An English wine producer is jubilant after his vineyards have yielded a crop of botrytised Chardonnay for the first time ever.

Botrytis – noble rot – is a fungus which attacks grapes. The spores suck out the moisture, leaving only a core of very sweet juice in a shrivelled berry. Only perfect conditions – warm, dry autumns with early mists and afternoon sun – produce perfect botrytis. In Sauternes, where the most prized sweet wines in the world are made, individual grapes are hand-picked and sorted. Botrytised grapes give about a twentieth as much juice as a normal ripe grape.

The fungus isn’t uncommon in the South of England – but it is highly unusual in Chardonnay, which often fails to ripen. This year Meopham Valley vineyard in Kent risked leaving the grapes until December, allowing noble rot to do its work. Picking finished last Sunday.

Owner Roy Cook said, ‘It was an enormous gamble. The crucial time was the end of October and beginning of November, when a cold snap would have wiped out the entire harvest.’

Cook enlisted the services of German oenologist Uwe Hoffman – an expert in trockenbeerenauslese – who has advised fermentation in French oak and bottling in the spring. It will go on sale in December 2002 for around £20 (US$28) the half-bottle.

Meopham Valley Vineyard produces dry, sweet and rosé wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Reichensteiner and other varieties grown on predominantly loam over limestone soil.

Picture: St Mildreds parish church, Meopham, 13th Century. Courtesy Meopham Parish website

Written by Adam Lechmere6 December 2001