“Harvest will start in two weeks,” says Andy Rogers, matter-of-factly. It is already the 20th September but 2014 has been a pretty decent year. His nerves are not completely frayed, yet. “Beginning of October.”
Just as how teenage girls yearn to be asked to dance at the school disco, beautiful ripe bunches of Pinot Noir are waiting expectantly for their turn to come. Meunier has almost completed veraison but, not entirely. The Chardonnay is a mixed bag: some translucent berries, others still as tart as a gooseberry. Two weeks sounds like a wise bet.
Lurking in the shadows, on this dank, murky Saturday afternoon in West Sussex, are the spores of mould which, like the teachers patroling this school dance, are threatening to spoil all the fun. The humidity today is dangerously high at 95%. It is grey, overcast and there is no breeze of which to speak. I get the impression that Andy would prefer a repeat of yesterday’s weather: 25 degrees celsius, hot sunshine…
The Upperton estate comprises 20 acres (~8 hectares.) Predominantly planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, there is a small scattering of Bacchus, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc but barely enough to warrant a mention.
The first vines were planted here in 2005 – making Upperton one of the very first in what has become the English Sparkling Wine movement, although they didn’t know that at the time. Andy is, by profession, a landscape gardener. He lives in the adjacent village of Tillington with his wife and children. Those initial 800 rootstocks were meant to be a test.
There are now 30,000 vines on this picturesque south-facing slope. The South Downs, just a couple of miles away, provide a stunning backdrop. The autumnal mist on the hills takes me back to Piedmont last October.
But, walking through the vines, I am struck by how tall the trellis is. The fruiting wire here at Upperton is set at 900mm – 50% higher than what I’m used to seeing in France (where the average is 600mm, according to my textbook.)
A lazy smile rolls across my face as I realise how unlaborious it must be to tend to these vines…… not at all like those back-breakingly-low Cabernet vines I was up against at Montesecondo in Tuscany.
(Full story coming soon.)
However the real reason for these extra inches, as Andy explains, is to give the plant the best chance of surviving a hard frost. The other weapon they have up their sleeves are the parafin wax boxes placed around the vineyard. During the coldest months, these can be lit to keep the frost from setting. Fortunately, in the ten years that Upperton has been in existence, they’ve only had to do this once – and that was two/three years ago.
Turning to geology, here, the vineyard is blessed with lower greensand and clay below. There’s no irrigation and it’s not needed either. Talking further with Andy, he reckons that the soil is actually too good. The major problem they face is apparently the canopy management. His son, James, calls the shots nowadays and it would appear that James, being of the younger generation, is not afraid to take a risk and experiment with some new ideas.
In any case, in just two weeks, a team of 30 people will descend upon the vineyards to give the grapes their moment. They’ll be picking 8 tonnes per day to be sent over to Ridgeview in Ditchling and made into wine. Part of the crop will be sold at this stage to go into Ridgeview’s own wines, but part will come back under the Upperton label. Seek them out!