Continued from Hambledon Vineyard Visit Part 1.
Hambledon Vineyard Winery Visit
Hambledon Vineyard made national newspaper headlines earlier this year when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall officially opened the £2.5 million, 100% gravity fed state-of-the-art winery. It was rather fitting that the Duchess of Cornwall was chosen to open the winery as she is the president of the UK Vineyards Association (UKVA). Furthermore, her father, Major Bruce Shand, was a vintner and her grandfather Philip Morton Shand wrote a book on wine-making – so I suppose one might say wine runs in her veins, so to speak.
The new Hambledon Vineyard winery consists of wine presses, various stainless steel catchment, settling and fermentation tanks spread over 4 floors – so basically during the wine-making process the grapes, then grape juice and finally fermented wine can move through the winery under gravity from top to bottom, without the need for any pumping.
What are the benefits of a Gravity Fed Winery?
The main feature of gravity fed wine-making (also known as gravity flow wine-making) is that, as the wine can stream freely from higher to lower levels in the winery without the use of pumps or mechanical force, the grapes undergo the gentlest handling possible. Ian Kellet explained it to me in layman’s terms that passing wine through an electric pump is like applying an electric charge to the wine, thereby artificially exciting the atoms of chemical compounds in the wine. This means that organic compounds in the wine are more likely to form chemical bonds with other similar, or the same, compounds. This can leads to the formation of larger chemical compounds which essentially means that one is altering the basic building blocks of the wine. Thus gravity flow wine-making allows the winemaker to use the most “natural” raw products for his wine, wine-making with minimal intervention. Please forgive me is this makes no sense, I am paraphrasing and it is a long time since I did any chemistry! If wine has to moved around in a gravity flow winery, it is usually pumped with compressed nitrogen, although the design of the winery usually makes this unecessary.
The other major benefit of gravity flow winemaking means no noisy, dirty pumps using electrical energy and creating exhaust pollution. So it is a much greener process. Although you might think that gravity flow seems to be a modern and slightly unusual set-up for a winery, there have actually been gravity fed wineries around since the 1800s – Seppeltsfield Estate in Australia’s Barossa Valley built a purely gravity flow winery in 1888.
When understanding gravity flow winemaking it best to think about the winery from top to bottom.
Hambledon Vineyard Winery
Winery Top floor
The job of the top floor is to receive the harvested grapes and for them to be fed into the wine presses. Other gravity fed wineries I have seen are often built into the side of a hill so that the grapes can simply be driven to the top of the winery. At Hambledon Vineyard this isn’t the case – they have a rather large lift to move the grapes from the ground floor to the top floor.
The wine presses are loaded with grapes on the top floor but the juice is collected on the floor below. Needless to say the presses, made by Les Pressoirs Coquard, are extremely modern and efficient. There are currently two presses in use but there is space for another one. As owner and Managing Director of Hambledon Vineyard, Ian Kellett, says, “for the grandson”. So there is room to expand if necessary.
Winery First Floor
The second floor down holds the catchment tanks and also houses the top half of some of the two story high fermentation tanks.
What you can see in the left hand photograph above is the bottom of one of the presses from the top floor and the collection tank (known as a belon in French) beneath it. One can see that collection tank is compartmentalised. There are four different compartments, two larger ones for the first and second Cuvées, and two smaller ones for “les tailles” (the “tails” or ends) of the pressing. This this allows the winemaker at Hambledon Vineyard far more control during the wine-making process so that the winemaker can vinify different juice from the different parts of the pressing separately. Once the grape juice is obtained it is allowed to settle in the belon and rests there for 3 hours. After this the wine is sent to other tanks and is allowed to cold settle – it is left there for 24 hours at 4 to 5 degrees centigrade – this allows the solids to settle to the bottom of the tank. After this the juice is run off to the large stainless steel fermenters on the ground floor, the top half of which you can see in the right hand photograph.
Winery Ground Floor
The winery ground floor consists of the bottom half of the two story fermentation tanks from the floor above and more smaller settlement tanks where the different portions of the wine (different grape varieties, from different parts of the vineyard etc.) can be sent to rest after fermentation. There is also a small barrel hall for ageing the reserve wines in oak barrels, equipment for disgorgement, labelling, packaging and, of course, the office / tasting / Hambledon Vineyard snooker room!
Hambledon Vineyard Cellars
There is a relatively small ageing cellar at Hambledon vineyard which is partly cut into the chalk of the hill. If the ambitious production targets are met, the cellars are going to need enlarging quite soon and I can see that they might have to get the diggers out and dig a bit deeper into the hill! The cellars are where the wine is aged and undergoes the riddling or remuage process.
In the bottom right photograph you can see the a gyropalette. The gyropalette is an interesting bit of equipment which automates the “riddling” or “remuage” process in the traditional wine making method of making sparkling wine. After secondary fermentation in the bottle it is necessary to remove the yeast sediment (or lees). This was traditionally done by cellar workers called remuers who, at certain intervals, the bottle is twisted, gentle shaken and moved progressively to a vertical position. This process would take several weeks. This help the lees all settle in the neck of the bottle, this is then frozen and the plug of yeast flies out under pressure after decorking. This used to be done manually for each bottle of wine. The gyropalette performs this task, using motors and automatic controls, for a large quantity of bottle at the same time in a much shorter period of time.
Hambledon Vineyard is now open for a winery visit and tasting tours by ticket / appointment in advance – for more information please contact the Hambledon Vineyard Winery.