Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Grape fun: wine harvest festival

Harvest, from the old English “Haerfest”, translates to Autumn, and the Harvest moon is the full moon within a fortnight of the autumnal equinox of 21st September.

Determining the best time to harvest grapes is a critical decision for any winemaker and is governed by the ripeness of the grape, measured by sugar content and acidity levels, depending on the style of wine they wish to produce. The weather of course is a crucial factor, as too much heat (some chance in this country) can make it hard to gather in all the grapes before they become flabby and overripe; rain on ripe grapes creates a wonderful breeding ground for rot; hailstorms can practically wipe out an entire harvest. So, as in most things in life, timing is crucial.
Denbies, near Dorking, is England’s largest single vineyard with 265 acres under vine. It produces an astonishing 400,000 bottles of wine a year and is cleverly commercial in that it encourages the general public to help harvest its grapes, a pleasure for which you have to pay! We are all for this idea of getting the public in on the act, however, as it not only educates but makes an enjoyable foray into the fresh air as you partake in the picking, which is an integral part of our farming tradition. 
Hand-picking has great advantages over mechanized harvesting as it is, of course, a more gentle and selective way of handling the delicate fruit of the vine. In areas where grapes are grown on steep hillside terraces it is impossible to harvest any other way than by hand. Those highly-prized sweet wines such as Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese require that individual berries from the grape cluster have to be selected – one of the reasons these wines are so highly priced, as well as prized. 
Mechanized harvesters are widely used as a machine is cheaper to run than human labour, and can work through the night if necessary. The action of these machines can be compared to that of a playground school bully, as they go around beating and shaking the vines 'till they drop their goodies: the grapes. However, amongst the treasures collected on the conveyor belt along with the grapes is a percentage of bad grapes, leaves, twigs, insects and so on – collectively known as MOG (or Material Other than Grapes) and at some stage this will have to be scanned and sorted....or not, as the case may be. Another good reason to be selective about the producer of the wines you buy. 
Talking of beating, reaping, scything, let alone wilful drowning, all these acts of some savagery have been employed for centuries in the service of mankind and feature in the famous harvesting song “John Barleycorn”.
This is an ancient folksong stemming from Anglo Saxon paganism (read Frasers Golden Bough). Barleycorn is the personification of barley, who encounters great trials and suffering before succumbing to an unpleasant death. However, as a result of this death, bread is produced: John Barleycorn dies so that others may live. The tune for this ancient folksong is the same now used in churches for the not too dissimilar hymn “We Plough the Seed and Scatter”, a favourite at Harvest Festival time. 
Poet, balladeer and Scottish icon, Robert Burns penned the most famous John Barleycorn Ballad in 1782 and subsequently there has been many a version by the likes of Steeleye Span, Stevie Winwood’s Traffic and Jethro Tull (naturally) to name but a few. But why, you ask, does the song enjoy such continuing popularity? Perhaps the answer lies in the line: “the reviving effects of drinking his blood”, which of course refers to barley being the main ingredient of beer and whisky!
Rupert Pritchett of Taurus Wines at Whipley Manor Farm gave us a taster of some rather unusual, but nevertheless popular (particularly amongst the” huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’” set), winter warmers, pre- the turning on of the central heating.
Berry’s The King’s Ginger Liqueur (KGL to its many aficionados) – £17.99 from Taurus Wines. As Rupert says “possibly one of the most politically incorrect drinks available”. It became famous when King Edward VII was prescribed it by his doctor as a warm up before venturing out in his “horseless carriage”. We think it delicious for when you return home.
Other seasonal hedgerow tipples from Taurus wines are Sloe Gin, especially the Bramley-based Juniper Green Organic version at £19.99. Or Roxtons Damson Vodka at £16.99.  
If you're looking for something unusual, then for the non-kingly price of £5.99 you can walk away with a plastic flask-like container of Buck Shot’s Bullshot Mixer. Recommended as a winter warmer whilst pursuing field sports, (we think you probably add it to whisky), it's apparently one of Rupert’s top sellers. Heather A was brave enough to try it despite the ingredients including game paste and chillies. The verdict was delivered quickly and emphatically and is not repeatable here, but we later decided it tasted like Bovril. Your choice! 
With relief, it's back to wine, and to suit the Autumn we need something less than the big bodied reds, but still soft, warm, and fruity. Try Urban Tempranillo 2008 from Mendoza Argentina £8. 99 from Ben Watkins of The Guildford Wine Company in Shalford. The ripe fruit has a vanilla overtone and its medium body is enough to give you a seasonal cuddle.                                                                               

Robert Burns was renowned for many things, not all of a literary nature. His love encompassed more than just a “red, red rose” and here is his ode to one of them.  

Here's a bottle and an honest friend!
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be o'care man?

Then catch the moments as they fly,
And use them as ye outght, man:
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not aye when sought, man.

Watch out for our next Walk and Wine event on 9th October, from the Parrot in Shalford.  Details are on www.redwhiteandrose.co.uk/Our_events.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Last of the summer wine

September, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.  According to the French Revolutionary Calendar, we are bang in the middle of Fructidor, the name celebrating the abundance of the season.

For the young this time of year marks the start or continuation of their school or college life, and for some of us the return to a routine not based on making the indolent most of the fickle British summer weather.
Happily, September is the most reliably sunny month of the year in the South East of England, so we can look forward to the harvest-gold sunshine and intensely blue skies that characterize this changing season. The days get shorter and there is a sharper coolness to the mornings and evenings; birdsong becomes more apparent as cheery, cheeky Robins re-instate their territorial rights.
Everywhere there is fruit of the season, from trees laden with apples, plums and pears, to hedgerows of blackberries, sloes, elderberries, hips and haws. They constitute a veritable feast for the opportunist forager and are a sign of continuing bounty and re-birth for future seasons. Taking advantage of all this food for free really makes you feel part of the bigger picture, as nature calls, as it has since time immemorial, us to go out and gather the fruits of the field and to cook, bottle and store against the coming winter’s shortages.

If this whets your appetite for foraging, then you should track down a copy of “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey, originally published in 1972, when we first got a taste for ecology and all things green, and rarely out of print ever since. Once you've leafed through it, you won't be able to look at a hedgerow or roadside verge without getting a rumble in the tummy.
You can, of course, make wine from almost anything, depending on your own preferences, but also it is quite satisfying to make a rather stronger cordial from fruits and leftover cheap bottles of vodka, gin and brandy. Heather A has made some amazingly tasty, blow your head off Elderberry Vodka, which is tasty and not so lethal if mixed with tonic water, mking a warming alternative to a naked summer vodka. Try also steeping rosehips in gin, pears in brandy and, of course, your own brand of sloe gin would be stunning. Take it easy with all of these concoctions: they are perfect for sipping at home on a darkening evening when you don’t have anything too demanding to do. You could also pour some of your home brewed mixture over fruit and ice cream for a lively pudding.
With the distinct smoky whiff of Autumn in the air our palates are leading us towards something more mellow and satisfying than the flippant summer white and rosé wines we have been slurping with salads and bolting by the barbeque. Ideal for this time of year is a light red with a little zip of warmth and spiciness, nothing too weighty but with fruit enough to reflect the season. Words like silky, mellow, juicy and evocative seem reflective of the right wines to drink now.

Our selections this week:
Falanghina 2009, Terredora, £9.99, £7.99 if you buy 2, from Majestic. Falanghina is the name of one of Italy's many fascinating native grape varieties, even though it sounds more like a radical Middle Eastern organization. Its perfumed, fleshy body is just the kind of white that suits this time of year. 
Domaine des Anges, Ventoux Rouge 2006/7 - £7.35 from online merchant Big Red Wine Company. This wine proclaims itself to be from the place of angels, we think it is a heavenly balance of juicy damson fruit and soft spices.
Cuvée de Tête, Brouilly 2007, £7.99 from M&S. Beaujolais (for this is one) is hopelessly unfashionable, but maybe this will win a few people over: soft tannin, light, juicy strawberryish fruit with rose-scented overtones. If the sun makes an appearance, you can even chill it.
TH Pinot Noir 2009, Undurraga £11.95 from the Wine Society.The TH stands for Terroir Hunter, conjuring images of adventurous vignerons searching out long-forgotten vineyards in dangerous and remote areas of Chile . The truth is doubtless more prosaic, but the wine delicious, like a walk through damp woodland with the scent of bonfires on the air, juicy, ripe berries in your hand.
If you thought September marked the end of summer festivals, then joyfully seek out your wellies once more and head for Weyfest at the Rural Life Centre in Tilford this weekend, 3rd to 6th September.  Celebrate the countryside while you listen to new local bands and nostalgic giants of the past such as Focus (remember the yodelling?), The Zombies (still the epitome of ageless cool) and our very own Stranglers (Guilford's local gone global band). A “Strange Little Girl” might suggest a bottle of homemade Rosehip and Sage wine to accompany the day's rustic frolics, though we think that around your “Golden Brown” campfire, “Nice N Sleazy” and snugly wrapped against the damp, reminisce with wine to match the music, try the Domaine des Anges as you indulge your senses in this Surrey heaven.

No Spring nor Summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one Autumnal face.” John Donne

Walks with Wine
...or how to Indulge your passion and feel smugly righteous at the same time!
Our first "walks with Wine" event will be this Saturday 11th September - meeting at 10.30 am at The Parrot pub, Broadford Road, Shalford, Near Guildford, GU4 8DW. (Tel: 01483 561400).

The walk will be approximately 2 hours and around 7 to 8 kilometres, it will be at a comfortable pace to suit most people and levels of fitness -something more than a stroll but certainly not a power walk. On this particular walk there will be gentle hills, but nothing too strenuous. Please wear comfortable walking shoes/trainers and bring water in case it is hot.

When we return to the pub we will be conducting a fun informative wine tasting followed by lunch.
Our charge for the event is £20 payable upon arrival by cheque to Red White & Rosé which is for the conducted walk, wine tasting and pub lunch. Please look at our website "Events" section.

We hope this appeals to you and we would love to hear from you to discuss further and/or confirmation of numbers as places are strictly limited. PLEASE DO PHONE TO BOOK - 01483 892678