Without a doubt, 2020 threw us all some curveballs! But being in the business of making wine, we made sure we got stuck in and kept on going! From a 'seemingly as normal' start with promising spring, to a year to navigating what a lockdown meant for us as a business and for our wine production, we had to learn and grow very quickly.
We asked David, our winemaker, to share some of his year with you and this is his 2020 story.
Growing season and vintage
The growing season for 2020 was short and fast. February was wet, but things changed as we got in to March. As I am sure many will remember, Spring was beautiful with what seemed almost endless sunshine and warmth, perfect weather to bring budburst on in the vineyards and for us in Cornwall, little frost risk with relatively mild nights.
We could only think that with such good weather early on in the year, what would the rest of the year hold? Surely it wouldn't be as good would it?!
The vines put growth on quickly in the favourable conditions and flowering occurred earlier than usual, but the weather the couple of weeks prior to flowering [June] and during flowering for many varieties was a little cooler than average and dull. This resulted in mixed results when flowering did occur, most varieties suffering with poor fruit set.
Early Summer was mixed, a little downy mildew was spotted in the vineyard and weather continued slightly changeable. Eventually relatively warm dry weather won out.
Harvest was the earliest we have ever witnessed, with most of the grapes being picked in September. The majority of the crop was picked before the heavy rains in October. Crops were very light, but quality across the board was very high. With higher than typical sugar levels whilst still retaining acidity.
A year of new ideas and innovation.
Summer was excellent and we welcomed many of you to our pop ups, wine shop and tastings, albeit socially distanced with the continued limited numbers in shop, for tastings and tours.
The quiet periods during the year have been great for experimenting and playing around with various ideas.
After lots of trial, error and caramel making, we finally came up with a Rosso Vermouth that we are really pleased with. The first batch was bottled and released mid 2020 to complete our Vermouth collection.
2020 was different in all regards, with the spring restrictions meaning we bottled the 2019 wines later than usual, with many new varietals not being released until late 2020.
Looking to 2021
From the 2020 harvest there are a number of wines that look like standouts so far. The Pinot noir in general was exceptional, both the Pinot Noir rosé and red Pinot look super.
In addition to this, we should have the return of our Merlot Cabernet blend, 2 barrels of highly concentrated, rich red, but a little patience will be required as release is expected late 2021!
You maybe have expected the winery has been closed during this 'lockdown'. That we have put our pipettes, hoses and glasses down and will come back once it’s all returned to normal. Certainly, all the restaurants and bars that serve our wines, from Nathan Outlaws on the North coast in Doc Martin country to Wreckers and The Longstore in Charlestown near us are closed, as well as having to shutter our cellar door to visitors.
With trade orders disappearing, our wedding venue closed and most of the team on furlough we have been running on a staff of very few, mainly myself, the winemaker here at Knightor. It may appear at times the winery is closed but we are still at work, even during this time of lockdown. For us, nothing stops after harvest. Not even for a lockdown.
The vines must continue to be cared for, our wine making has to continue as normal as possible to ensure we don’t end up with most of our produce spoil in tank and so that we have keep up with demand on the phenomenal response we have had to online sales.
This is the time of the year when the winery is usually so full of life and activity. We would be pressing for all hours of the day, pumping the settled [clear] juice from one tank to the next, fermenting the juice. None of that has stopped, it is just perhaps happening a little slower.
For each wine we have to consider how it would be best to treat or 'age' going forward.
At Knightor we have 37 batches that are sitting maturing or 'ageing' before being bottled. Ageing allows us to capture and bottle the best of each of our wines at their optimum.
From October onwards we have wines that have just finished fermenting that must be racked [pumped] off the heavy yeast sediment [gross lees]. The time to do that is now.
At this stage all of the wines are cloudy, lively, youthful, even aggressive with a fair spritz or sparkle from the left over carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine during the ferment. They are often not really very drinkable. Many of the techniques we use to mature the wines are aimed at softening and rounding out the wines. The 3 techniques we most commonly use to help mature our wines are Lees ageing, oak contact and Malolactic fermentation.
After fermentation, all of our wines stay on contact with the dead yeast sediment or 'fine lees' as it is known. Some will stay on lees for just 4 months, others for a year or more, as very gradually this sediment starts to impact on the wine providing more weight, softness and mouthfeel. We can also help this process along by stirring the sediment up and into the wine every week or so. Bearing in mind that English wines can have a tendency for being light, a little lees contact can be beneficial.
We are fortunate at Knightor to have a decent number of oak barrels. Not only do we ferment wines in these but we can also age our wines in them. The result of ageing in oak has similarities again to Lees ageing, an increase in mouth feel, texture. Dependent on the age of the barrel and the type of oak, an increase in aromas and flavours associated with the oak, such as vanilla, spice, chocolate and coffee is achieved.
At Knightor we strive to make wines that are a reflection of the fruit, so oak is used much like you would salt and pepper, just gentle seasoning adding to the existing flavours, not dominating.
So we have stayed busy. We have been emptying the barrels of many of the white wines that have been ageing in them since fermentation and refilling them with some of our red wines. Excitingly we have also been bottling some 2019 wines!
The past few weeks, with a slimmed down bottling crew, we have bottled our Mena Hweg 2019 [our semi sweet wine] plus a Trevannion 2019 [our popular intensely aromatic blend], all whilst keeping to the 2 meter social distancing rules. Due to this, bottling speed wasn't quite what it usually is but we found a way.
The Mena hweg from 2019 is wonderfully floral, perhaps a little more edgy than the previous Menas and is extremely drinkable and versatile with food.
The Trevannion I hesitate to say could be our most delicous yet of this blend. This year, as previous, it is dominated by the aromatic pink skinned grape varieties of Siegerrebe and Schonberger which seemed to do very well despite the challenging 2019 ripening period.
Both of these wines have now been released but once again, thanks to coronavirus, in a slightly different way. As we are unable to get our labels from our printers at this time, and not wanting to hold back on release, you can purchase a bottle of our Mena Hweg 2019 and Trevannion 2019 in handwritten bottles, accompanied by a winemakers note. We love how they look and are very pleased to have them available to you at last.
And a final note from us all at Knightor, to thank you for your continued drinking during this challenging time!
As we enter the quieter months of January and February our winemaking team start getting ready for the year ahead, making their way to the vineyards to begin pruning the vines and bottling the delicious red and whites which are almost ready in barrels and in tank. David, our winemaker, has been looking back on 2019 and what is to come in 2020.
'2019 was always going to be measured against the incredible vintage of 2018. It was a hard act to follow! Things began well, budburst was fairly typical, but what followed was a rather cool May. Eventually things warmed up and June and July were near perfect, resulting in the vines putting on good growth and flowering just slightly later than the previous year.
The warm weather and light winds in early July were perfect for pollination and most varieties had good fruit set. The Summer weather was warm with adequate rain which continued to help the development of the grapes.'
'As Summer led into Autumn the rainfall increased further. These conditions were a challenge as they were near perfect for the development and spread of mildew and botrytis (a fungus) which we do not want. In early Autumn some varieties in our Portscatho vineyard were showing signs of Downy mildew, resulting in a slight loss in yield. It was also evident at this stage that despite the decent number of grapes per bunch, the average grape size was going to be quite small. September and October is the crucial time as it's when the quality of the crop is determined. It's when the sugars rise and acidity levels drop. The more sun and warmth, the faster and higher the sugars rise and riper the flavours in the grape gets. However in wet Autumns like this years, sugar levels struggle to rise as high or as fast as usual. We began picking our Rondo and Pinot noir précoce grapes on the 24th of September and harvest finished in the last week of October. Overall 2019 will be remembered as a more challenging year, yields and quality varied greatly from one variety to another, some faring better than others.'
'When the grapes do not reach as high levels of ripeness, the key to the winemaking is to be gentle. Gentle handling and delicate pressing. We do not want to extract too much from the skins or seeds of the grapes. For the reds we allowed a shorter time of skin contact and were very careful with how frequently we did pump overs and punch downs during the ferment. This will be evident in the finished red wines, where colour will be lighter than typical, but the wines are still balanced, soft and fruity on the palate. We have had a few ferments that are very slow, with a few barrels still fermenting in December!'
'The wines are showing great potential and there are a few that stand out. We have a very aromatic, powerful tank of Siegerrebe, which will go into our popular Trevannion blend, to be released in the Spring. Again we will also be releasing a potentially very interesting Bacchus, which we have been experimenting with fermenting in old french oak to add body and complexity.
Another wine to keep an eye out for will be our red Pinot noir 2019, partially fermented and aged in oak but it's likely this will not be ready until later next year.'
We cannot wait to share news of our releases and look forward to announcing them when they are ready.
Stories from Knightor
Wine, weddings and feasts