Since 2010 as well as planting over 70,000 vines, we have built a state of the art winery and in 2017 we completed our chalk cave with space for storing and ageing quarter of a million bottles of wine. The cave is a 3,500 sqaure foot underground storage facility with natural temperature control and is a beautiful site to behold.
We make all our sparkling wines using the Traditional Method (known as the Methode Champenoise in Champagne). This is the technique used to make all the best sparkling wines throughout the winemaking world and was developed in Champagne over several hundred years. The process involves two stages and typically takes between two and five years from picking the grapes to having the wine ready for sale.
First, we make a still ‘base wine’. We hand pick and whole bunch press the grapes to get the best possible juice. We then start primary fermentation, the process of turning the juice into alcohol by adding sugar and yeast.We leave it fermenting in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels and wait for the process to complete, normally around two to four weeks. 15% of our base wine is fermented in three or more year old French oak barrels. We love the effect it has on our wines, adding hints of vanilla and creating a subtle complexity to our wines.
Once we have decided on the style of wine we are making and whether we are blending grape varieties or not, we bottle for secondary fermentation by adding a little bit of sugar and yeast. Once the wine is put into sparkling wine bottles, it is closed with a crown cap. The CO2 produced by the secondary fermentation cannot escape this time and it goes into solution and creates the fizz in sparkling wine. As the CO2 is generated organically within the wine and under high pressure (6-7 atmospheres) the resulting bubbles are very fine.
Once the yeast has consumed all the sugar in the wine it dies and drops forming a fine sediment, known as the less, at the bottom of the bottle. After about 9-12 months a further process starts. Some of the chemical compounds in the cell walls of the yeast start to diffuse into the wine. This process is known as autolysis and it provides the wine with it's nutty, toasty, briochy flavours. The longer it sits on the lees the more pronounced this is. How long you leave it depends on the style of wine you are trying to produce.
Once we decide the wine is ready and perfect for drinking, we need to complete the winemaking process. We do this with our newly intsalled disgorging line. First, we need to move the sediment that has formed in the bottle during secondary fermentation, into the neck of the bottle. This is known as riddling and was originally done in wooden racks. This involves daily rotations of the bottles whilst they are stored at an angle, cork down which by hand can take weeks. We now have large "gyro" pallets which are machines that that complete this job for us and save our arms from "riddling" cramps. We can now riddle 900 bottles a week with this technology.
Once the sediment is in the neck we have to get it out. First, we freeze the neck of the bottle in our neck freezer to form a plug of ice around the sediment. Then we gently prize the cap off. The pressure in the bottle fires the cap and sediment out of the bottle. We may then add a small shot of sweetness (dosage) to balance the acidity in the wine, top up the bottle with the wine we are making, insert the cork, put the wire muzzle over the top (twisting exactly 4 times) and lastly the bottle is labelled and left to rest for at least four weeks before we release it.
By hand this used to take three people all day to disgorge 3-400 bottles. Now our super new disgorging line can disgorge 4-500 bottles in an hour with one person and has transformed our production.
When we took over in 2010, our plan was to expand to become a "Boutique" vineyard and winery focusing on making great English Sparkling Wines. We have gone from 1.5 acres under vine producing around two tonnes of grapes a year to now having 50 acres of land under vine producing 100 tonnes of grapes a year yielding 70,000 bottles of sparkling wine and 4,000 bottles of still wine in 2017.
We released our first wine, our signature Sparkling Rosé Reserve, in September 2013 from our 2011 Harvest. Only a handful of bottles were produced (450 to be precise). This year we bottled over 13,000 bottles of the Rosé.
As our new plants have come to fruition, we have been able to increase the range. At present we currently have six sparkling wines and three still wines. The main focus for Greyfriars is sparkling wine production with our goal to produce wines that are classically English reflecting the personality of the North Downs and the Greyfriars Team rather than making a copycat version of Champagne.