Chateau Chadwick or Teaching the French How To Make Wine

I know I spend a lot of time talking about other people’s winemaking skills, but it’s not as if I’m ignorant in the matter; though I say it myself, I have form on the vigneron front. And to prove the point, last weekend I opened the very last bottle of “Chadwick Road”, named in honour of the south east London address where I lived for 12 years and where I planted my first pinot noir vine.

The last bottle of Chateau Chadwick

The last bottle of Chateau Chadwick. The glass is clear – the wine really was that colour.

A couple of years after that first back garden pinot, I planted another black grape vine – sold to me simply as a “teinturier” – and then a “cardinal” vine on my little organic allotment in Brixton, which in turn was joined by three more pinot noir vines that had started out as cuttings from the original.

Cardinal grapes in the process of changing colour.

Cardinal grapes in the process of changing colour, although they will always be red rather than black.

If you do the maths you’ll see that that comes to a total of just six vines. And although that made me one of London’s largest vineyard owners at that time – there wasn’t exactly a lot of competition –  it didn’t make a lot of wine. So each year I padded out my meagre haul with black muscat grapes I bought in Borough Market, which I accept didn’t do a lot for either the self-sufficiency or economic arguments for making my own wine. If you were picky, you could also point out that black muscat is a table grape, not a wine variety. But that’s ok – the cardinal grapes I was growing on the allotment would have been eaten not drunk in their native California, so the two were in good company. (You know, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to buying vines at a UK garden centre.)

Teinturier grapes grown in a London garden.

Teinturier grapes grown in a London garden.

Despite all that, I didn’t always have enough grapes to make wine. So in 2008 I stuffed my bountiful harvest in the freezer and waited until late September 2009, when I was ready to pick the next lot of grapes. Then everything got pressed with a potato masher and fermented together – hence the bottle of “2008/9” in the photo. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with blending different vintages together, indeed Krug is very proud of its “multi-vintage” champagnes. Although I’m fairly sure they don’t store their grapes behind the fish fingers.

Fermentation was “en plastique”, as they say in France, and once the colour looked about right I drained the juice off the skins and carried on letting the wine slowly bubble away in a glass demijohn. Once the bubbling stopped, the wine was siphoned into a new demijohn, sealed and left to mature for a year before I put it in old (but clean!) screwcap wine and mineral water bottles. I didn’t use chemical treatments at any stage – not on the vines, not in the wine – although that probably wasn’t true for the bought-in muscat. And without adding sulpur, the only way I could think of to stop the wine oxidising was to fill the bottles right to the very brim so that there was no air in them and then screw on the top as tightly as I could. Scientific it ain’t.

Did I mention that the wine wasn't filtered

Did I mention that the wine wasn’t filtered?

And do you know what? Last Saturday, after four years of patient maturing, it was terrible. No, I’m joking. It really wasn’t that awful. None of us died, at least. The colour was still surprisingly deep – that’s the teinturier grapes for you (teinturier means “dyer” in French) – and there was a youthful little prickle of gas on the palate. It was even fruity, which I suspect came from the muscat more than anything else – it certainly had some of the flavour of the muscat grape juice that I can buy here in France. It didn’t clash horribly with a roast chicken. What more could you want? Admittedly I had one glass and moved on to a local viognier. But still, never let it be said that this boy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.



Note: this is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, where we lead by example. There are plenty of pieces about other people’s wines in the archive, on the website, www.Rhô, and on our Facebook page.


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