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INTERVIEW WITH TILLINGHAM HEAD OF WINE, TIERNEY BEAMES

For a deeper dive on the new 2023 Vintage Launch, Read the Interview with Head of Wine Tierney Beames;

We’re excited about the launch of our 2023 vintage this month. Can you tell us what makes this vintage special? 

A new winemaker is always an exciting moment. It’s a chance to reset, while respecting the foundations of what came before. 2023 also marked the tipping point of our vineyards maturing. A vine produces a little more fruit each year, up until it matures at around 8 years old. We’ve always supplemented the estate fruit with fruit bought in from other English growers. We did buy some in 2023, but it was the first time we had a majority of our own – 50 tonnes from Tillingham and 20 bought in. It’s at the mercy of the seasons, but I hope in 2024 it will all be estate fruit.

What were some of the unique challenges and highlights you experienced during the production of the 2023 vintage? 

2023 was an unusual year weather wise. Perfect conditions through May and June meant pollination was very successful and then rain through July and August meant heavy fruit set. This backwards summer led to 2023 being the biggest grape harvest ever on record in the UK. We had 35% more fruit to pick than we had forecast so it felt like a very long harvest! It was a relief once we’d made it through.

Tillingham is known for its diverse range of natural wines. How do you decide which varieties to produce each year? 

There are 21 varieties planted across the site, which is a much broader palate to work from than most vineyards in the UK. Probably the world really! Mas de Daumas Gassac are probably level pegging… Whilst a bit of a puzzle, it does give us a lot of options. Aromatic varieties for our white blend, classic varieties that can adapt with the vintage to go into still or sparkling, white, rosé or red. We go into harvest with a plan, but it’s really about letting the fruit lead the way based on taste and ripeness. 

Are there any new or experimental wines you are particularly excited about?

We have one Qvevri wine from the 2023 vintage that is lovely. It’s an Ortega with no skin contact, so you really get a sense of the effect of the clay on the wine. Some of the same juice went into steel, and through fermentation we were regularly tasting the vessels. They ended up as two vastly different wines, the only difference being the fermentation vessel, which was really cool to see. 2023 was also the first year we took a sizable harvest of Gamay and Pineau d’Aunis from our vineyards, some of which went into a wine called R which I’m a big fan of. I’m excited to see how those varieties perform this year.

What should visitors expect when they come for a wine tasting at Tillingham? Are there any particular wines or experiences you recommend?

Try something you haven’t had before and ask questions about why it is the way it is. We’ll have some interesting skin contact (orange/amber) wines coming out in the coming months which are great to try if you aren’t familiar. Our wine tours are fairly relaxed, but the most informative way to learn about the farm and get stuck into the wines.

Can you share some tips for those new to natural wines on how to best appreciate their unique characteristics? Natural wine should be a method and not a style so they come in many different guises. You might be used to wine being sparkly clear – what’s in your glass might be cloudy, but is it delicious? It’s about being open minded, but led by your senses. Taste as much as possible. If you find something you like (or don’t!) ask your friendly local wine nerd to recommend something different and you’ll quite quickly start to build your palate. Learn about faults – brett, mouse, VA – so you can pick out a well made natural wine.

Where do you draw your inspiration from in your wine making? Are there any winemakers, regions, or practices that particularly influence your work? 

I love wines that are understated, yet have complexity. I’m not generally a fan of bombastic flavours in wine. It may be a bit of a wine cliché, but the Loire Valley was a good jumping off point – Catherine & Pierre Breton come to mind… Stoic in producing solid natural wines. I love alpine wines – the Savoie. Wines with a story, and importance in cultural history. The lengths people go to keep making it. Whilst perhaps not particularly trendy, a bottle of 2003 Chateau Musar from Lebanon captured my imagination early on.

What has been the most rewarding part of your role as Head of Wine at Tillingham Winery?

Seeing the wines labelled and heading out into the wild. So so much goes on behind the scenes to get to that point that it’s great to see people enjoying the wines when they’re finally released.

In your opinion, what makes Tillingham Winery’s wines unique and special? 

There is experimentation in our DNA. Our focus has been on still wines, not sparkling, which makes us an outlier in the UK wine industry. When you’re in a sometimes challenging climate (for growing grapes) such as in England, that forces innovation when choosing your styles outside of traditional method sparkling. Having an open mind is surprisingly rare in the world of wine.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the winery, the wines, or your role that our readers would find interesting? We get asked a lot about our labels! They are designed by Kellenberger-White and I think really nicely frame the aesthetic of Tillingham and our approach to the wines. 

What makes Tillingham, Tillingham?

Whilst the wine is the starting point for everything we do, when you visit Tillingham it’s about more than that. Having access to nature and being in a beautiful setting.

To find out more about the Tillingham wine making process, why not book a Tour & Tasting with us? Bookings here

 

JUNE 2024

To celebrate English Wine Week this month and the launch of our 2023 Vintage, we have introduced two wine flights on the bar this month for our guests to enjoy:

Tillingham Still Wine Flight

Endgrain 2023
Elderflower, lime and fresh gooseberry fruit aromatics on the nose, reflected on the palate with a mouth watering
linear acidity. Crisp & dry. 45% Bacchus, 26% Auxerrois, 12% Ortega, 12% Siegerebbe, 5% Schönburger. All varieties
were whole bunch pressed, with the Bacchus being pressed over the Siegerebbe and Schönburger skins, before all
fermenting separately in stainless steel.

 

Rosé 2023
A bright and refreshing rosé. English hedgerow flowers and summer fruit fromage frais. A long and elegant finish,
this wine is calling out for those sunnier days. When we get them… 97% Pinot Noir, 3% Bacchus. Pinot Noir from our
Saw Pit and Phipps vineyards. 40% press juice to enhance the aromatics and 60% cuvée for freshness. The Bacchus
was whole bunch pressed. All were spontaneous fermentations in stainless steel.

R 2023
Vivid juicy berry fruit aromatics and a herbaceous edge, typical of a whole bunch fermentation. Light peppery
tannins that encourage another sip, this wine lends itself well to being served with a slight chill. 71% Regent, 16%
Gamay/Pineau d’Aunis, 13% Dornfelder. Carbonic maceration Regent in concrete. The Dornfelder was part whole
bunch, part crushed and destemmed. The Gamay and Pineau d’Aunis were crushed and destemmed and co-fermented
on skins for a week before being pressed to concrete. Blended and bottled after 5 months.

Tillingham Sparkling Wine-Flight

Traditional Method 2018 – from Magnum
Pale gold in appearance. Brioche and melon on the nose. Gentle perlage leads into a generous, round palate, with a
saline, fresh citrus character. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were whole bunch pressed, 20% of which was fermented
and aged in old oak barrels and the rest fermented and aged in stainless steel. Blended and bottled in July 2019
with an addition of 20g/l of sugar and champagne yeast. Disgorged on 9 February 2020 with zero dosage.

Col’22
Col is short for Col Fondo, the Italian term which describes the ancestral method of re-fermentation in the bottle
without disgorgement. This wine is a blend of 48% Auxerrois and 52% Serval Blanc that were whole bunch pressed
and fermented in stainless steel tank. Fermented to dryness then aged on gross lees for eight months before
bottling with a small amount of sugar to re-ferment in bottle. Hazy, pale green gold in appearance. Salty lemon and
floral green apple aromas lead to a zippy palate. Bright and slightly creamy with good length and grip.

One Hundred 2022
Rose gold in appearance, with aromas of magnolia and baked quince. Gentle bubbles and balanced acidity elevate the
palate, which has hints of apple and citrus zest. Pinot Noir rosé from stainless steel tank was blended with fresh
organic apple juice and re-fermented in bottle.

In these months of condensed days, when things grow slowly, if at all, considered productivity can be afforded: steady days to restore order following hasty, high-season movements and to put ourselves in good stead for more of the same. Remnants of summer cleared, soil fed, beds, paths and schedules prepared ahead of welcoming post-6pm sunlight, warmed soils and the demands of sow, weed, harvest, weed, repeat: plans on paper delivered as crates of veg and flowers to the restaurant and bar.
It’s quiet now but still we harvest kales, autumn planted salads and roots extracted from iced soil, soft sunlight lingering on our historic brick boundary.
With a few more lessons in our pockets from the year behind us, our space is redesigned, crop plan streamlined and more hands assigned. Over the cold months the soil has been nourished with cover crops, manure, garden/kitchen and woodchip composts. Thanks to a local tree-surgeon, mounds of wood chips are aging around the farm: a propagation and broadscale compost in the making. Our general compost is made from kitchen veg scraps, balanced with cardboard from emptied wine boxes, straw and wool from the grazers of our currently dormant vineyards. Wool is also an excellent mulch. Water retaining. To be stockpiled should last year’s rain deprived situation repeat itself.
Reset and plans sealed, it will be just a week or two before we begin sowing the first seeds of the Tillingham Walled fourth season.
Words & image by our Head Gardener, Becca Davidson

Vintage Report 2022

The year got off to an early start with buds swelling in late March, with Chardonnay bursting bud by 3rd of April. Frosts were mercifully light in number and severity. Flowering went smoothly, a stuttering start but finished well: very early flowering varieties suffered a little with uneven pollination due to some showers and colder days, but on the whole flowering weather was favourable. The vintage was defined however by unprecedented drought, through June, July and August there was very little rain and looking at the bunches when we came to harvest, in areas where there was less topsoil, we saw some bunches aborting or not filling out at all. Based on comparative bunch weights from good blocks our bunch weights were 30% down. Areas where there was drought stress also coincided with some disease incidence, with some small, isolated outbreaks of powdery mildew. Heartbreakingly just before harvest, there were some significant losses of Ortega to birds, wasps and badgers, one theory I have heard is that this could be a symptom perhaps of vines in stress producing more simple (and moreish) sugars.

Overall I have been really excited to see the quality of the varieties across the 6 blocks of vineyards we have here. An exciting window into what lies ahead here at Tillingham. Bear in mind that in our previous two vintages we have only had enough fruit to make field blends, never enough of one variety to vinify it on its own. Our production this year was 20 tonnes, and plenty of volume of our major varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, so plenty of red and white and rosé from those three. Also the first time we have seen meaningful amounts of more experimental grapes such as Gamay and Pineau d’Aunis. Initial indications are very positive.

We bought in another 35 tonnes, largely from our main growers in Essex and Suffolk. Quality here was very high, some of the Essex fruit was significantly lighter than anticipated, again due to drought stress. While in Suffolk the yields were only slightly below what was expected.

As with 2020, the lower acidity across the board has meant that traditional method sparkling will represent only 7% of production. Interestingly, a lot more red wine than we’ve ever made before, with around seven wines in total. Skin contact whites have been less of a feature this year due to, a lack of availability of suitable grapes and my own personal taste changing, meaning we will be making more delicate and pristine whites. Looking at what we have in tank, barrel and qvevri etc, its  looking like there’s a good 20 individual wines to come, among them nine originating from our own soils.

I’ll sign off with a thank you to all of those here amongst our ranks that have helped throughout the year and to all those who support us and continue to make it all possible. You know who you are.

BW 02.11.2022

Regenerative Farming at Tillingham 15.06.2022

Over the last five years of farming at Dew Farm, there has been much to learn, about our farm and how best to farm it. Regeneration // regenerative agriculture, which is gaining more and more traction, best describes our journey and how we will continue to farm. This blog entry aims to outline the main principles of regenerative agriculture and how this is put into practice here. The overall approach to farming, winemaking, and other aspects of the business are best described as holistic, this refers not just to practices and procedures but to how synergies can be built across different facets of the company to maximise efficiency, minimise waste, and reduce the volume of materials, packaging, and other items that could otherwise be produced here on the farm or avoided altogether.

 

The principles of Regen Ag

Regenerative agriculture is a way of farming that acknowledges the need to rejuvenate and restore the soil and wider farmed environment. Regenerative agriculture is a response to the damage caused by industrial farming with its reliance upon chemical inputs and the depletion of our soils and biodiversity which are a direct result of this approach, with its wider environmental impacts.

Some of the key elements of Regen ag are as follows:

  • Conservation
  • Building topsoil and a healthy living soil
  • Increasing Biodiversity
  • Integrating livestock
  • Use of cover crops
  • Promoting nutrient cycling
  • Improving water retention
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Building soil organic matter
  • Avoiding cultivation & herbicides (no bare soil)
  • Reducing farm input costs

The fundamental motivations for Regen Ag

The goal of regen is to restore the soil to a living healthy state, by this we mean a soil where the biology is intact and alive and has a good structure, which is aerated and permeable: with the ability to absorb and retain water. Healthy soil is a prerequisite of the soil food web performing its role of cycling nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and storing carbon. Plants rely upon myriad and often reciprocal relationships with microbial life to uptake nutrients from the soil. In addition to providing essential and complex nutrition, the role of soil biology in the operation of the plant’s immune system cannot be underestimated. The counter to this is a soil that is repeatedly cultivated and treated with herbicides, the soil biology, and soil organic matter are disturbed and impoverished, as a result, a plant is more reliant on chemical fertilisers and sprays for its nutrition and to prevent or cure diseases. This is a route of diminishing returns and an inevitable decline in the health of the whole farm system and arguably human health. The environmental impact of this approach; releasing carbon, growing chemical toxicity in the soil, reduced biodiversity, decreased resilience to climate events, soil erosion, and chemical residues in food, are just some of the main reasons we need to radically alter our way of farming.

Regen is not just about the soil. The success, viability even, of a farm is about the myriad relationships above the ground too. The more types of plants we have, the greater the diversity of insects, birds, and other animals. Predator-prey dynamics on numerous trophic levels can play an important role in pest control.

Regen will result in a reduction of inputs, the theory being that once the soil is restored and the wider environment is in balance then the vines won’t need us to add these things, it will be there already. Adding nutrition to the soil or throwing it at the vine – when in nature, a plant will take what it needs when it needs it from the soil – is an inherently wasteful approach, especially in a time where the costs of all inputs are soaring dramatically.

The argument that abandoning conventional viticulture in the UK due to increased disease pressure (tricky climate) because it is too risky, is a fundamentally wrong supposition. Regen offers a viable route to a better way of farming. The healthier the soil, the better positioned a plant is to withstand disease pressures. Regen does not mean the stabilisers are off, it means the bike will eventually ride itself, and for sure there may be the odd wobble along the way!

The Regen journey at Tillingham

 

I wish I had known then what I know now! The journey into Regen at Tillingham has been complex, with plenty of mistakes along the way, as well intentioned as they were. The desire to foster soil health and eschew cultivation etc and increase biodiversity was motivated by a combination of gut feel and a basic knowledge of Biodynamics and its benefits, but with scant scientific grounding.

I arrived at Tillingham convinced that through a biodynamic approach with elements of permaculture, agroforestry, and livestock integration we would get somewhere towards healthy soils and better wine. I was mostly unaware of regen 5 years ago and all the incredible research, insightful podcasts and YouTube tutorials that to this day inform what we put into practice here at Tillingham. Taking advice from others has also been key, viticulturalist Luke Spalding and Regen consultant Ben Taylor Davies have both been instrumental in the journey so far.

The beauty of regen, outside of the unavoidable fact that this is the best hope for a viable way of farming for the future, is that it allows and encourages a gentle and sympathetic transition away from the industrial. The cold turkey alternatives of Organic or Biodynamic conversion are off-putting for most, with the potential for crop losses and the risk that brings to what are often already financially perilous farming businesses. Reducing inputs and reaching an end point of good soil health and ecosystem balance will not happen overnight. One must also accept that not all farms are created equally and what we inherit can vary enormously. Another attraction of Regen is that it is science-led and evidence-based, the confidence that this can bring aids in making the move that many of us feel that we must take. Just because there are sound scientific grounds for adopting Regen and a certain flexibility about how we get there doesn’t mean it will always be easy and that some things won’t work. The complexity of environmental systems and the infinite and unfathomably complex relationships that exist in the natural world means that we have much to learn while at the same time accepting that there will be things that we may never know.

We can only try our best, observe and listen.

I thought it would be helpful to run over some of our successes and failures as well as goals for the future here.

The mistakes:

  • Avoiding cultivation and planting vines into a soil that was compacted and with nutritional challenges, delayed the establishment of our wines. Localised or Strip tillage may have been a better route. (2 years of conventional first?)
  • Blanket use of cover crops at planting – this resulted in excess competition and slower establishment of the vines.
  • Better analysis of plant nutrition. Vines will have been better off (less disease) if we had had a better view of the vines’ real-time needs.
  • Vineyard design – alternative to VSP of a high trellis with lower input costs and the ability to integrate sheep year-round
  • Eschewing herbicide and all systemics during establishment // transition

Successes and the future:

  • Compost and rotted wood chip spreading/mulching
  • Johnson-Su compost reactors
  • Cover crops
  • Sap analysis
  • Biodynamic preps (500 & 501) + compost preps
  • Weather monitoring & Moon position as part of disease prediction (science & voodoo)
  • Zero cultivation
  • Direct drilling of cover crops
  • Minimal herbicide use*
  • Alternative spray program (goal of no nasties)
  • Livestock integration (sheep and chickens, (mobile chicken hotel))
  • Better pasture management and mob grazing
  • Reinstating historic field boundaries & crop rotations

*In May 2022 we used an herbicide application Finalsan (Pelargonic acid) with a low rate of glyphosate (2l/ha) and citric acid. This was to knock back grass sward in order to establish new cover crops. After this, we aim to not repeat this and revert to mechanical weed controls: crimping & mowing. A small step back for a giant leap forward in terms of biodiversity. Defra, the Biodynamic Association, and our distribution agents have been informed. Our conversion to BD began again this month.

Regen and Biodynamics

 

In some ways unlikely bedfellows: Regen the science/evidence-based approach vs Biodynamics with its often spiritual leanings. The goal of both schools however is aligned: to build healthy living soils and a holistically managed, balanced system. We will continue to integrate Biodynamic practices into our Regen approach (such as the field sprays BD500, BD501, Nettle tea, Horsetail tea, Dandelion tea, and essential oils as well as using Biodynamic preps in our composting). After 2 years of conversion to BD, we recently had to do a reset due to the one-off use of glyphosate to initiate a cover cropping rotation. Choosing to pursue this rather than cultivation as the lesser of two evils for soil quality and especially fungal networks which are so important to vine health.

Ben Walgate 15.06.2022

A new year: a blank page. After two years many are glad to see behind us, an endemic optimism fills the air.

 

This is a quiet time on the farm, the wines slumber and reluctantly bubble onwards, transforming from opaque, zippy juveniles into adolescents, giving better indication of their potential at maturity. During this time, we turn our energies towards the vineyards. Making measured, painstakingly considered and often frosty steps through the vines. With every cut we are shaping the future forms of not just the vines, but of the fruit that they will proffer forth. After one month of pruning, we are a little over halfway through our task. Not a race, but the end always in sight as the sap will inevitably rise and buds will swell, another vintage to chaperone and nurture. Frost is the first threat looming as spring comes around.

 

As we quietly and patiently make our progress out in the fields, the restaurant and hotel have recently reopened. Our team returned, refreshed and renewed after a welcome break over the holidays, positivity and the warmth of hospitality fill the air. I am pleased to report that the rooms and restaurant are buzzing on the weekends. We are now open six days a week: tranquil Tuesdays through to bustling yet pastoral Sundays. The farm has been flattered in recent days with pinky purple sunrises and the Tillingham valley brimming with icy mist, we look forward to sharing it with you.

 

BW

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