At Cottonworth we use the traditional method and are focused on producing high quality English sparkling wine from the three classic varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Located in the heart of the Test Valley in Hampshire, Cottonworth is home to the Liddell family who have been farming there for four generations.
Over the last 10 years they have carefully selected 30 acres of prime vineyard sites for the production of Sparkling wine using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The south facing slopes, chalk soil and temperate microclimate ensure the best conditions for growing grapes of exceptional quality.
The chalky soil is a wonderful medium in which to plant vines for sparkling wine production, as it will drain very easily but keep just enough water for the vines to function at their best. Chalky soil is also poor in nutrients, which stresses the vines – helping to produce superior fruit. Gently stressing the vines is one of the key elements for producing great wine. If the vines are a little stressed, like a great artist or poet, they seem to react by producing a more interesting and complex result. Thus, along with the challenging climate, England is fast becoming an ideal place to grow great sparkling wines!
We have planted on south west to south east slopes, to maximise sunlight hours and achieve ripeness. The vineyards are planted between 40 and 70 metres above sea level, which also aids in the ripening process.
We have found that south and south west seem to be more exposed to the south westerly wind, which dries the grapes and canopy out very quickly, helping to prevent disease. The vineyards on the south east ripen sooner and seem to produce higher yields due to the reduced wind.
As we have three different soil types with varying levels of chalk, this has allowed us to match different rootstocks to each soil type, helping us to achieve medium growth vigour on all our sites, and add complexity to the final wine. All three varieties are planted on a selection of rootstocks.
When choosing the correct rootstock for soil there are a number of factors you need to consider. Firstly the rootstock’s tolerance to free lime, which is governed by the extent to which the chalk has dissolved into the soil (too high and the vine will choke and be inhibited from taking up iron, resulting in chlorosis). Another vital requirement in this country when choosing the appropriate rootstock is the influence it has on vegetative growth and the maturity of the vine - i.e. how early the fruit ripens.
Lastly, and often perceived as the least important factor, is the vigour of the rootstock. As I have already mentioned, our goal is to achieve medium vigour for the production of sparkling wine, so a rootstock that is medium to high vigour would best suit a soil with poor fertility, and a soil that is deep and fertile should be planted with a low vigour rootstock. The reason we want to achieve a happy medium is that if the vines grow too quickly and too vigorously it becomes unbalanced and most of the energy is channelled to the shoots instead of the fruit, delaying ripening. Another detrimental effect of too much growth is shading of the fruiting area which again delays ripening and increases the chance of diseases. Keeping vigour in check is particularly important in England as our high rainfall (compared to other wine growing regions) acts as a catalyst and accelerates growth.
It so happens that often the soil with the highest free lime content (chalky soil) is also very poor soil. On this soil we have chosen to use a rootstock called Fercal, which has a very high tolerance to free lime and is medium to high vigour. On the other hand we have selected low vigour rootstocks that happen to have a low free lime tolerance to be planted on the soil with the most amount of fertility and the lowest free lime levels. Luckily all the rootstocks, of which there are many available, are early ripening - ideal for our requirements and working very well for us.
Throughout the evolution of the wine industry certain plants in the vineyard have been selected for showing certain attributes, They are then replanted. This has been repeated over and over again resulting in the desired traits for a particular style of wine.
When selecting the right clone for sparkling wine there are a few basic characteristics you should try and achieve. First - a decent level of acidity, which you achieve anywhere in England anyway! The second is high yields, the third is fairly neutral flavours and finally, obtaining low colour for Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Through clonal selection there are a few classes of Pinot Noir. I have predominantly chosen the Champagne Pinot, clones which are low in colour and high in yield and generally good at resisting disease, but I have also chosen some Burgundy clones, normally used for still reds for their high colour content. We use the Burgundy clones to increase our white sparkling quality, but mainly to make our rose sparkling. In England picking a clone that is early ripening is essential when dealing with the three sparkling wine varieties.