English winery Chapel Down is producing what it believes is the country's first skin contact white wine.

Bacchus grapes from the ‘excellent’ 2014 vintage were destemmed and crushed with no sulphur dioxide, no enzymes, no fining and no cultured yeast, Chapel Down winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire told Decanter.com.

The English wine was fermented using wild yeast on skins for seven days, before the free run was put into seven-year-old barrels, where it will remain for nine months until July of this year. The winery has made about 1,000 litres.

‘Our fruit quality in 2014 was excellent, there was zero rot, so I thought I’d give it a go. To my knowledge the skin contact Bacchus is the first in England,’ said Donaghay-Spire.

Sulphur dioxide was added after fermentation so the as-yet-unnamed wine will not oxidise – a process which results in some ‘orange wines’.

‘So many skin contact wines have great potential but are ruined by oxidation,’ Donaghay-Spire said.

Neither will it be a “natural wine”. There is no official definition of what constitutes a natural wine, but one of the accepted criteria is that the estate should be organic, which Chapel Down is not.

It’s unlikely Donaghay-Spire will be making this style every year. ‘It would only work in years with low disease pressure and phenolically ripe fruit. In a difficult year it would be a challenge, and one which I would steer clear of,’ he said.

Kent-based Chapel Down, which sources grapes from 113ha in southern England, produced another wild ferment Bacchus in 2014. ‘It tastes great and is still on gross lees in stainless steel,’ the winemaker said.

He has also been experimenting with different yeasts for Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Chardonnay, which has been made since 2011. ‘I have consistently come back to preferring the wild ferments, so as of 2013 this wine will be all wild.’

This article was updated on 20/02/15 to add that oxidisation is only the source of ‘some’ orange wines.

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Written by Adam Lechmere

  • Oxidisation is not the source of any “orange wine”. Orange wines get their colour and stylistic character from the skin maceration, pure and simple. Traditionally this style of wine would be made using an open-top fermenter, but then closed up after fermentation and protected from oxidation.

    Oxidation in these styles of wine is accidental and not desirable. Sherry-like flavours are not the aim.