see copyright notice. Page created 10-Aug-2004
Some time around 1990 I decided to plant a grape vine. Had I given it some thought, I'd have sought out a variety suited to the English climate; in the event a 'Sauvignon' caught my eye in the local Woolworth store - so that's what went in. I carefully pruned and trained it on the Guyot system, and in 1994 harvested 3lbs for a trial brew.
The grapes were, shall I say, a bit tart. To the extent there was no way a wine from the pure juice was ever going to be drinkable. So, being an old hand at coaxing wine from intransigent fruit, I went through the familiar routine of crushing the berries, shocking them into submission with boiling water, then adding lots of sugar.
The resulting 2 bottles were not only tart, but bitter into the bargain. My notes for the brew end in mid-1995 with the words "promising range of flavours developing. Still dominated by sharp, cooking-apple taste; should be excellent in 1 year or so". The fact that there are no further entries says it all.
1996 was, as they say in the trade, a Good Year. On 7 October I spent a glorious afternoon carrying grapes to the kitchen by the bucketful. The net yield of clean fruit was 18lb, enough for several bottles of conventional wine - but they were still less than perfectly ripe. Optimistically I crushed them in a 5 gallon bin, added 2lbs sugar in 3pts water, and left the mash overnight to see if the bloom on the skins was capable of pretending to be a yeast. It was not. Ho hum. I strained off the juice and measured 13 pints at a gravity of 1079. So in went another 2lbs sugar in 4pts water along with a hock-style yeast. The fermentation went well, straight down to 995 and crystal clear when bottled a year later.
Of the original 12 bottles, a couple have survived to 2004, and I really wish I'd kept it all for those 8 years. The flavour is bone dry and remarkably complex. The hallmark sauvignon gooseberryness is there in abundance, [isn't that somewhere in Essex? Sorry, I digress] but the bitterness has rounded into a smoother, almost resinous character. It's excellent with grilled mackerel and horseradish!
Some years there's no crop because it's either too cold to ripen the grapes, or so wet that they've rotted. However, I made another gallon in 2000, and another in 2002. With the latter I omitted the overnight mashing stage, which I suspect was exacerbating the bitterness. Time will tell, because I'm deliberately leaving this brew in bulk storage - experience shows that once in bottles it tends mysteriously to vanish.
I'm still learning how to prune the vine. It's grown to about 30ft
horizontally, and would climb to the top of a 25ft conifer each year
if I let it. This year  I'm determined to thin the early growth more drastically
(the leaves make great dolmades!) and reduce the crop in the hope that it'll
ripen better. To be continued...