At Chapel Down, Pinot Noir is the second most important grape variety for traditional method Sparkling Wine, behind Chardonnay. The Pinot Noir grape variety makes up approximately one third of all the area under vine in the UK and constitutes 38% of the vineyard area in Champagne. Many wine regions grow Pinot Noir to use in red winemaking, but here at Chapel Down we use it exclusively for traditional method Sparkling Wine and, in our Rosé, still wines.
There is something quite magical yet frustrating about the Pinot Noir grape variety. It has long been regarded as the variety that growers really want to perfect in the vineyard. However, getting the balance right between acceptable yields and the deliciously ripe red and black fruit flavours, silky tannins and gentle acidity is something of a dark art.
At Chapel Down, we have produced some lovely Pinot Noir fruit over the years but to develop those often illusive, desirable characteristics we have needed some long hot summers and yields to be modest – if not paltry. This means careful management of the canopy to make sure the ripening grapes are exposed to the sun, and if we feel the vine is carrying too much crop we simply take some off. As you can imagine, this is an expensive process so we need to be sure it is the right thing to do. Therefore, if we don’t think the season is right and the conditions won’t allow for the right development of the fruit, we won’t make the wine. Whist it can be a disappointing decision, it is made easier by the fact that the grapes (and very good grapes they will be too) are used to make our Sparkling Wines. So not all is lost.
Pinot Noir is grown at most of our sites across Kent and as do many of our partner growers giving us a broad spectrum of flavours and aromas developed on the different soils. Pinot Noir grapes for red wine tend to be better from clay soils as the fruit is more intensely flavoured. Clay soils hold on to water more than chalk soils so the berries tend to be smaller resulting in the flavour, colour and aroma compounds being more concentrated. Therefore, as the vast majority of our Pinot Noir is grown on chalk, it is better suited to Sparkling Wine production. We also grow numerous different clones (21 to be precise), which further enhances the palette of flavours, aromas and colours to select from for both our red and Sparkling Wines. It ripens after Bacchus but before Chardonnay so is picked in the middle of our harvest around the early art of October giving us some great flexibility on when we choose to pick specific parcels, depending on wine style.
Richard Lewis, Head of Viticulture
Some Pinot Noir base wine can be pure and delicate, whereas others express much more summer berry fruit characters. These differences form the basis of the parcels of wine we select for the use in our different products. Our 100% Pinot Noir Rose Brut NV requires a different style to the Pinot Noir used in our Three Graces 2016 vintage wine or our Brut NV.
A key quality stage for traditional method Sparkling Wine production is in the picking and pressing. We hand-pick and whole bunch press all our Pinot Noir which minimises skin damage and limits colour and tannin extraction. This means we can extract the finest proportion of the juice which is yielded first for our Sparkling Wines. The juice which is extracted later in the press cycle at higher pressure is used in our English Rose 2019 still wine. This has a lower acidity and higher colour which makes it perfect for early consumption, but less suitable for long ageing as a Sparkling Wine requires.
Josh Donaghay-Spire, Head Winemaker