Harvest is the pinnacle of the grapegrowing year at Hattingley Valley. The vineyard team decides when the grapes are perfectly ripe to pick and then gets to work. Each bunch is carefully picked by hand to avoid any damage to the grapes. The hours are long and days endless, but it brings everyone together and is just the start of the wine making journey.
The grapes are rushed to the winery to be pressed as soon as possible. The grapes travel in 20kg crates to avoid any premature squashing. Once loaded into the Coquard press gentle pressure is applied to minimise the extraction of undesirable colour and tannins. This produces the finest quality juice from our carefully nurtured Hampshire grapes.
This quality juice is then fermented into a fairly neutral base wine using a special champagne yeast. Here at Hattingley a small proportion of our wine is fermented in old Burgundian oak barrels with the remainder in stainless steel tanks. Temperature control is key – too cold and the yeast won’t work, too hot and the fermentation will run too fast and possibly get stuck. Some of the juice is selected for malolactic fermentation in which case those bacteria are co-inoculated with the yeast to soften the green malic acid found in the grapes to softer lactic acid.
The art of blending aims to ensure a consistent style from year to year and to identify the different types of wine we make. At this point reserve wine from previous vintages may be added to the current blend. The winemaking team call on their experience of tasting the indivudual wines over the years to perfect this art.
Before the wine is bottled tirage liqueur must be added. The liqueur is a mixture of wine, sugar and yeast and its purpose is to induce a second, slower fermentation in the bottle. All processes now take place inside the same bottle you will eventually see on the shelf.
The second fermentation can take 6-12 weeks to complete adding approximately 1.5% alcohol to the final wine and trapping the build up of carbon dioxide, creating the fizz effect. The pressure within the bottle is then equivalent to the pressure in the tyre of a double decker bus!
In order to maximise quality and deliciousness the wine must spend ‘time on lees’ which means contact with the dead yeast cells in the bottle, also known as ‘autolysis’. The high acid of the initial grapes and juice enable the wine to withstand this ageing period and, in fact, improve. Autolysis gives the wine more complexity – identified by the bread, toast and brioche character often found in long lees-aged wines. The winemakers will decide when the wine is ready after a number of years.
Once the optimum moment is identifed we riddle the wines on our Gyropallet. It can handle 2000 bottles at a time and takes the horizontal bottles and slowly moves them to a vertical position, moving the yeast to the neck of the bottle. This process takes 7 days and is a crucial part of the sparkling process.
The neck of the bottle is then frozen so that the yeast can be removed. The disgorging line then adds the dosage liqueur of wine and sugar and a butterfly cork and wirehood resulting in the finished product – a beautiful bottle of English sparkling wine.
Finally, the bottle is labelled in house. Each label is designed by the Hattingley team giving each wine its own identity, and is the wine you see on the shelf.