A tale of Purley wine (Part 1)

On a visit to Denbies winery near Dorking a couple of years ago I bought a Chardonnay vine on the spur of the moment. For really, what is a wine monkey without a vine? (As a quick aside – if you ever happen to be near Dorking, Denbies is worth a visit – if only for the hilarious ‘wine train’ tour of the cellars. Anyone who has been will know what I mean. Denbies is also the largest vineyard in the UK and produces quite a range of different wines, including a rather nice rosé if memory serves as well as the obligatory bubbles). Anyway, said vine was really a stumpy little thing, not much of a looker, but was duly planted in the garden in a sunny, south-facing spot. Cue huge excitement the following spring when the first buds appeared and began to burst. However, visions of the delicious wine we could produce were shattered when said buds were nibbled off by a passing squirrel overnight. Thus ended the first vintage of Purley wine.

The first buds before the squirrel ate them

The first buds before the squirrel ate them


This spring the vine was carefully enrobed in chicken wire when the buds began to appear to prevent the hungry squirrels striking again. And happily the buds burst and quickly grew to form lots of lovely shoots and leaves. The last couple of months have seen the vine growing nicely. We did have one slight worry when the leaves turned yellow – but a quick look at my MW books suggested a nutrient deficiency (likely magnesium, but molybdenum and manganese were also possibilities) and happily a swift application of fertiliser helped to solve that problem. And that put paid to any thoughts of organic production. Then, just a few weeks ago, I spied the first inflorescence amongst the leaves. This is the part of the vine that forms the flowers – and then the grapes. It actually looks like the stem of a mini bunch of grapes. It was the first indication that we might get a crop of grapes this year.

Now all we needed was some good weather to trigger flowering. And – lo and behold – that’s exactly what we have. So I am very happy to report our vine is flowering nicely, and I hope to see the first tiny grapes appearing in the next few days or so. Now, for any of you who haven’t seen vine flowers before, they’re not the most beautiful in the world being both tiny and with a catch-it-and-its-gone smell. I actually got engaged recently and one of my friends suggested having a bouquet of vine flowers. Which sounded like a great plan until I showed her what a vine flower looks like. Plus, of course, I doubt any winemaker would be very impressed with me picking the vast number of vine flowers that would be needed to make a bouquet as it would mean that those vines would then produce no grapes.

Vine flowers

Vine flowers


The current weather we’re experiencing with warmth and little wind is perfect for flowering so fingers crossed we should get a good fruit set (essentially each flower to self-pollinate and form a grape berry). And now the fun begins…just what is the best way to make wine from 1 vine? This is something I am going to ponder over the next few weeks. Quite a lot needs to be considered – how best to decide the picking date (for I cannot pick too many grapes to taste or I shall have none left), how best to crush and press the fruit, what vessel to ferment in, whether to add yeast or not and also whether to add sulphur dioxide (and where to source some). And that’s not even considering whether to chaptalise or not (this is when you add sugar prior to ferment to increase alcohol in the wine – done routinely in cool climates around the world). So, any thoughts on how best to produce my Purley wine? All helpful comments gratefully received!

I shall keep you all updated with how the vine fares over the summer and autumn – and I am anticipating a harvest date towards the end of October. Then all things being well the monkeys may get to taste some Purley wine!


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