We are delighted to finally have vines in the ground at our Old Dover Road block in Barham. Having talked about our new sparkling wine project in England for so long it is fantastic to finally have something to show for ourselves! It has taken a lot of hard work and energy to get this far and we are rightly proud of what we have achieved so far.
The optimum vine planting window in the UK is the first 3 weeks of May, when it is deemed that the frost risk is over and that the soil temperature has risen to appropriate levels for new growth. Our goal was to find a dry 3 day period in which to plant! We wanted enough moisture in the soil to ensure that the young roots would be secure and supported, but not so much moisture that the soil became too ‘sticky’ to place the vines in the ground. Having studied the weather forecast for several weeks, we set the dates of 13/14/15 May.
Prior to planting the vines we needed to power harrow the vineyard site so that the soil was fine and as perfectly flat as possible. With unsettled weather forecast for the weekend before planting, we were able to get this done before several significant downpours
In the small hours of the morning on Monday 12 May, the 3-man planting team left the south of France with their tractor and planting sled on the back of a lorry. They were accompanied by two others bringing the two vans full of vines. They arrived to worryingly grey skies in Barham and a subsequent hail storm, which did nothing to settle our nerves!
Happily the first day dawned with clear skies and as the team got started, they commented on how well the soil had been prepared and how good the conditions were for planting. Their large tractor pulls a planting sled that is guided by GPS to ensure completely straight rows vertically, horizontally and diagonally, which would be impossible to achieve by hand. In using this automated planting sled, we could plant vines with long roots, which means that the vines establish quicker and will produce a first, small harvest in two years. If you plant by hand you have to plant with short roots and it would be three years until the first harvest. On day one, the team were able to plant a large part of the Chardonnay vines, which we deliberately positioned on the highest section of the field due to the fact that these vines bud earlier than the two red Pinot grape varieties. We hope that the higher ground will be less likely to be effected by frost.
We had to order the rootstock and clones over a year ago in January 2013. Due to extremely high active calcium carbonate levels in the soil the only two rootstock we could use were Fercal and 41B. Onto each of these rootstock we chose to graft four different clones, to ensure an interesting blend of each grape variety with which to create our sparkling blends.
On day two the weather was even better, a gloriously sunny day that showed off the beautiful Elham Valley (in which the site is situated), at its finest! As the planting team finished planting the Chardonnay vines and started on the Pinot Meunier, we had visits from local press, the local Parish Council and a group from Junior Kings school in Canterbury. The team made excellent progress and moved on to the third and final grape variety, Pinot Noir, before the end of the day.
The final day saw the end of the the tractor plantation and the final detailed work of ensuring that the end of the rows were all straight. We then bid farewell to our hardworking team who caught the ferry back to France headed for their next job in Cognac. We were left with 38,006 vines planted in a beautifully set out vineyard, very relieved that it had all gone so well!
Look out for more pictures as the vines begin to grow!