The tanks are clean, our two presses are spotless, the crusher/de-stemmer is gleaming, and the work rota is on the wall. Now all we need are the grapes to arrive so we can get started.
Since 2015 we’ve been working with some of the most dedicated vineyard owners in the UK in order to produce our award-winning English wines. Once they begin their harvest our winemaking and operations team are on standby to receive the grapes at the Winery, and put in 27/4 shifts for a fortnight to begin the process of turning this precious cargo into delicious wine.
Sourcing the very best
By collaborating with premium vineyards across the country we get fruit from specific sites with soils and microclimates that give us the highest ripening potential in the entire country, to give us the full range of characteristics possible for English wine.
One of our longest-running partnerships is with Watchcombe Vineyard, just down the road from us here in the Axe Valley. A compact yet beautiful vineyard, Watchcombe provides us with the cooler climate grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Bacchus, and has a recent addition – though not yet productive – of a further 1000 young Seyval Blanc vines which are expected to thrive in the vineyard’s slightly elevated location.
Meanwhile, in Essex, The Crouch Valley is home to the Great Whitmans Vineyard. One of the largest vineyards in the UK, we mainly get the Bacchus from their grounds in Maldon. Thanks to a wonderfully unique microclimate, the grapes can stay on the vine for longer which helps to contribute to a beautiful end product.
Over on the other side of the country, we also work with Martin’s Lane Vineyard in the village of Stow Maries near Maldon in Essex, from where we source Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Bacchus grapes. Established in 2008, Martin’s Lane sits in 30 acres of steep sloping meadowland on the north side of the Crouch Valley – an area that regularly boasts the warmest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall in the country.
Once harvest begins we can expect around 300 tonnes of grapes to come through the Winery to begin the process of being fermented, blended and aged on-site under the supervision of our director James Lambert and his expert team.
Destemming, crushing and pressing – up to 30 tonnes a day – mainly take place during the day shifts, while the night shifts look after fermentation, with James also rolling up his sleeves to join the nocturnal crew.
While crushing and pressing used to be a manual process – the traditional image is of people stomping on barrels of grapes with their feet – most winemakers now use machines to do this job. This breaks down the grapes into ‘must’ – a combination of grape juice, seeds and skins. These solid parts are removed from the juice to make white wine, or left in for red wines as they add to the colour and flavour.
The next step is fermentation, where yeast is added to the must and eventually turns the fruit sugar into alcohol. This can take weeks or months, depending on the type of wine being made, and is followed by ‘clarification’ which filters out any unwanted solids from the wine before it is transferred into oak barrels or steel tanks for ageing and then bottling.
“With English wine continuing to grow in popularity our aim has always been to evolve”, says James, “and we are exceptionally proud of the award-winning wines we create at Lyme Bay Winery.
“Wines like pinot noir and chardonnay did not seem like a possibility when English wine was in its infancy, but now we are playing on the world stage with our still wines. However, our more ambitious, long-term aim is to demonstrate the UK’s potential for the as-yet elusive goal: consistent, high-quality red wine production.
“Red wine production in the UK presents a challenge with ripeness, and thus consistency, due to the climate. However, in 2020 we realised a long-term project with pinot noir and chardonnay, with the specific aim of giving Burgundy a run for its money. These wines will be available in 2022 and we couldn’t be more excited to share these with our customers.”
See for yourself
With an astonishing 33 awards last year, our English Wines are now well established amongst the very best still and sparkling wines that this country has to offer.
We welcome visitors to our Winery shop here in Shute, near Axminster in Devon, so do pop in for a chat and a sample of our drinks – we’re open every day. Alternatively, you can always get in touch with our friendly team here at the Winery via email at [email protected] or by calling us on 01297 551355 if you’d like to order by phone. You can also find Lyme Bay on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and keep an eye on our updates, offers and giveaways.