When we first planted the vineyard back in 1971 we chose the following varieties, mostly from Northern Germany:
1. Reichensteiner – Probably our most successful variety in terms of reliable cropping and ripening and grows very well on our site. The wines in most years tend to be only slightly aromatic, they blend well and can make good sparkling wine.
2. Schonburger – A pinky tinged grape when ripe with a lovely perfume, this variety can make some excellent dry wines with good fruit overtones, although it does not always produce large crops.
3. Muller Thurgau – Once considered a ‘must-have’ in English vineyards, we have found the vines quite prone to fungal disease and the wines lacking in character. Occasionally, and with a bit of luck from the weather, it can surprise us with a wine of substance and fruit.
4. Gutenbourner – This variety can crop well and reliably. The grapes, if managed well and treated gently in the winery, can produce a full bodied and slightly spicy wine. Very little is grown in the UK but it has been extremely successful on our site.
5. Huxelrebe – Full of problems to grow but producing character in the bottle. Quite prone to Botrytis, the wines can turn out a little over powering if not blended well. A rich wine in ripe years but often best blended.
6. Kerner – Can be a little difficult to ripen well and the crops are not always very big but the wine can be of high quality with a mineral edge and elegant fruit flavours.
7. Dornfelder – A favourite red variety with good ripeness and flavour, used in our rosé.
8. Dunkelfelder – With red juice this can provide some good colour to our rosé.
In 1990, we planted up another 16 acres on a neighbouring field. As well as Reichensteiner and Schonburger, we planted:
9. Ortega – An early ripener with a distinctive peachy/grapey flavour, it can achieve good alcohol and well balanced acids. Mostly contributes to our 1066 wine.
10. Wurzer – When ripe can have delicious gooseberry and herbaceous flavours with racy acidity but this can be hard to achieve. It would be ideal if it cropped and ripened better. Occasionally blended into the Alexis when at its best.
The following are the new varieties we chose for our replanting:
11. Bacchus – Slowly becoming established as the quintessential English variety, it needs careful management in the field but the results are worth it. Aromatic and grassy, it can make a superb and balanced dry wine. We planted 4 acres in 2009.
12. Pinot Blanc – This variety is still relatively new to this country. However, having done our research thoroughly, we believed it would flourish here and make some spectacular aromatic still wines.
13. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – We started off with a small amount of these classic Champagne varieties, which are blended into our sparkling wines, particularly the sparkling rosé. With the knowledge we have gained in growing these, we increased the area of Pinot Noir last year, and planted a further 10 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at a local vineyard that we manage. The grapes from these new plantings will be used predominantly for the production of quality sparkling wines, and will be available from 2016!