'Bacchus in Focus' at London CRU for
English Wine Week
To help celebrate and mark English Wine Week, Roberson Wine, also known as London CRU, held an event on 30th May 2019 at their atmospheric winery in West London. The event was billed as a ‘Master Class in Bacchus’ with some of England’s top vineyards and wineries attending.
“It’s great to see English Bacchus get it's moment in the limelight. The time is right, and coming off the back of the remarkable 2018 vintage, from which we are already seeing some of the finest Bacchus this country has produced to date.” - John Mobbs owner - Great British Wines.
The Bacchus grape variety thrives in England where many wine makers feel it has found its natural home. Over the last decade Bacchus has become the most popular still wine produced in the UK, creating wines with a pure expression of fruit with a freshness and vitality that helps to provide English white wines with their own unique style. This distinctive style of English white wine, along with the rapid growth in the industry, means that it is really exciting times for the English wine industry.
The event was led by Roberson Wine which is also known as London Cru and they invited Peter Richards MW, from Susie and Peter to lead the presentation between the different wine makers.
The aim was to ‘Get the inside track on how the UK’s benchmark Bacchus wines are produced’. with insight and presentations from Ben Witchell (Flint Vineyard), Josh Donaghay-Spire (Chapel Down) & Tony Milanowski (Plumpton Wine College) to talk about the science behind wine making.
In celebration of the incredible 2018 English vintage and English Wine Week, 'Bacchus in Focus' formed a new platform to taste the wines, meet the people and hear the story behind some of the best examples of Bacchus wine being made in England at the moment.
The event culminated in a comprehensive tasting where each winery presented its Bacchus wines. This included:
- Flint Vineyard
- Hattingley Valley
- Lyme Bay
- Tuffon Hall Vineyard
- Woodchester Valley
Ensuring the event was kept quintessentially English, Fish and chips were served to accompany the wines.
Roberson wine is a winery based in West London and they have been an independent family business from the start. They stated proudly during the opening talk that it’s ‘family run and owned.’
London Cru, as Roberson Wine is also known, has itself won many awards for their English wines and they are a key influence in the industry. They have been in the wine business for 60 years, led by the founder and owner Cliff Roberson, who has driven the company forward since its inception.
Part of the company’s ethos is to ‘Tell the story of wine’ which they believe in so much that they want and indeed do ‘share the knowledge and spread the word of wine’ as they put it. In 2012 they started London Cru and have continued forward from there producing wonderful English wines. At the time of it’s inception, London Cru was the first urban winery in London and it is positioned in West London for people to enjoy.
Initially, they produced their own wines by sourcing grapes from vineyards throughout the world importing these grapes back to England to then make wine. This has recently changed so that they now focus solely on using grapes grown in England. The result of this was the first London Cru English Bacchus wine from 2014.
With a strong and determined desire is to ‘share the love of the grape and excitement of the industry’, London Cru is very much a hub of passion and excitement about wine in general. This passion is felt the moment that you walk into the winery, which rather interestingly used to be a gin distillery before its current transformation into wine production.
Getting to grips with Bacchus.
The English wine presenters were led and introduced by Peter Richards MW, from Susie and Peter. Peter explained how there had been a ‘Bacchus snowball’ in England which has been helped by the ‘proper expertise’ and talent on show. Peter went on to say that he felt the list of speakers was a ‘wish list of presenters’ from the English wine industry. He added that he felt the English wine industry was ‘exciting’ and showed elements of being ‘a dynamic wine scene’ which will continue to grow and develop over time. This enthusiasm for English wine is felt and evident throughout the industry.
Referring to Greek mythology, Peter explained that Bacchus is the god of wine and was ‘notoriously hard to pin down, a Greek god who is ambiguous’.
The Bacchus grape variety originally came from Germany in the 1930’s. It is believed to be a combination of a Riesling-Silvaner cross with Müller-Thurgau, This cross of grapes was first achieved in Germany in the 1930s and it wasn’t until much later that it was commercially available in the 1970s and specifically1973 in England.
Originally Bacchus was a successful grape in Germany there was a slow decline in production and coincidently at the same time of its decline in Germany it was gaining momentum as a successful grape variety in England. This is in part to its suitability to a cooler climate.
Despite the success of Bacchus it is unlikely to overtake the classic Champagne and sparkling grape varietals, which are most present throughout England and indeed where you could argue that the English wine industry is achieving most of its recognition and success. So, Bacchus won’t over take English sparkling wine but it is a great alternative producing exceptional still English white wines that provide extra dimension to the English wine market with a distinctive character and exotic expression of flavours.
Bacchus is seen as a grape variety that will bring lovers of Sauvignon Blanc and Reisling together. There is also faith that it will be a ‘standalone’ grape varietal too, being admired on it’s on own merits as an English wine that is crisp with fresh mineral styles.
Chapel Down’s Head Winemaker, Josh Donaghay Spire, who has been with Chapel Down since 2009, led the first Bacchus discussion.
Chapel Down first planted Bacchus vines in 1987 which makes these vines some of the oldest vines at Chapel Down. Josh explained that he feels ‘we’re just getting started with Bacchus’ and is keen to explore, where it’s going next. He feels that it’s his ‘responsibility to explore the many styles of wine it can produce.’ Part of his desire to continually push the boundaries of English wine he says that ‘it’s important to be prepared to fail.’
The 2018 summer was a great summer for the industry and Chapel Down managed to produce720 litres of juice per tonne of grapes which meant that they where able to produce 500,000 Bacchus bottles.
To put this into perspective in a normal harvest they aim to produce anywhere between 300,000-450,000 bottles. The 2018 summer produced drastically increased levels of English wine throughout the industry.
To remain in control of the wine making process Josh explained that Chapel Down’s Bacchus grapes go through a whole bunch press which is on site. Josh believes that it’s key to ‘Build mid palate taste’ with the Bacchus grape and that, as an English wine maker, he feels it’s important to ‘experiment now’ with the grape and to push forward to see where it can go. He went on to say that there are ‘many aroma compounds in the skins of Bacchus and it’s important to use the grape skins too’.
For Chapel Down’s English Bacchus wines they leave the grape juice for one month on skins from ripe grapes and they leave this grape juice in old oak barrels for 9 months which helps to soften the wine. Josh says that some of the key elements to his English Bacchus wines are the black tea notes which works well when pairing the wines with food. This adds to the robust flavours within a Bacchus English wine.
Chapel Down has various vineyard sites and they believe that the Kits Coty Vineyard is their best vineyard. The ‘fruit is at its best in Kits Coty, it’s a warm site’ Josh explained.
In total Chapel Down produce a range of seven Bacchus wines and believe that it is important to keep the wines ‘not complicated, you should open and enjoy them straight away’, a simple pure expression of the Bacchus grape is key. This means an English Bacchus wines with lots of citrus and herbaceous notes and flavours in the wine. As the Bacchus grape ripens the acidity falls, so they pick the grapes at the higher end of the acid scale to keep the wines fresh, targeting the acidity in the wine.
The second presenter: Ben Witchell from Flint Vineyard went on to say that the Bacchus grape ‘grows strong in the vineyard’ and that there is ‘alot of Bacchus grown in the south east’ where it produces grapes that are very ripe with low acidity. A good reference point for most people is that it’s like Sauvignon Blanc, in that there are lots of characteristic in grape. This means that if the Bacchus grape is over ripe you will get tropical flavours in the wine, where as if the grape is slightly under ripe the flavours will be concentrated around citrus flavours. A good point of reference for most people is that Bacchus is like Sauvignon Blanc.
Although unlike Sauvignon Blanc, Bacchus is a complex variety and can be quite ‘mysterious’. He feels there is still lots more to learn about Bacchus which is why he says this.
When should you best enjoy Bacchus wines? They should be drunk young
and old. To sum up, an English Bacchus wine is a wine that is full of flavour with fresh ripe citrus elements that start to soften over time whilst retaining a good body and clear definable taste for some time too.
Next up was Tony Milanowski from Plumpton Wine college who continued the discussion by adding that the Bacchus grape is driven by it’s character that is represented in a clear present fruity noise, definable palate of citrus that is a balance of sweet with acidity.
An English white wine that is perfectly balanced between sweet and crisp acidity is key. The skins of a Bacchus grape add a slightly bitter note to the wine which needs to be tempered to retain the freshness needed in the English wine.
It is a great style of wine that wine makers can play around with, to get the strength of the Bacchus aromas and flavours. Key to enjoying this wine is serving at the right temperature, a cool glass of Bacchus English wine is best!
The final presentation was with Alex Beaumont from Roberson Wine who has been working at Roberson wine for two years. Alex asked the questions:
* Why has Bacchus been so successful in the English wine industry
* what is this grape variety good for?’
He was keen to point out the defining fruit and floral elements that are found within an English Bacchus wine. This means that the wines are high in acidity and light in body with low alcohol levels. A Bacchus wine is ‘food friendly, produces off dry style English white wines with strong aromatic flavours’. As mentioned, food pairings with Bacchus are a must. To keep things typically English, he said ‘try pairing a Bacchus English wine with fish and chips.’
Due to the high acidity in an English Bacchus wine, this helps to increase the perception of body and richness in the English wine.
Any foods which contain salt also increase the perception of body too. Another great food pairing with Bacchus is chilli. The ‘heat’ from chilli can match well with off dry English wines. If a meal has high levels of fat present, this too can have the impression of being tamed by the clean defining acidity in an English Bacchus wine. As Alex said, another great pairing is fish and chips which bring out the refreshing quality found in Bacchus. It can be described as a ‘palate cleanser’. It is a hardy grape variety that can hold its own with food many pairings, however and Alex went on to say ‘Crab, fish and chips, vegetable salsa, vinaigrette dressing, pan fried cod, grilled asparagus , oysters, salty fish , anything you can squeeze lemon on is great with Bacchus!’
One of the final slides from the London Cru event, shown below, states that: Bacchus is:
- High acidity
- Light bodied
- Low in alcohol
- Dry or off dry styles
- High aromatics
Meaning that the Bacchus grape variety expresses quality and diversity in English wine. This is key for its future as a reliable English grape in producing wines that are identifiable for their aromas, flavour profile and above all display an exceptional quality mark of terroir.
After the classic sparkling wine grapes, Bacchus is indeed a front runner for the English wine industry.