Nyetimber Open Day
Nyetimber Vineyard, Gay Street, West Chiltington, West Sussex,
I took the opportunity to visit Nyetimber on June 6, 2015 to attend one of their Open Days. This is only the second time they have opened to the public following their first successful Open Day last September. They plan to hold another Open Weekend in September 2015.
The vineyard is in an absolutely stunning setting, complete with manor house and a number of old barns surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, ponds and a beautiful lake. On the day I visited, it was lovely and sunny with a gentle breeze. Picture perfect!
We were greeted by the owner and Chief Executive, Eric Heerema, and his lovely wife, Hannah, and gathered for our tour in the White Barn overlooking the gardens. Eric and Hannah live in the manor house onsite and enjoy an amazing view from their property.
Our tour guides for the day were Ian Robb and Emma Lambie; Nyetimber refer to them as “Brand Ambassadors”. Ian opened the tour by providing a potted history of Nyetimber.
Ian described Nyetimber as a “contemporary British luxury brand”. It dates back more than 1000 years, even before the Norman invasion. The earliest reference to the estate is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and the word Nyetimber means “new wood”.
Nyetimber originally had close ties to the Priory of Lewis, but 480 years later, 1536 saw the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry VIII passing the estate to Thomas Cromwell. When Thomas fell out of favour with the King, Henry gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of her annulment settlement.
In 1986, a couple from Chicago, Stuart and Sandy Moss, bought the estate and became the first to plant the three traditional Champagne grapes in England.
In 2006, Eric Heerema, who had always had an interest in wine, bought the estate.
A little more about Nyetimber.
Aspect: Nyetimber has 151 ha of vines (approx. 365 acres) all of which are planted on south facing slopes. Not only does this ensure maximum exposure to the sun, but it also enables the vines to have good drainage with no flooding issues.
Climate: Nyetimber is on average 0.5C cooler than Champagne. The vineyard is located in the lee of the South Downs which provides shelter from the coastal winds and weather. As such, the weather year round is generally quite mild.
Terroir: The soils at Nyetimber are a combination of chalk and green sand. This soil is reported to run all the way under the English Channel and resurface in Champagne.
Grapes: Nyetimber only make wines from their own grapes and do not sell grapes to anyone else. They are fanatical about quality, so much so that during the terrible weather of 2012 (with perhaps the exception of the couple of weeks when the Olympics was on) the fruit simply was not of a high enough standard. As such, they were reported to have lost around 400,000 bottles and £10m as they abandoned the wine crop that year.
Eric Heerema’s ambition is to create “the greatest sparkling wine in the world bar none”.
Nyetimber has 2 export markets. They started exporting to Japan in June 2013 and Denmark was selected as their first European export market in September 2013.
The current winemakers, Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix, a married couple, joined the team in 2007. Both native Canadians; Cherie hails from British Columbia and Brad from Toronto, had tasted a bottle of Nyetimber in Canada and wanted to be part of it. Within two weeks of contacting Eric Heerema, they started working for him!
Our tour today took us around the estate and up into the vineyards. The building covered with ivy in the photos is the Estate Office.
Nyetimber boasts the oldest Chardonnay vines in England and they released their first wine to critical acclaim in 1997. The 2009 Classic Cuvee was shortlisted as the best sparkling wine in the world; a total of 5 were in the running.
Our Brand Ambassador, Ian, told us an amusing anecdote about the local badgers. He pointed out a huge tree towards the bottom of the Chardonnay vineyard where there is a badger sett. He told us that when the grapes are ripe, the badgers walk up through the Chardonnay vines and gorge themselves on Pinot Noir grapes. Apparently they completely ignore the Chardonnay grapes; they are clearly ABC advocates!
Nyetimber has 80 different parcels of land, the fruit from which is all harvested individually and represents the characteristics of each individual area. This creates 80 base wines which in turn provides more complexity in the final product.
All Nyetimber wines are aged for at least 3 years on the lees. The Blanc de Blancs wines are aged for at least 5 years; some wines considerably longer. The 2003 vintage spent 9 years on the lees. Quality is paramount at Nyetimber.
Back in the vineyard, Ian pointed out some young vines which are now in their 4th year. Last year, they removed the fruit from these vines to stop the vine putting its energy into the grapes. This ensures that the vine puts all of its energy into developing the vine itself. Ian also told us about the process of bud-rubbing. As a vine will naturally develop a number of tertiary buds which will not produce fruit, these need to be removed as they zap the vine’s energy. Vineyard workers wear heavy duty gloves and rub their hands up and down the vine to remove them.
Nyetimber is the largest producer of English wines from their own grapes and yields are around 8 tons per hectare. In 2014, they produced 750,000 bottles. Sounds impressive – yet a mere drop in the ocean compared to Moet et Chandon who produced around 30m bottles of Moet Imperial alone last year!
All vines are harvested by hand at Nyetimber. Ian told us that a group of 400 Polish and Romanian workers, having first worked the earlier vintages in Southern Europe, all descend upon the vineyard to harvest the grapes. He said that they are an extremely hardworking bunch of individuals.
Nyetimber has an innovative way of keeping the grass under control. A local farmer routinely brings his flock of sheep to graze on the land. No need for a mower!
Our final stop in the vineyards was at the Pinot Meunier field. Ian described Pinot Meunier as floral and expressive but it does not generally age that well. Meunier is the French word for “miller” and the grape gets its name from its leaves which look like they have been dusted with flour.
We concluded our tour in the Medieval Barn where Emma walked us through the tasting.
Classic Cuvee 2010: Nyetimber’s flagship wine. The first to be blended - usually just after Christmas - and a very elegant wine with some complexity. We tasted the 2010 vintage which was only released a few weeks ago. It is a blend of 51% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Meunier. It was pale gold in colour with persistent fine bubbles. On the nose, there were aromas of toast, bread, brioche, cream and ripe citrus (lemons and limes). On the palate, the wine was extremely refreshing, dry, with almost mouth-watering acidity and plenty of toast, honey and more ripe citrus. It had a medium (+) body and a medium (+) finish.
Rose 2009: This is a blend of 45% Chardonnay, 53% Pinot Noir and 2% Pinot Meunier. It was medium pink in colour, with a touch of copper and small fine bubbles. The nose was an explosion of rich ripe red summer fruits; red cherries, raspberries, strawberries and redcurrants. On the palate, the wine was dry with medium (+) acidity and the rich ripe red fruits followed through from the nose. It had a medium (+) body and a long finish. Emma explained that this wine is unusual as 15% of the Pinot Noir is added as a still red wine to the blend.
Demi-Sec: A wine to be drunk with dessert. 100% Chardonnay with 44g/l residual sugar. It was pale gold in colour with small fine bubbles. On the nose, hints of honey, ripe lemons and a touch of minerality. The wine was sweet with high acidity which cut through to stop it from being cloying. There was more honey on the palate with sweet ripe lemons and it had a medium body and a medium (+) finish.
Nyetimber was the first English vineyard to produce a demi-sec.
Nyetimber also make a Blanc de Blancs from 100% Chardonnay – unfortunately not available to taste today – but this is only made in those years when the quality of the Chardonnay is to an extremely high standard. The 2007 Blanc de Blancs is currently available for sale and the next vintage to be released will be the 2009.
After the tasting, I chatted briefly with Brad Greatrix, one of the winemakers.
Brad told me that he had studied in Australia and had met his wife, Cherie Spriggs, in Ontario. I asked him about the timing of the harvest at Nyetimber and he said that they usually start harvesting in early October. One year, on the night after they had actually harvested, there was a severe frost and all of the vines’ leaves turned brown overnight. It was not a problem for them that year, but he said this is how close the weather can come to ruin the whole crop.
I asked him how things were going so far this year and he said that whilst the vines had received sufficient rain, it really needs to warm up. They are not as developed as they should be for the time of year.
Brad proudly told me that the Classic Cuvee has recently received a number of accolades, including those from Jancis Robinson MW and Matthew Jukes.
He asked whether I had tasted Nyetimber wines before and I confirmed that I had tasted the Classic Cuvee, the Rose and the Blanc de Blancs. I told him that the Blanc de Blancs is my personal favourite.
I left the vineyard with one of each of the Classic Cuvee 2010, the Rose 2009 and the Blanc de Blancs 2007, together with one of the very pretty Nyetimber branded fancy bottle stoppers. I can’t quite imagine when I will use this however as it’s extremely rare for a bottle of Nyetimber not to be drunk in one sitting in our house!
I would like to thank Brad, Ian and Emma for their excellent hospitality today and obviously my special thanks to Eric and Hannah Heerema for inviting the public into their lovely home and vineyard. I would thoroughly recommend signing up for their next Open Day in September 2015 if you can source a ticket!
Copyright of suerayuncorked.com - June, 2015