Quality and quantity: the launch of Oxney’s latest organic wine
Oxney Organic Estate launched their new wines on Monday the 29th of April 2019 by hosting a private event at their vineyard in East Sussex. The occasion included a beautiful lunch of fresh, local produce paired with their English sparkling wines.
The event started with a walk around the English vineyard, where we took in the wonderful views and neatly packed vines. This vineyard, like so many in the UK, is set in a glorious location in the South East of England, where you could be forgiven for thinking you have stepped onto different continent at times, such is the difference in climate.
Lead by owner Kristin Syltevik, the tour was an insightful glimpse into some of the details of running an organic vineyard (1066 metres of deer fencing included in a poetic reflection of the region’s Norman heritage).
As with many English vineyard’s, Kristin’s own background is also fascinating - having previously run her own technology PR firm before buying the three farms that now form the Oxney Estate and turning winemaker. She is very much amongst the ranks of English vineyard owners who have joined the industry from entirely different backgrounds and built it through a labour of love.
Once the guided tour was complete, we headed over to the winery for a quick rundown of their English winemaking process lead by winemaker Ben Smith. Whilst in the winery we were treated to a tasting of their current English sparkling wines as well.
What it takes to be an organic English vineyard
As mentioned, Oxney is different to the majority of English vineyards, in that they only produce wines that are organic. This comes with its own challenges, and at a high cost to the producer, not just in terms of money but also in terms of time investment. However, they are clearly determined and passionate in their mission.
For Oxney, being an organic English wine producer means low intervention in the vineyard using organic preventative measures to keep insects at bay. For them it isn’t simply a case of meeting a standard that allows them to call their wines organic, but rather delivering a gold standard. In fact, such is their approach, that they describe it as almost ‘a homeopathic spray regime’ to reduce the interference of bugs on the vines.
As Kristin guided through the beautifully kept vineyard, bud burst was well underway. The vines are grown in a ‘two bay’ system with four main types of vine and 14 different clones. The reason for this is so that they can produce many different bunches of loose grapes, which are better at preventing disease. Being an organic English vineyard, they need to think ahead at all times, so helping the vines in anyway that they can is key.
At Oxney they have three acres of Seyval Blanc variety grapes, which were first grown in Switzerland and then imported and planted in the vineyard. In total, all of the vineyards at Oxney together cover an area of 35 acres.
To give an idea of the challenges faced by vineyards, in one poor harvest Oxney only produced nine tonnes from all of the grape varieties except for the Seyval Blanc which produced nine tones of grape juice itself. This was a bad year for Oxney although thankfully the Seyval Blanc grapes pulled them through by producing a decent crop.
Oxney’s focus in the vineyard is low intervention - a natural winemaking ethos is key for them. Part of this process of looking after their English grapes involves spending time on canopy management and ensuring that the vines are as healthy as possible so that they produce grapes that are full of flavour and lots of juice.
Oxney also believe that a wide variety of clones is key to producing and securing the quality of their English sparkling wines. They bought used, grafted vines which have American root stocks that were first planted in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is interesting to note that the Pinot Noir clones can vary dramatically in the vineyard. One Pinot Noir can produce completely different quality grapes to the same variety of vine next to it.
Also of interest is that skins leftover from the red grapes which are used to make Oxney’s rosé, go back on the farm as compost, ensuring that from start to finish the wine making process is completely organic, with little or no waste.
English vineyard pests
As Oxney are an organic English vineyard they have had to be quite inventive with their pest control. They discovered early on that as well as the usual English vineyard pests such as disease and mould, they would also have to find a way of keeping out the local deer who took a swift liking to the grapes and vines. So, as mentioned, they decided that the best way to prevent the deer from eating all of their grapes, was to erect a fence, although they couldn’t stop there.
To prevent the birds from eating all of their grapes, they rather cleverly installed speakers around the vineyard, through which the sound of birds of prey, specifically hawks, is played. This rather ingenious method of pest control seems to work well for them.
Badgers are also a real pest for Oxney. One year the badgers took as much as two rows of vines from a field. To deter these unwelcome visitors they installed an electric fence as well, so it’s a well protected vineyard!
English sparkling wines of purpose
Throughout the vineyard, winery and accommodation which you can stay in at Oxney, they have created a wonderful sense of family. This is echoed by the fact that the vineyards are named after the owners’ son, friends and some of the vineyard’s seasonal helpers.
Oxney Organic Estate has a small batch approach to wine making. A single estate vineyard that harvests parcels from each vineyard separately. Each vineyard has approximately 50/60 rows which are all close to the winery, meaning that they can be in the winery within 30 minutes of picking.
Once in the winery, the grapes are whole bunch pressed to retain the maximum amount of juice. When ready, the grape juice is transferred to stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels.
To make their still base wine, they have 22,000 bottles that have been fermenting for one year. The Oxney Organic Estate sparkling wine is fermented for 12 months and the Oxney Classic sparkling wine for 24 months. From each barrel, they can produce approximately 500 bottles of wine.
Oxney’s low intervention ethos in the vineyard is echoed through to the winery as well. They prefer to ‘make the right decisions at the right time’, keeping the interference with the wine as low as possible. The recording breaking 2018 summer produced three times the volume of grape juice from previous years. Indeed, for the industry as a whole it was a brilliant summer.
To add further depth to their wines, 10 to 15% of the wine is barrel fermented in neutral oak barrels. They use French oak as they believe that it is the best quality and provides a balanced settled taste to their wines. An added benefit for Oxney is that they are able to trace the lineage of the oak barrels as well. Oxney has ensured that everything is kept on site to remain in ‘total control, so there is no compromise’ to their wines.
All of their wines go through the malolactic fermentation process. Whilst in this process they also ensure that the texture and acidity of their wines is maintained through a careful monitored approach.
Oxney’s still and sparkling English wines
In the tasting room, Oxney had lined up their organic sparkling wines and also included a new still wine for us to try. These wines were:
- Oxney Estate NV Sparkling wine
- Oxney Estate Classic sparkling wine
- Oxney Estate Sparkling Rosé
- Oxney Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2018
The Estate Non Vintage is Oxney’s entry level sparkling wine. It is a blend of grapes from across the vineyard. A dosage of nine grams is used to top up the wine ensuring that this provides an easy drinking style of English sparkling wine. For this organic sparkling wine Swedish cane sugar is used, which is of the highest quality, and helps to soften and round the sparkling wine.
The Oxney Classic English sparkling wine is similar to the non vintage, although it uses a dosage of five grams, making it slightly softer it style.
The Oxney English Pinot Noir rosé goes under malolactic fermentation for three weeks to further add richness to the English rosé. Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, it has a rich rosé pink colour with soft, red berry notes on the nose and is bursting with fresh fruit. This English rosé has gone through malolactic fermentation to reduce the acidity and further add a smooth creaminess to the wine. They wanted to reduce the buttery notes from the malolactic fermentation process so only 25% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. The result is an English rosé wine that is soft and smooth, with a lovely finish. It is very moreish indeed.
The 2016 sparkling wine vintage is a richer, more approachable wine. A dosage of five grams per litre is used. The blend is Pinot Meunier dominant with eight percentage Chardonnay. They refer to this wine as their: ‘mellow, smooth and approachable sparkling wine’.
It is important for Oxney that each vintage must have a stamp of quality that is unified with the brand whilst also standing out on its own merits. ‘Sparkling wines that define them as an estate whilst pronouncing individuality.’
As time progresses and more English sparkling wines are made, they hope that further vintages will produce other characters and be recognisable for some time too.
If you would like to find out more about Oxney's English sparkling wines and to read their English vineyard interview click the below links: