Little did I know when I accepted the challenge from Jim Pearce, a fruit farmer in the Languedoc, to make wine from his existing six hectares of unkempt vines, that four years down the line we would be fighting off awards and planning the next stage of development. They have been a good few years. With the expert advice of Raphael and David, our top class wine consultants, we feel we are making good quality wine which is being well received by the public and by restaurants both in France and the UK. While I advise on styles and blends Jim is busy working the vineyard, putting in irrigation and trellising, pruning and planting. Poor quality vines are being removed and earlier this year a new patch of Syrah was planted to go alongside the existing Merlot, Carignan, Chardonnay and Viognier. Jim is busy selling his wines under his own label design to the restaurant trade and in his farm shop whilst our own label at the Oxford Wine Company is reserved for the UK.
Our 2006 Carignan was awarded Best in Class and a won a Silver medal in this year's International Wine and Spirit Competition with the Merlot winning Bronze. On top of this both wines have been included by Oz Clarke in his '250 Best Wines for 2009 Guide' which was published in October. We have won several other medals too but I am a bit cynical about awards. They certainly give you confidence that you are doing the right thing but it is interesting that one of our wines got completely different comments by different tasters in separate competitions which I find strange! What is more the cost of entering these competitions is becoming prohibitive for small producers. Not only is there a hefty three figure fee for entering the wine but also numerous samples are required (and I do wonder what happens to these!?). So we have decided to be cautious about our approach to these competitions - after all we know we have good wine as it sells well and our customers enjoy it so why waste our hard earned money on something which gives us very little in extra sales! I know many small producers with the same attitude so not surprisingly the large companies often pick up awards because they can afford to enter.
We still have stocks of the 2006 Merlot and Carignan but the new vintages should be in by Christmas. The 2007 Carignan has only just been bottled whilst the new Merlot is drinking beautifully; much softer and fruitier than the 2006, it should go down a storm with the restaurant trade. Meanwhile the 2006 is still improving as it continues to mature in bottle. On another note we are making a wine specifically for the first ever Artists Series Competition run by Oxford Art Weeks. A special blend is being created with the winning artists label on the bottle. We hope that this will become an annual event and we can build up a collector's series of Art Labels rather like ChÃ¢teau Mouton-Rothchild in Bordeaux and the Leeuwin Estate in Western Australia. The wine is likely to be a Carignan blended with some Syrah sourced from neighbouring vineyards, as our own vines have only just been planted.
In addition to this new exciting wine we have also attempted to make a Condrieu style from 100% Viognier. This is simply because Jim loves Condrieu but cannot afford to buy it (and neither can I!). So he thought he would create his own and we have taken rigorously selected top quality fruit and put it in oak to see if we can recreate the magical flavours and intensity of this great white Northern Rhone. We will keep you posted!!