11.9 g / l TA.
Following the 2008 example, a red fermentation was made of the Pinot Meunier, the fermentation being short and pressed off after 6 days with excellent fruit and deep colour. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay had traditional cool fermentations. The result was a blend somewhat pinker than usual. Tastings put raspberry and redcurrant fruit to the fore and it retained its darker pink colour through the second fermentation. This was the last Balfour Brut Rosé to be made by Owen Elias at Chapel Down. 14,600 bottles were made. The wine underwent tirage in July 2010.
2008 was another difficult year in the vineyard. Lessons learnt from 2007 proved invaluable. Harvest was on the late side, the Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir were harvested on the 20th October.
Pinot Meunier at 8.6% potential alcohol, 12g / l TA – 1,061 kg
Pinot Noir at 8.9% potential alcohol, 13g / l TA – 7,814kg
The Chardonnay was picked a week later on the 27th.
Chardonnay at 8.9% potential alcohol, 14g / l TA – 5,169 kg
The Pinot Meunier was de-stemmed and lightly crushed into small 400 l open top fermenters (grey picking bins). It was inoculated and fermented on its skins for 5 days before being pressed off and added to the blend.
The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay underwent their separate fermentations and the blend was put together in January 2009. The final percentages were as follows:
Pinot Noir 53%, Chardonnay 38% and Pinot Meunier 9%, the wine underwent tirage on the 17th June 2009 and 11,300 bottles were bottled.
The wine, released towards the end of 2011, is another classic vintage.
2007 was not an easy year in the vineyard. Yields were on the low side and some late season botrytis meant a selective pick further reduced the crop.
The Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were harvested on the 15th October with sugars at a respectable 67Oc (8.7) and acidity at 12.8g / l, the Chardonnay was picked a week later with sugars at 71Oc (9.4) and a TA of 15g / l.
The average yield was just under 2t / acre. Pinot Meunier performed well and makes up a higher proportion of the cuvée than usual at 15%. Pinot Noir is at 34% and Chardonnay at 51%. It is also the only vintage of Balfour that contains a higher proportion of Chardonnay than red varieties.
The winemaking followed the usual Balfour method, though a small portion of the Chardonnay juice was de-acidified by a couple of grams.
The wine was bottled in July 2008 and the first disgorging took place in May 2011.
2006 was the warmest year ever recorded in over 350 years of record keeping in the UK and as such, provided perfect conditions for winegrowers. After the good growing conditions in 2006, all three varieties set a very good crop of fruit and the relatively dry summer meant that disease levels were low. The crop was large, the largest ever at Hush Heath, which meant that despite the good growing conditions, ripening took a little longer than might be expected in a fine year and some cooler, wet weather in early October did cause some bunches to succumb to Botrytis.
The Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were picked on October 16th and the Chardonnay on October 23rd and on both occasions, selective picking was required to harvest 100% clean, undamaged fruit. Nevertheless, very good yields were recorded, with the Pinot Noir yielding 8.5 tonnes / acre at 8.3% potential alcohol and 11.3 g / l total acidity (TA), the Pinot Meunier coming in at 4 tonnes / acre at 9.1% potential alcohol and 14 g / l TA and the Chardonnay 9.78 tonnes / acre at 9.5% potential alcohol and 10 g / l TA. Overall 31,520 kg were harvested. This produces a final blend which is 58% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier.
Fermentations were clean and the wines were all put through a malolactic fermentation to reduce acid levels. The generally high acidities mean that the 2006 Balfour Brut Rosé will require some extra bottle-age before it is ready for disgorging, and will be a long-lived wine.
2005 was another ideal year for English winegrowers. An early spring led on to good flowering conditions and the summer was by and large a good one. The autumn, although starting cool, warmed up in late September and remained warm and dry until the end of October which gave ideal picking conditions. The grapes were harvested over two days, October 10th and the 24th, and a total of 21,528 kg were picked. The Pinot Noir yielded at 6.6 tonnes/acre, the Chardonnay at 4.5 tonnes/acre and the Pinot Meunier, which were in their first real year of cropping, a respectable 1.58 tonnes/acre. This produced a final blend which is 52% Pinot Noir, 44% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier.
Sugar and acid levels were again ideal for sparkling wine with the Chardonnay at 9.8% potential alcohol and 10.5 g/l acidity, the Pinot Noir at 8.6% and 13 g/l and the Pinot Meunier at 9.8% and 8.5 g/l.
The Pinot Noir yielded 2.7 kg/vine at a potential alcohol of 9.8% and an acidity (as tartaric) of 11 g/l. The Chardonnay yielded 2 kg/vine at a potential alcohol of 10.5% alcohol with the same level of acidity. These technical figures are almost identical to those to be found in Champagne, a sure sign that the choice of site, varieties, clones and rootstocks was a good one. The base wine was blended in June 2005 and the 2004 vintage is 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay.
The launch batch of the 2004 vintage was disgorged in September 2006 after 16 months on the lees. The wine was slightly sweetened at the disgorging stage with grape-based liquid sugar to a level of 7 g/l sweetness and the final wine has an alcohol level of 12.5%.