28 October 2016

Naked picking for English Sparkling Wine

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to help with the grape harvest for a future English Sparkling Wine. Ok, so we weren't actually naked (it was far to cold for that nonsense) But our hosts were Naked Wines and one of their English wine suppliers, Ian Kellett from Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire so it was definitely Naked style!

I jumped at the chance as I've never helped with harvesting grapes before and I was keen to learn more. But, on the day in question, the weather couldn't have been much more dark and dank. It had seemingly rained all night and the roads were flooded on the way to the vineyard.

However, we were given a really warm welcome by Founder and MD Ian Kellett (and a warm coffee and croissant). And the vineyard looked as beautiful as ever, even through the rain.

We were all presented with our pruning tools under strict instructions not to chop any fingers off! It felt like a lot of pressure and my little team of my husband and another Naked Wines Archangel, Leon, got a little bit OCD with making sure we didn't miss any grapes. I personally think we were perfect pickers! 

It wasn't as hard going as I'd thought especially as there were so many juicy grapes and we were fortunate enough to be picking in a field where most of the grapes were at head-height. Thankfully, the sun shone nearly the whole time and my fingers remained in tact at the end!

Once we'd finished picking we went on a tour of the winery operation. I won't go into this too much as I already wrote about how fab it was in my post about a day trip to Hambledon Vineyard.

On this visit though we were lucky enough to have to have the MD and Founder of Hambledon wines giving us the tour. What shone through really crisply from Ian were three key themes:

Firstly, yes, they are using similar techniques, equipment and winemakers to the French. But with their own slant. Ian was a biochemist in a former life, clearly an innovative entrepreneur and massively driven. To such an extent that he even personally planned and designed the huge fermentation tanks. I really felt like they were taking the best of the French model and building on it. 

Secondly, quality. No cutting corners. No sloppy methods. Everything done the right way to make a truly quality bottle of sparkling wine. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ian and the team clearly feel like they are on cusp of potentially something great for English Sparkling wine. The weather, the chalky soil together with the quality and innovative methods, meant that Ian believed within his lifetime, England would be making perhaps 50 million bottles of wine a year. Big stuff.

The few bunches that us Angels and Archangels picked that day will help towards the clutch. In fact, we picked enough to make 1,020 bottles!

And, yes, we got to enjoy a few glasses of the good stuff. Hambeldon supplies two Sparkling Wines to Naked Wines and since this was a Naked event, it was these that we had the pleasure of tasting at the end. 

My favourite without a doubt was the Pink Fizz called Old Winchester Hill Oeil de Perdrix NV which was named after the area the wine grapes are grown. Served perfectly cold in glasses that Ian designed himself (of course, I'd expect no less) it had lots of beautiful, small bubbles, deliciously dry and a light, blushed pink colour. 

I'll definitely be putting a few bottles in my next order. And, who knows? Maybe I will buy a bottle in the future containing some of the grapes that we picked!

30 September 2016

A groovy wine tour at Domaine O'Vineyards

I'd heard from some of the other Naked Wines Angels and Archangels that a visit to the Domaine O'Vineyards in France is an absolutely excellent experience. So when we were in the Languedoc this summer, we decided to book a night with meal and wine tasting with Joe and Liz O'Connell.
Joe giving his
groovy wine tour

It was a really, really hot on the day we visited. Apparently it was the hottest September that the region could remember. We'd spent the day wandering around nearby Carcassonne and lying by the lovely but very breeze-less Lac de la Cavayere and we were literally expiring when we arrived.

We were over half an hour early, but Liz, Joe and Muse the dog opened the doors and welcomed us into a wonderfully cool room and opened an ice-cold bottle of delicious white wine. It was absolute bliss. And, it wasn't a thimble-full of wine either, it was a nice, big, juicy glug.
The view from our balcony

Liz and Joe were like these super cool hipsters. Not cool in a modern way. More a laid back, 70s throwback sort of way. Joe kind of shuffled around in his Hawaiian shirt, jeans and sandals, humming away to his Beatles and Elton John music with a wry, knowing smile while Liz wafted in and out in her denim shorts and huge shades. Apparently they met while she was sunbathing nude on a beach in California. Says it all really. Very cool.

My husband and I
enjoying the yummy wines
The winery and the vineyards were absolutely stunning. Joe had designed the building himself and the decor and structure were an interesting mix of modern, rustic and baroque. All peppered with art that you felt they'd collected on their journey through life. Our bedroom had a fabulous view of the vines and I joked to Liz that I would need a ladder to get onto the ginormous bed. Everything was very luxurious and felt like a proper treat. Again, probably not stylish in a modern or conventional sense, but all very cool, eclectic and distinctive.

When everyone else arrived, Joe introduced the event as "not a wine tasting, but a wine drinking". And, that really set the tone for the event. The measures were generous as were the hosts with their time and attention.
Stunning sunset over the vines

The tour itself was informal and fun. It didn't feel like a stuffy lesson on winemaking. But it had enough content to be interesting and enough interaction for us all to feel comfortable and get chatting.

Joe and Liz moved to France with their son Ryan to make the type of wine they wanted to make, the way they wanted to make it. Apparently, there have been some frustrating times along the way navigating the Languedoc Appellation rules. But he'd come out the other side and has earned a great deal of respect for his wines and methods both in France, England and across the pond in America where his son, Ryan does a great deal of work with Naked Wines USA.

Me with Joe and Liz
and the star of the show, Muse
At the tasting and meal, we were treated to glass upon glass upon glass. So much so that I think we tried everything in their range. The wines were stylish and interesting, without taking themselves too seriously. For example, all the bottle labels were designed by the family and one even had the head of a Naked Wines Archangel on it. 

My favourite wine was probably the O'Chasan 2015. I'd never tried a pure Chasan wine before, but apparently it is a popular, but underrated wine of the Languedoc region. Very light and easy drinking and perfect served crisp cold. We also loved the O'Syrah 2011. A smooth and peppery Shiraz that left my mouth warm and very happy for a long time after each sip. 
We tried pretty much the
whole range

The food was all lovingly prepared by Liz. The website promoted the meal as "home cooked food". Well, if you live in a house with about 20 chefs! I have no idea how she managed to create all that food. We enjoyed course after course of interesting and intricate Asian-French-Californian fusion food. And Liz lovingly enthused about how she made each dish and her added personal touches. 

But the real star of the show was their beautiful conker dog, Muse. He seemed to lead the wine tour, obviously knowing the route by heart. Staring lovingly up at us all with gorgeous eyes, hoping to perhaps get a few of Liz's supper treats.

What a view to have from
your dining room table!
When we finally stumbled to bed, I've never seen such a beautiful sky from our balcony overlooking the vines. Hundreds of stars and with not an artificial light or sound in sight.

The whole experience was extremely relaxing, very decadent and, well, groovy baby....