Video: bottling sparkling wine on a mobile disgorging line



When I was in Canada last month I had a chance to watch Viniserve’s mobile disgorging line in operation. Disgorging is a vital stage in the life of a sparkling wine. It’s the point when the dead yeast cells (from the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles) are expelled. A process called riddling has localised them to a clump in the neck of the bottle, so they can be removed without losing too much wine. Then the bottle is topped up, and then it is corked.

In this video we see the process in action: the neck of the bottle is frozen, the crown cap is removed, the dead yeast cells are expelled, the wine is topped up, and the cork and wire (muzelet) are applied.

The advantage of a mobile line like this is that it is used all the time, well maintained, properly calibrated, and operated by experienced personnel. Of course, wineries can have their own lines, but unless they are sparkling specialists, it usually doesn’t make sense. Or they can hand disgorge, which is fun for the first 10 minutes, I suspect.

Some BA lounge wines: what does business class get you these days?


Just did a bit of British Airways lounge wine sampling (BA Galleries lounge at terminal 3). These are wines available in business class. How good are they? The answer: not bad, but not very exciting. Unfortunately, like many airlines, I suspect BA have very little budget to spend on wine, and this selection shows it. The best business class selection I have come across is Air New Zealand, where they use the opportunity they have to showcase the best Kiwi wines. Even their economy class selection is quite good. I’ve not done Singapore business class for a long time, but that used to be quite smart. I’ve yet to fly anything other than economy with Emirates, but I imagine this selection would be interesting.

Tim Adams Foxlee Single Vineyard Riesling 2014 Clare Valley, Australia
This is a well balanced, fruit-driven Riesling with attractive citrus fruit. No real surprises, just a balanced, focused citrussy dry Riesling showing nice purity and a faint hint of mint/eucalypt. 88/100

Catena La Consulta Malbec 2015 Mendoza, Argentina
Sweetly fruited and supple with a fine, slightly green edge to the floral cherry and blackberry fruit. There’s a silky smoothness to the texture of this ripe wine, which is sweet and alluring but still in balance. Easy and enjoyable, but not trivial. 89/100 

Casas del Bosque Carménère 2014 Rapel Valley, Chile
Juicy and very fruity with good varietal character, which here takes the form of smooth, sweet, autumnal dark fruits and a chalky graininess. This is sleek and smooth with a seductive quality. A bit ripe and warm, perhaps, but tasty. 88/100

Grant Burge Barossa Shiraz 2015 Australia
Warm, rich and spicy with some coconut, spice and vanilla oak influence adding detail to the ripe black fruits. A little old-school in style, meshing very ripe dense fruit with fairly obvious oak, but not without appeal. Creamy and rich with a seductive quality. 87/100

On divorce


[Aside: I have been running an internal debate about whether to write on this subject. It's not like I'm the first person to get divorced: it happens all the time. So why should my words be of any interest? Also, is my personal life relevant to my professional life? I think it is. In writing this, I'm not looking for absolution. I'm not trying to prove a point or make excuses. And I'm aware that any thoughts here are from my perspective, which is unique to me and is not the whole truth. But I feel I need to say something.]

Yesterday I heard that my divorce had been finalized. Some 16 months after I moved out of home, the legal process that signals the end of a marriage has been completed. It’s not something I’ve mentioned publicly before, and I do so now with great caution. This is very personal territory. Nonetheless, it is something I want to share, albeit briefly and without too many details. Now that it’s final, it seems an appropriate time to disclose this news.

Fiona and I were wed on May 8th, 1993. It was a joyful occasion, full of friends and hope. We remained married for just under 23 years (legally, for just over 24). That’s a big slice of life.

We got together when we were both very young. If I met the ‘me’ of 1993 now, it would be a strange experience: me, but not me. I was raw and quite naïve, and very idealistic. I didn’t believe in divorce and thought that marriage was forever. I meant my marriage vows.

Even now, coming out of a marriage that has – on paper – failed, I still believe in the institution of marriage and I dislike divorce intensely. It is brutal and cruel. In terms of the separation it causes, it has some of the aspects of a bereavement, except that the closure is perhaps harder because your partner is still there, but you are separate from them.

Divorce causes a lot of pain. I didn’t realize quite how much, until it was too late. I had an inkling that this wouldn’t be an easy path, but it was only when I moved out of home that the full implications dawned on me. It is not an easy fix for a problem.

Still, even despite this, I think that it was the right path to take. Today I met with Fiona to talk over some issues to do with our boys, now 19 and 20. Time is a great healer, and we are now able to talk as friends, with respect for each other. We both wish each other well. We have both moved on. But there is no denying that there is still pain, sitting somewhere under the surface. So we tread carefully and as kindly as we can.

How do you process the end of a 23 year marriage? It isn’t easy.

There is a wounding, but there can also be a healing. It’s important to take the position that nothing is wasted, holding onto the many good times with a sense of gratitude. I think both of us realize that we were not terribly well suited to each other, but at the same time a marriage is something that you build rather than discover as something already complete. It is something that grows, built on an initial foundation, and hopefully with a commitment to build well. It is not something that starts out finished and untarnished, and then gradually with time loses its lustre. I also think that, when approached the right way, the inevitable pain, conflicts and challenges that exist in any union between two humans can be turned round and used as building material.

That our building eventually failed is probably in part due to the incredible stresses we were put under over the last 16 years. Our family life has been challenging. After five years of trying and a range of tests, it seemed we couldn’t have our own children. There was no obvious reason; it just didn’t happen. So after a lengthy approval process, we adopted two boys. They were brothers, and they’d had a terrible start, and they came to us aged 2.5 and 3.5 years old, back in 2000. From the beginning, we realized that we were in for a challenging time. It wasn’t a simple matter of pouring love in where there had been a deficit – sadly, it doesn’t work this simply. Things got gradually more challenging and difficult, beyond anything we could have imagined and certainly beyond the level that anyone should have to tolerate. But we stuck at it, through the most trying times. [I should add: I do not blame my boys. They are talented and have lots of qualities. They have had to overcome a lot, and I'm proud of them. But we had a very tough journey.]

Without this intense, unending pressure, with no respite, things might have turned out differently. Who knows? But nothing is wasted. Even what looks like a failure, has within it seeds that given the right conditions, can grow.

I read that the average divorce costs £44 000. Ours cost a more modest £1346, which is about as cheaply as you can do it, I think. We did our financial sums over a drink in the pub, and then got a solicitor to help with framing the agreement and dealing with the family court. I have unending respect for Fiona for dealing with things this way. We both genuinely want the best for each other, even though the dying days of the marriage were horribly painful.

Perhaps the best advice we received as we talked over things with professionals and close friends was this: it hurts, and there is pain, just as when you have a physical wound there is pain. But don’t keep taking the dressing off and poking the wound, to see how much it hurts. Acknowledge that there is pain, but don’t dwell there. Don’t keep going back to it, taking a look, picking off the scab.

And in this process, many of the horrible aspects are out of our control. While we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can decide on how we respond. We do not have to be a victim. We don’t have to respond in the stereotyped, movie-script sort of way. We get to choose.

Since January last year, I have been travelling a lot. When I am in the country, I have been living at my sister’s place. I have to think about what comes next. It’s great to get a second chance, but there are many potential pitfalls. I’m not going to play it safe, though. Second chances don’t come around all that often.

Gamay 31, Easthope Family Winegrowers 2015 Hawke's Bay

easthope gamay

There’s not a lot of Gamay in New Zealand, but it seems to have some promise here. The most well known example is the soild Te Mata Gamay, but there are two excellent examples from Central Otago, too (Mount Edward and Rippon). This is the latest one I’ve come across, made by Rod Easthope (formerly of Craggy Range) from Hawkes’ Bay fruit. It’s made under his own label (  ) with his winemaker wife Emma. The grapes come from and old  block planted in Hawke’s Bay over 15 years ago that had been forgotten about, and was just being blended into a larger planting of Malbec. So Rod managed to get his hands on these rows of Gamay, and the result is this wine.

I was given it to try by Ian Quinn, a neighbour of Rod’s, who is a grower with 10 hectares that will soon come into production. This vineyard, named Two Terraces, consists of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gamay Noir and a bit of Syrah. Ian is currently debating whether or not to plant more Gamay. I urged him to go for it!

Easthope Family Winegrowers Gamay Noir 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. From a single site in the Maraekakaho, this is whole bunch fermented and then aged in old oak for nine months. Intense and quite powerful with a subtle green herby, slightly earthy edge to the textured raspberry and black cherry fruit. It’s such an interesting wine, with lovely concentration and fine-grained tannins, and a distinctive earthy quality from the whole bunch fermentation. The fruit has a lovely weight to it. Fresh and lively with good acidity and some grippy structure. 93/100

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Fun in New Zealand's Nelson-Tasman, at the top of South Island


I’ve been in New Zealand for the last week. The official reason for the trip was to present a couple of talks at the biodynamic and organic wine conference in Blenheim, but while I was here I thought it would be fun to take a few days’ holiday, exploring the Nelson-Tasman region at the top of South Island. I don’t often take holiday – some might rightly say that my job resembles a holiday quite closely – bit this was a lovely break. I had the benefit of some local knowledge, which helped: I was travelling with a local winemaker friend (the talented Natalie Christensen from Yealands).

With Natalie at Pupu springs

With Natalie at Pupu springs

Urban, Nelson

Urban, Nelson

We began in Nelson, which even in the middle of winter has a lot of charm. We were just there for one evening, but we did it well. Drinks at Urban: a nice space with a great selection of wines and beers. Dinner at Hopgood’s: fine dining, really well executed, with a good but not great wine list (the food deserves a wider and slightly more eclectic selection). Then after dinner drink at Cod & Lobster. The cocktail list here is quite stunning, with a whole page of negronis, of which we tried two. They were lovely.

Cod & Lobster Negroni Menu

Cod & Lobster Negroni Menu


The next day we headed over to Golden Bay. Follow the road and climb a few hills and you hit some wonderful coastline here.

The view from Little Greenie

The view from Little Greenie

We stayed at Little Greenie, which is one of the properties that forms Golden Bay Hideaway, on Wainui Bay. This is a small eco-friendly house with a composting toilet and a clever heating/insulating system that uses very little power. There is also an outdoor bathtub, which is perfect for drinking Champagne in (the various properties are very private, so you aren’t overlooked, which is an advantage if you plan to take a bath outdoors). There are no internets here, so it really is like a holiday.


Some highlights. First of all, Wainui Falls. There’s a really stunning walk from the car park, through some verdant green scenery and rushing streams. Cross a slightly wobbly suspension bridge, and then a couple of minutes later you are at the falls. Powerful, beautiful, energising.






Then the remoteness of Wharariki beach. We had it to ourselves. So moody and atmospheric.





A must see: Te Waikoropupu springs, known colloquially simply as the Pupu springs. It’s hard to describe this place and impossible to capture it in pictures. It’s an incredibly pure spring system pumping out large volumes of astonishingly clear water, and it’s beautiful. It’s also quite spiritual, in an indefinable and hard to explain way. There just seems to be a lot of energy here, and even though I’m a scientist, and supposedly rational, I felt something.



And there’s also the famous Mussel Inn, which is an old, atmospheric brewpub, famous for nailing mobile phones to a tree, as well as some excellent beer and epic nachos.



After a couple of nights, we moved on, to Kaiteriteri. In the middle of summer this would be heaving, but in late June it was quiet and really pretty. We stayed at a spa resort and ended the day in an outdoor hot tub looking at the stars. I think everyone was watching the rugby, which is a religion in New Zealand.



Back to Blenheim for the conference, I felt rested and energized, full of great experiences. I need to take more holidays.




Gamay Focus 30, Hervé Souhaut La Souteronne

la souteronne

I had this wine twice in two nights at Scotch Bar, Blenheim. It’s from Hervé Souhaut’s Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet, which is based in Arlebosc in the Ardèche, just west of Tain l’Hermitage. Indeed, as well as his Ardèche holdings, Hervé has some vines in the northern Rhône, with a total of 5 hectares altogether. He started out in 1990, after he’d spent a year working with northern Rhône natural wine stars Dard et Ribo, and he actually has the press that was used by Jules Chauvet, the father of natural wine. This Gamay is from the Ardèche vineyards, where he has 1.4 hectares of old vines (60-80 years old) that yield a miserly 25 hl/ha. It’s made by partial carbonic maceration with whole bunches, and then aged in old oak for eight months. Hervé uses very little SO2 (with a total of only 25 mg/litre, with the only addition being at bottling), yet his wines are very pure. Natural wine at its finest.

Hervé Souhaut La Souteronne 2015 Vin de France
14% alcohol. This shows lovely freshness and focus with bright raspberry and cherry fruit alongside some fresh plums and grippy structure. Real focus and finesse here with fine herbs and juicy raspberries. This is harmonious and pure, with nice fruit presence, and it’s a joy to drink. 93/100

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Seresin Chardonnay Reserve 2013

seresin chardonnay reserve

Had this beauty from biodynamic Marlborough winery Seresin the other evening. It’s a really compelling Chardonnay. New Zealand’s top Chardonnays are underrated, and they can be superb.

Seresin Chardonnay Reserve 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 20% new oak. This is beautiful. Lovely matchstick, mineral nose with some taut citrus and apple fruit. The palate shows complex pear, apple and lemon fruit with spicy acidity and lovely precision. There’s a really detailed, mineral core to this wine with tingling, electric acidity keeping things really focused. Lots of potential for development. Has a really fine spiciness. 93/100

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Three Vermentinos


I’m quite a fan of the Vermentino grape variety, also known as Rolle in Provence. It makes white wines with character and freshness from warm climates. These wines are all available from online retailer Tannico, who list a staggering 51 examples of Italian Vermentino.

Guado Al Tasso Vermentino 2015 Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
13% alcohol. Lively and juicy with nice citrus fruit and fine herbal notes. Taut and a bit pithy with delicate lemon and herbs. So juicy and lively, this has nice balance between the richer fruity notes and the pithy citrus fruit. 89/100 (£14.30 Tannico) 

Giunco Vermentino di Sardegna 2015 Italy
13.5% alcohol. Very lively, floral and fruity on the nose with bright lemon notes. In the mouth this is fresh, complex and tangy with nice lemon notes and some fine herby notes. Delicate and expressive with lots of flavour but a light body. 90/100  (£11.48 Tannico)

LVNAE Colli di Luni Vermentino 2015 Italy
12.5% alcohol. Very fruity and lively with a tangerine and citrus pith character, with pure, lively fruit. Juicy, bright and lively with nice acidity and purity. Such focused, bright fruit. More-ish and thirst quenching. 89/100 (£15.17 Tannic0)



Grower Champagne: Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV

egly ouriet

Back in the day, when I was just getting into wine, the first ‘grower’ Champagne I encountered was Egly-Ouriet. This was in the mid-1990s, when grower Champagne wasn’t much of a thing, and the wines were stocked by Liz and Mike Berry of the fabulous La Vigneronne in South Kensington (which is now the equally fabulous Handford Wines). I had this particular wine in the outdoor bath tub at the accommodation I was staying at in Golden Bay, at the top of South Island, New Zealand.

Based in Ambonnay, Egly-Ouriet are masters of Pinot. They farm organically, and many of the base wines are fermented in barrel. They like long ageing on lees. Dosage is low or zero. These are proper wines: sometimes a bit stern, but always worthwhile.

Champagne Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV France
12.5% alcohol. From Ambonnay, Bouxy and Verzenay. 48 months on lees, disgorged July 2016. Very fine and detailed with lovely citrus and apple core, as well as some pear and nut richness. It’s quite dry and complex with fine herbs and juicy acidity. Grown up and sophisticated, this is fruit-driven but four years on the lees and another 11 months in bottle has given the first signs of toasty maturity. 93/100

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Domaine Ganevat Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes 2013


More Jura joy. There’s so much good stuff coming from this region, and it’s usually from producers taking a more natural approach. This was drunk last night looking out over the sea at Golden Bay, at the top of South Island, New Zealand. It was mesmerising.

Domaine Ganevat Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay 2013 Côtes du Jura, France
12% alcohol. Vines planted in 1919. Slightly cloudy pale yellow colour. Lovely acid structure here with bright lemony fruit and a lovely crystalline quality. There’s a delicious fine spiciness that mingles perfectly with the fresh acidity. There are secondary notes of mandarin, apricot, ripe apple and green tea, with some richness (a bit of sugar?) evident in tension with the vital, fresh core of lemony fruit. Very fine and expressive, and amazingly drinkable as well as being quite serious. Not a perfect wine, but a beautiful one. 95/100

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