Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ryedale Vineyard Open Day - The first taste of 2013

I haven’t looked back through my blog posts, but I’m sure I must have mentioned Ryedale Vineyard at some point (if I haven’t, then shame on me!). I’ve known the owners, Stuart and Elizabeth Smith, for a while now, and have helped them out on a number of occasions. I first volunteered my services at the North Yorkshire vineyard following a visit and tour early last year. I, and Mrs Me, enjoyed it so much, I wanted to come back and help them. Ryedale vineyard is a wonderful place, with wonderful proprietors, and I’ve learnt so much about viticulture and vinification from working in their vineyard and winery.


Sweetening trials for rosé.
Last year I spent some time during harvest, picking and processing grapes and making wines. This year, I went back and did some pruning, in less than ideal weather conditions I might add, and other winery housekeeping jobs. I was also lucky enough to be invited to their sweetening trials. Loosely, this is where a select group of individuals decide if it’s necessary for the almost-finished wines get one last dose of sweetness. This comes in the form of a ‘susse reserve’ (a sugary grape juice made from German Bacchus grapes!), and helps to balance the final wine, it’s acidity, and determine the style, in terms of level of ‘dryness’. All the wines are tasted, with the addition of increasing amounts of added sugar in g/L (grams per Litre). Some of the base wines had been fermented to ‘full dryness’, i.e. with no residual sugar left in them, whereas some base wines contained a small proportion of residual sugar. The amounts of added sugar can be very small, in the region of one or two g/L, sometimes up to eight to ten. Without going into things too much, these are relatively small additions, and are not meant to drastically alter the wines character. It is meant as a finishing touch, to help ‘round-off’ the wine. For example some sweeter styles of wine can have over 100 g/L of (residual) sugar in them, so what’s 1 or two more!? Without a touch of sugar/sweetness, the dry base wines can be very acidic and austere. A tiny addition of sugar can create a vastly more approachable dry wine, without making it taste at all sweet.

Having been involved in so much of a single vintage, I was delighted to be invited back once again, to try the final wines post bottling. I attended the vineyard open day, at which all their 2013 still wines were available to try, and of course buy! [They have several, excellent sparkling wines in their range from the last few vintages, which are still maturing and due for release shortly]. The 2013 vintage was a reasonably successful year, with a long, warm summer aiding grape ripening. This meant that with careful nurturing from the winemaker, the wines couldn’t help but turn out well.
On arrival in the Wolds, mid-afternoon, the wines were just being set out ready for tasting. The 2013 range consists of 7 still wines, 3 whites, 3 roses and 1 red (a very exciting thing indeed for the most Northerly commercial producer). The range includes 3 brand-new wines that have been introduced due to 2013 being a good vintage. They have been called the ‘Strickland Estate’ wines (named after the land upon which the vineyard rests). These are the best-of-the-best wines from the best grapes, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the plan was to produce these wines only in the best vintages. These are a single white, rose and red.

We came home with most of the 2013 range,
plus their Summerhouse red from last year.

It was recommended that the wines were tasted in a specific order, so that’s what was done. I made my way through them and took notes as I would normally do. During this period, it was so lovely to talk to many people I had met before at the vineyard and also many I had not. Amongst other topics, we discussed the merits of the wines, but also how great it is to see such success from a North Yorkshire producer. There were plenty of people there during the afternoon and many enjoyed the tasting along with a wander around the vines. Mrs Me and I did much the same, and we took a stroll amongst the vines. It was great to see all the vines pruned, tied-down and venturing forward into their annual cycle. Many of the varieties were beginning bud burst, but all seemed healthy and content. The weather was kind, and despite a cool breeze, the sun was shining and it was warm enough. I was given a present by Stuart and Elizabeth, in the form of an adopted row of Pinot Noir vines. This was in thanks of my help and was a lovely and most appreciated gesture.

A view of the winery buildings from within one of vineyard blocks.

Now, I afraid I don’t want to go through the ins-and-outs of all the wines I tasted. It can become a little ‘samey’ for the reader when there are several wines of similar styles. To the wine-buff like me it’s fascinating to go through all of them and pick out characteristic contributions from different grape varieties. However, I suspect that may be too much for most readers. What I shall do is concentrate on my selected highlights. Although all the wines were good and most drinkable, there were better wines, which stood out, and were my favourites. By concentrating on these few I’ll hopefully do them more justice and make the reading a little easier!

Strickland Estate white 2013 (11%)
Utilising 100% Solaris grapes has provided lovely light citrus and apple notes. Although very much a dry wine, the apples becoming more prominent and a touch sweeter on the palate. They have a delightful baked quality too. There's great acidity complimenting a bit of grippy texture, making for an easy-drinking, lighter and refreshing white.

Wolds View white 2013 (10.5%)
This white blend is a touch off-dry. After a slight reductiveness blew-off, it showed predominantly lemons, with some cider apples and floral notes. The palate has good acidity, complimenting the slight sweetness. The fuller and fruit-filled flavour has a mineral edge, although a mildly stunted finish.

Strickland Estate rosé 2013 (8%)
A lighter rosé here, with a delicate nose of berry fruit, mainly strawberries. A good deal of texture on the palate leads in to a cleansing, tart finish. Perhaps a great food-wine, fit for a summer BBQ, cutting through your potato salad with ease!

Shepherd's Delight rosé 2013 (10%)
Perhaps my favourite of the day. A beautifully balanced, sweeter style. Loads of red berries and currents mingle with a flinty minerality. The off-dry to medium sugars are balanced well with ripe fruit and good acidity, and a very nice mouthfeel indeed. With the sun shining, I could drink this easily on it's own. Bravo!

Strickland Estate red 2013 (10.5%)
What a triumph it is to produce a red wine so far North! A blend of 80% Rondo, 15% Regent and 5% Triomphe. This lighter, dry red wine exhibits red berries and some cherry fruits. The Rondo brings a nice vegetal spice that seems like oak, though there is none, not dissimilar to some expressions of Gamay. I think the Regent brings some soft tannins, adding body and a lovely mouthfeel. Unsurprisingly, this red has medium to high acidity, leaving it light and refreshing. An easy-drinking red with a lingering finish that is quite moreish!

So there you go, some great English wines!
While trying not to tangent onto a topic for another blog post, I’d like to finish by saying that producers from southern English counties are deservedly becoming more renowned for their wines; especially sparkling wines, many of which are now in high-street supermarkets. Ryedale vineyard, along with other northern producers, are demonstrating that English wines of quality and commercial viability, whether sparkling or still, can be produced much further north of the 50th parallel than one might initially think. With this I’m not trying to say that we should all rush out and start buying English wines, nor that English wines are suddenly a better alternative to French, Australian, Spanish, or any other country’s wines. What I hope to convey is that the English wine scene is progressing well. Some say that English wines are not very good, and given our climate, will never be any good. I would say that English wine producers are, perhaps, a generation or two behind other wine-producing countries, and are therefore still learning their craft. Currently, it’s wise to consider English wines as having a style of their own. This is something that many English wine producers are actually keen to promote. They are not trying to replicate Champagne in their sparkling wines, or the fruit-bombs of Australian Shiraz in their still reds. Right now, I think English producers are trying to deliver the best wines they can, that represent English grape varieties, grown in English soils, in the English climate. And yes, I realise in saying that, I’ve dug a small hole for myself. However, a discussion about German hybrid varieties, grafted onto American rootstocks, being most suitable for the English climate, can be left for another time!

BTW, FYI, and other appropriate acronyms, English Wine Week is coming up, from 24th May to 1st June! So go and find some English wine and try it, whatever it is. Look for fizz if you're unsure, it may be a more reliable bet. Ryedale Vineyard are very active on Facebook, and further details regarding their vineyard tours and tastings, activities, and also B&B accommodation, can be found on their website HERE.

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