Apologies for the radio silence, as you can imagine, things have been a little bit hectic here at London Cru in recent weeks. The following will give an insight into what you’ve missed.  

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes from our man, Maurice, in Limoux, arrived at the beginning of the month. Good picking conditions greeted us in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the grapes themselves were at a perfect level of sugar ripeness and acidity.

When the grapes arrived in London they were whole bunch pressed with minimal sorting (having received a primary triage in the vineyard before transit). Clear juice from this year’s Chardonnay, a new site and region for us, meant that once again we had no need or desire to add enzymes for clarification. Instead, we allowed the juice to settle in tank for around 24 hours before transferring to barrel to begin fermentation and élevage.

Gavin has made Chardonnay in both his native Margaret River and under his own label in Burgundy, so knows more than a thing or two about how to bring out the best of this grape. Our first two Chardonnays have shown unmistakable varietal character, textural complexity and fresh acidity. With a fantastic new vineyard to work with, we aim to deliver another wine in a similar vain. To achieve this we must carefully select the yeast strains we use as they have a significant impact on the resulting wine.

We have used three cultivated yeasts, isolated in Burgundy, and have left three barrels to naturally ferment. By using different varieties, we are able to augment and promote particular characteristics. For example, one of our yeasts has the ability, due to its enzymatic profile, to promote the appearance of varietal aroma precursors, producing a wine with an elegant nose. Another aids textural complexity by producing more polysaccharides. These build suppleness and volume, promoting a ‘rounded’ mouthfeel. The natural yeasts bring added complexity to the party.

At the time of writing, all but a handful of our Chardonnay barrels have completed their primary fermentation.

Barbera

A particularly warm and dry summer in North-west Italy meant that our pick date for this year’s Barbera was atypical. The grapes for both the 2013 and 2014 wines were harvested well into October, whereas this year we’d barely gotten beyond the half way stage of September before the call came through from the Codero family to say the fruit was ready.

Early indications suggest that the 2015 Barbera is going to be special. All 7.8 tonnes of fruit, our biggest single pick to date, was pristine on arrival, allowing us to sort through in record time. Appearance aside, the grapes have incredible acidity and sugar, as well as delicious flavour.

Once sorted and destemmed the grapes were loaded into two steel tanks and one of our new concrete fermenters. After a few hours skin contact we drew around 700 litres of juice from the bottom of the tank, a method of rosé production known as Saignée. This was then sent off to a separate tank where it will ferment and age, eventually giving us a delicate rosé in a Provençal style.

The grapes had a few days to cold soak before fermentation, a useful process for the extraction of aromatic precursors, after which all three tanks were then inoculated to allow the ferment to begin. Fermentation management is split between a regime of pump-overs and punch downs. The colour of the young Barbera wine is a stunning, intense purple; needless to say, we’re all now proud owners of perpetually stained hands.

At the time of writing, the ferment temperatures have risen to around 30°C and we’re now under a week from their completion at which stage we will press and send off to the wine to steel, concrete and oak for ageing.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Last Tuesday Gavin and I headed down to Puimisson, Langudeoc to pick our third grape variety of the harvest; Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast to the unusually early pick date for the Barbera, we found ourselves picking the Cab two weeks late (according to the 2013 and 2014 harvest).

Things have a strange way of working out though, as what appeared like a setback early on has worked out ideally in terms of the ripeness of the grapes and how they fit into our schedule.

I’ll admit, I only lasted around 3 hours in the vineyard, all the time being put to shame by the speed and efficiency of the team of Moroccan pickers who made light work of a big task. After this, I moved on to helping Jeff and Michel load the tractor, before helping Gavin to load the truck.

One of the merits of organic management is that wildlife is able to flourish, including some audacious individuals trying to hitch a ride back to the UK (see below). On top of spiders, mites and the occasional mantis, the most successful passengers were hordes of organic escargot. If we’d had a larger team we might have collected them and seen if any of our neighbouring French bistros could've taken them off our hands.

Back in London and back in the winery a few days later, with a team half the size of the previous weekend, we set about processing the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Given the ripeness of this year’s fruit, there was no need to use the crusher to liberate juice from the berries. A consequence of tightly-bound bunches is that our destemmer wasn’t operating as efficiently as it did for the less compacted Barbera bunches. The answer; load whole bunches straight into the destemmer and then onto the sorting table afterwards - effectively hand sorting berry by berry. This method allowed stem fragments, any poor quality berries, snails etc to be removed.

Exactly the same programme of fermentation vessels was used for the Cabernet (2 steel, 1 concrete) but without a cold soak. Punch downs and pump-overs are both being carried out and at the time of writing, the ferment temperatures are slowly rising and the rate of CO2 production is increasing.

Later this week, Albariño will be arriving from Galicia ahead of the arrival of our next red, Grenache from Calatayud, next week.