Chilling on Spring Bank Holiday Saturday - with Mike, Hilary and David - the Greyfriars Guys - and (bottom of page) just a few of their fabulous vintage English Sparkling Wines: Fumé, Rosé, Oaked and Unoaked Blanc de Blancs and their Classic Cuvée - served at an informal, alfresco tasting with a treat - a talk in the vineyard from vines manager, David

It's a family affair at Greyfriars Vineyard Open Day tasting and "tour" on 27 May 2017

On a sunny (if slightly bracing) Spring Bank Holiday Saturday afternoon I headed over to Greyfriars Vineyard at Puttenham, near Guildford.  Keen to avoid the queues on the A3 I followed my satnav across country via Farnham but, even though Greyfriars is stored under my "favourites" it still managed to send me on a detour through Puttenham village and nearly across the golf course before I managed to find the back way in. Next time I will follow the directions on the website.

However, it was definitely worth the extra mileage. On my stroll through the budding vines to the covered deck set up as the tasting area I met several happy tasters returning to the car park, all with boxes or bags clinking gently, a sure sign of a successful tasting in progress. So much so that I was worried there mightn't be any left!
I needn't have been concerned. A warm welcome was on offer from Mike and Hilary Wagstaff and all the family and I met several more members of the team than on my previous flying visit in March. After a glass of the 2013 Classic Cuvée and a taste test between the oaked and un-oaked Blanc de Blancs, during which I decided that my preference was for the oaked - I enthusiastically took up the offer of a "tour" from Vineyard manager,  (and Mike's brother-in-law), David Line. David's tours have in the past been of the rock musician variety  but this was a 100m amble from the tasting area to the nearest vines for a masterclass on growing the vines that create Award-winning English Sparkling WInes.

Low Graft or High Graft? The critical difference...

David's vineyard talk was animated and highly informative. There is truly no substitute for learning from someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate about their subject.  David opened with a brief history of the vineyard. The oldest Chardonnay vines are from 1989 and, since Mike took over in 2010, planting 10000 vines per year, Greyfriars now has 80,000 vines on three sites in the picturesque Surrey Hills and is aiming to produce 100,000 bottles annually by 2020. 

Our guide then proceeded to explain how the vines were ordered in from a nursery in Germany, grafted onto US rootstock that is resistant to Phylloxera. Low graft is less expensive but high graft is easier to manage and involve less bending at harvest time! Greyfriars is one of the few uk Vineyards using high graft vines. Greyfriars plants "Single gear" vines which flower and fruit on only one side of the vertical shaft. This produces less fruit but increases ripeness.

Spring came three weeks early in 2017, but an air frost in late April/early May wiped out about 10% of this year's crop. It could have been even worse but heroic efforts were made to minimise the impact of the frost. Other local Vineyards were even worse hit. Greyfriars was "3 leaves unfurled" when the temperature at Shere went from +3 Celsius to -1 at 3am overnight.

The team caring for the vines is far smaller than I expected; just David and his assistant vineyard manager, initially laying canes and pruning. Teams of 25 arrive for the harvest which takes 10 days. David explained that the yield changes year on year. Last year the Sauvignon Blanc yield was really high but generally Chardonnay is most consistent. David describes himself as OCD about keeping the vines healthy; following the recent heat and thunderstorms he is on the lookout for downy mildew. Currently the established vines are doing really well in this weeks heat. "But you don't want a drought in the first year of planting" so the new vines are under careful scrutiny.

My favourite "factoids" of the day... plus my shopping list

Three factoids I discovered from my discussion with David, which continued after the official talk was over: -
1. A Fractometer is used to determine the amount of sugar in the grapes (I've always wondered...)
2. A Chardonnay mellows the longer it is in the bottle.
3. Mike imported Pinot Noir grapes specifically to learn how to make red wine.
On my return to the tasting table, whilst sampling the Rosé Reserve, I discovered tha the new Cave and winery have just been completed and the next tasting event and tour will take place there, following which regular events will be held. Many are already sold out for 2017 so don't miss the open days - more details online.
And as for my shopping list: well, the other guests hadn't left a lot for me to choose from - the rare Sparkling Fumé Sauvignon Blanc had sold out - but I snagged the last bottle of the 2013 Classic Cuvée and the last two bottles of my favourite still Pinot Gris. So at least I have an excuse to return to stock up - as if an excuse were needed!
Greyfriars Vineyard,
The Hog’s Back,
GU3 1AG.
Telephone: 01483 813 712
Twitter: @greyfriarsvine
See website for details of tastings and tours and tasting notes for the wonderful wines!