…in the words of Jean du Plessis, GM and Vigneron of Ancre Hill:
Our neighbouring blackcurrant farmer, who has lived and farmed the area for more than 35 years, when asked in January about his opinion for the upcoming summer, predicted a drought. He was right.
Warm, sunny and dry conditions continued during the whole of autumn and at harvest time and kept the berries in a very healthy condition.
It was very dry all year, right through the growing season and the entire harvest period. These conditions meant no spring air frosts, good flowering conditions, along with two very hot spells prior to veraison, giving us even ripening and less fungal disease pressure in the vineyards – especially Downy Mildew that was so prevalent during the previous vintage. A slightly earlier budburst mid-April, and a later than usual start to harvest gave more time for the grapes on the vine and a longer ripening and maturation period for each berry. Warm, sunny and dry conditions continued during the whole of autumn and at harvest time and kept the berries in a very healthy condition. Yields were marginally less than average but most importantly these conditions all contributed to smaller berries with excellent concentration.
Being my 22nd harvest, and a first on Welsh soil, I felt pretty much at home, being used to growing and making premium wines in a warmer South African climate. Growing up in the Walker Bay area as well as spending time living in the “Hemel en Aarde” (“Heaven and Earth) Valley renowned for producing world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir during my school years and as a young adult before doing further studies, I am elated to be finally growing and making unique wines from these noble varietals. A standout characteristic–and something I refer to regularly when asked about what makes Ancre Hill unique –must be the purity of fruit. Focusing on a ‘hands-off’ approach in the winery allows this trait to carry on through the wines with a definite line running through Pet Nat to Orange to Sparkling to Dry Red and White; There is an Ancre Hill “signature of site” in all of them. The way we grow our vines and our convictions in doing so, over many years since inception, in an adaptive organic and biodynamic way only amplifies this. I am very excited about getting to know the terroir and vineyards better every season, and honoured to be part of the Welsh Vineyard and wine scene which is vibrant and pro-active.
As a way of getting to know Ancre Hill’s Vineyards better, pickings were broken up into smaller lots and some vineyard parcels picked by hand up to three times and kept separate throughout the entire process in the winery. This gives us more than 30 available blending components from this harvest alone and plenty of options when assembling the final wines destined for maturation and eventual bottling when the time is right for the wine. The decision on when to pick a particular parcel for me remains, as it has always been: ‘taste taste taste’.
Focusing on a ‘hands-off’ approach in the winery allows this trait to carry on through the wines with a definite line running through Pet Nat to Orange to Sparkling to Dry Red and White; There is an Ancre Hill “signature of site” in all of them.
At the moment, we have drained and pressed all the wines (except for a small quantity of Solaris and Ortega destined for our Orange Wine that remains on skins) and some are still bubbling away with secondary malolactic fermentations and spending time on fine lees.
Based on our predictions for the season ahead, we made a decision early on not to produce any traditional sparkling wines for this harvest and instead focus on optimal strategies to favour production of still wines and achieving good ripeness levels in all the vineyards. The season also contributed to the lower and more balanced acidities suited for still wines.
We are very pleased with the potential quality and concentration of the dry red Pinot Noir from this year–perhaps the best it has ever been in the vineyard–near perfect grape condition with no disease. With very good phenolic ripeness, the majority of the bunches were de-stemmed and fermented traditionally in open fermenters using a combination of concrete cubes and stainless steel. A small percentage were kept as whole bunch and whole berry fermentations including some carbonic maceration.
We are very pleased with the potential quality and concentration of the dry red Pinot Noir from this year–perhaps the best it has ever been in the vineyard–near perfect grape condition with no disease.
With some younger Chardonnay plantings starting to bear (more) fruit it added to the already diverse spectrum of flavours from our two different growing sites at both Ancre Hill and Newton Court. More than 60% of our plantings are non-clonal selection massale, which adds more complexity and freshness. This year, most of the grapes were used for making our Orange Wine using a combination of extended time on crushed skins, some whole bunch and some carbonic fermented in concrete, oak and stainless steel. As usual, our Albariño was also used for Orange Wine and the heat and sunlight from this growing season was absorbed to the maximum, with complete bunch exposure just after berry set – by far the best quality of this grape I have ever come across, and salinity to match.
A difficult season for our Triomphe, used as a component for our non-vintage red Pet Nat. A different canopy strategy in the vineyard was implemented to combat the warmer conditions and to good results as the wine in bottle is looking terrific.
…A maiden pink Pet Nat still fermenting in bottle….We are very excited about this wine and aim to produce this every year going forward, in small quantities.
Everything is an experiment making natural wine, and this year is no different, with a maiden pink Pet Nat still fermenting in bottle. Again, non-vintage, we blended delicate floral Pinot Noir rose (base wine) with fresh and fragrant Chardonnay juice. Both Pet Nats have been made in the Entr’acte Intermission method. We are very excited about this wine and aim to produce this every year going forward, in small quantities.
Wishing all our vineyards a well-deserved rest.
Jean du Plessis
written December 2022
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