Ancre Hill
Visiting this biodynamic wine estate in Monmouth, Wales

Ancre Hill is based in Monmouth, Wales, just a short distance outside town. There are 4 hectares of vines here: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, a little bit of Triomphe and some AlbariŮo. Viticulture here is certified biodynamic. Thereís also a second site that has recently been planted on a south facing slope, which will take overall plantings to 12 hectares.


Richard and David Morris, Ancre Hill 

2016 started off with a very cold spring and was quite a bit behind. There was some frost damage here for the first time. The vines that escaped this have caught up, while those with some damage are now two weeks behind. With a good August and September, this could be a very good vintage, albeit one reduced in size. The vines are pretty clean, with just a bit of powdery to deal with.


The new site 

The first vines were planted here by Richard and Joy Morris in 2006. First wines were released in 2008. Since 2011 their son David has been working here, and he now makes the wines. 2011 is also the year that Ancre Hill converted to biodynamic viticulture.


This window shows the straw bales used to construct the winery 

A new winery was completed in 2015, and they reckon this is the largest traditional straw bale construction in the world. Itís an impressive building, and full of new kit. Initial budget was £1 million, and they received a 40% grant from the EU to help with construction. Eventually it cost £1.2 m.


Geneva double curtain trellising 

The vineyard is unusual in that it is trellised with Geneva double curtain. Itís a split canopy system, with the cordons high above the ground and the shoots trained downwards. Originally developed in New York state for use with hybrids, itís actually well suited to this vigorous site. The downward training of the shoots reduces their vigour naturally. The position of the fruiting zone leaves it very exposed to sunlight, which is a good thing here. It also allows for a lot of air movement to reduce disease pressure. The height of the canopy keeps the vine free from ground frost risk, and allows them to let the grass grow more freely with fewer passes for mowing.

 

ĎWe have fantastic soils here,í says David. ĎWith these deep soils we have one of the best places in Europe for fungi and bacteria.í He says that there is also amazing insect life in the vineyards. Because of the deep soils, they get the vine in balance by leaving 36-40 buds per plant.

The soils are a deep, old reddish loam. David doesnít lust after the famous chalk soils of Champagne. ĎI wouldnít plant in chalk if someone paid me,í he says. ĎItís a very delicate soil, it doesnít hold nutrients, and you donít get the diversity we have in our vineyard. It works well for a linear Chardonnay, but it doesnít work well for Pinot.í

 

Every 10 days he will do a spray, using tissane as a base Ė itís a plant tea brewed at 40 C for 24 hours. To this can be added various other plant preparations such as willow, nettle and horsetail. The willow and horsetail act to induce systemic resistance in the vines. This really helps reduce disease risk, and downy mildew hasnít been a problem: they havenít had to use copper for three years now. They also havenít had any problems with botrytis.

 

The winery has seven concrete tanks, a quartet of concrete eggs and a Stockinger foudre, as well as an array of barrels and stainless steel tanks. Fermentation is all native yeast and bacteria, with an organic EC1118 yeast used for the second fermentation for the fizz. We tried a couple of samples of the same base wine for 2015 Pinot Noir, one aged in oak and the other in eggs. I had a preference for the egg, but both were lovely samples.

David picks the grapes purely by flavour, and doesnít do any analysis until he has to. Heís looking for phenolic ripeness, and this can be achieved without losing acidity.

 

THE WINES

Ancre Hill Estates Blanc de Blancs 2010 Monmouth, Wales
Zero dosage. 5 years on lees, disgorged last week. Fine citrus nose is really linear with citrus, pear and subtle hazelnut characters. Lovely pithy notes, too. Real finesse and balance with well integrated acidity. 91/100

Ancre Hill Estates Blanc de Blancs 2012 Monmouth, Wales
This is a long way from being ready and was hand disgorged for this tasting. It was a difficult vintage resulting in a small harvest, but the analyses were pretty good. Very reductive and mineral at the moment, but should pull through and be an interesting, fine wine.

Ancre Hill Estates Blanc de Blancs 2013 Monmouth, Wales
The first vintage David made, this was bottled after 2 years this February, so itís just a baby. But it is showing lovely potential. Creamy with a distinctive oily grapefruit character and some nuts. Really distinctive with lovely fruit. 90-92/100

Ancre Hill Estates Sparkling Rosť 2011 Monmouth, Wales
Disgorged 3 weeks ago, this has 7.5 g/l dosage. Itís 2/3 Pinot and 1/3 Chardonnay. Fine floral aromatic cherry fruit nose with strawberries and cherries, as well as a hint of sweetness. Lovely fruit here. 90/100

Ancre Hill Estates Chardonnay 2014 Monmouth, Wales
Very fine and expressive with citrus, pear and ripe apple. Lovely precision and good acidity with some lemony brightness. 91/100

Ancre Hill Estates Rosť 2014 Monmouth, Wales
90% Pinot Noir, with Chardonnay and Triomphe the balance. This is hard pressings from the sparkling. Very pale colour. Textural and fine with real class. Subtle sappiness and a lovely mineral core. Very stylish. 91/100

Ancre Hill Estates Pinot Noir 2013 Monmouth, Wales
Half carbonic and all new oak. Herbs, spice and cedar with elegant red cherry fruit. Such finesse and focus here with fine spiciness. Maybe just a touch too much spicy oak? 88/100

Ancre Hill Estates Pinot Noir 2014 Monmouth, Wales
Supple and expressive with fine herbal notes. Real finesse to the red cherries: so pretty and floral with a hint of matchstick on the palate. Stylish but needs a bit more time to resolve. 89/100

Ancre Hill Estates Triomphe 2013 Monmouth, Wales
Lively and zippy with some spice. Very pure with some grip, and fresh with some CO2 in the wine still. Very drinkable style. 88/100

Ancre Hill Estates Triomphe 2014 Monmouth, Wales
100% carbonic maceration. Really powerful and intense with high lemony acidity under the vivid berry fruits. Really intense stuff. 87/100

Ancre Hill Estates AlbariŮo 2014 Monmouth, Wales
50 days maceration on skins. Cloudy yellow colour. Floral aromatics. pear, peach and nectarine fruit. Bright and pithy with high acidity. A really interesting, brave wine that needs food. 89/100

See also:

A video introduction to English sparkling wine
The wines of Hambledon, England
Blog posts on English sparkling wine

 

Wines tasted 08/16 
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