Nyetimber Estate - Part Two
If Eric Heerema’s first pivotal role was purchasing Nyetimber estate, his second was appointing Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix as winemakers. This Canadian couple met as students when they were both studying Biochemistry. After discovering a professional interest in the science of wine, they gained their Masters at the Wine Research Centre in Vancouver before heading to Adelaide University to study Oenology, (the study of winemaking). They gained valuable experience and learnt different winemaking styles by doing harvests in Australia, New Zealand, Oregon, France and Canada.
The aim was to return to Canada to continue their winemaking careers, but a chance tasting of a bottle of Nyetimber was to change everything. Cherie’s parents regularly travelled to the UK and on one such occasion returned with a bottle of Nyetimber as a gift. Once Cherie and Brad had tasted the wine, they realised the exciting potential of making wine in England and contacted Eric. After several fundamental telephone conversations, Cherie and Brad moved to West Sussex in 2007 and have been Nyetimber’s winemakers ever since.
Cherie and Brad have instigated numerous adaptations and changes over the years to continuously drive Nyetimber’s quality higher and higher. For instance, when they arrived, they inherited 2006’s base wines, (the still wine produced before the secondary fermentation). Up until this point, Nyetimber’s wines had rarely been put through malolactic fermentation, (MLF) which converts the appley malic acid into creamy lactic acid and softens the style of the finished wine. Noting that England’s climate naturally creates high acidity levels in the grapes, it was decided that malolactic fermentation was requisite. Since 2008 all of Nyetimber’s wines have gone through MLF.
Nyetimber are the largest producer in the UK to make all of their wine from estate-grown fruit. The nine sites are managed by Viticulturalist, Ben Kantsler who has helped to improve the conditions of the vineyards as much as Cherie and Brad have made improvements in the winery. With a more holistic approach to viticulture, Ben has introduced the use of cover crops which grow between the vine rows and aid soil health. He has reduced the amount of synthetic chemicals used and established relationships with local farmers to allow their sheep to graze in the vineyards in the winter. The nibbling sheep keep the grass short, negating the need for mowing with a tractor which not only saves time and money, but avoids extra compaction of the soil.
All of the vines are tended to, pruned and harvested by hand. This is necessary in England, but by owning all of their vineyards, Nyetimber are able to monitor every vine closely which enables Ben to tailor techniques to each individual block and establish long-term growing plans.
The benefits of identifying distinct blocks of vines transfers into the winery where Cherie can analyse specific blocks, rows and sites separately. Every parcel of vines is harvested on its own and fermented in its own tank. Each harvest, Cherie can have up to 100 different wines fermenting… This affords her immense flexibility and creativity when it comes to determining the blends required for each wine. As well as focusing on science, Cherie studied Classical Music. Music interweaves with the science of winemaking as notes can be used as an analogy for the intricate, delicate flavours which must flow together to create a harmonious melody of taste. The blending process is exceptionally complex.
The relationship between vineyard and winery teams is paramount. This was evident in 2012 which was an incredibly poor vintage. The persistent wet weather was far from favourable for growing grapes. For this reason, Cherie, Brad and Eric made the difficult decision of not making any wine. Contrary to opinions voiced at the time, the grapes weren’t diseased, the vineyard wasn’t poorly managed, it was simply a situation were the quality of the fruit was not up to the high standards Nyetimber is known for and prides itself on.
This leads us to another technique Cherie and Brad introduced when they arrived in 2007. The majority of English wine producers currently released vintage-specific wines, e.g. a wine from 2007, the next from 2008 and so on. Cherie and Brad began keeping up to 30% of base wine back each year as “reserve wine”. This reserve wine can be used to add depth of flavour and structure to a wine whilst creating a non-vintage product that can be developed in line with a consistent flavour profile. The team at Nyetimber have taken this concept one step further and since 2011 their Classic Cuvée has been produced as a “multi-vintage” wine. This means reserve wines from several different years are blended with the current vintage. Typically, there are three vintages blended together with the reserve wines making up around 30% of the total, though this isn’t an exact formula and the percentages will vary each year.
The wonders of advancement don’t cease there. In 2014, Nyetimber were the first brand to announce the bottling, riddling and disgorging dates of each bottle. Riddling is when the bottles are slowly turned and rotated until vertical where the yeast collects in the neck. Disgorging is the process of removing the yeast. By knowing these vital dates, you can calculate exactly how old the wine is, how long it spent in contact with its yeast lees and how long it had to rest after disgorging. All of these factors affect the flavour of sparkling wine. It is fantastic to see Nyetimber leading the industry by declaring this information for the general public. The more we all learn about the processes and techniques behind the bottle, the more engaged we can become with a brand.
Nyetimber’s wines certainly raise their voices in celebration. Cherie, Brad and Eric’s continuous striving for perfection, and ability to acknowledge where improvements and adaptations are required, creates wines of outstanding quality which are proudly served across the country. Her Majesty the Queen served Nyetimber at Buckingham Palace for her Golden Jubilee and it has been regularly served to visiting dignitaries at Downing Street. The Ritz, Harvey Nichols and Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant Maze all include Nyetimber on their wine lists.
In 2018, Cherie was awarded the International Wine Challenge, (IWC) Sparkling Winemaker of the Year trophy – an accolade which has never before been presented to a woman or to anyone outside of Champagne. It is brilliant to see her knowledge and expertise so rightly recognised, leading the way for both women and the English wine industry.
This prestigious estate has come a long way since it was first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The establishment of the vineyards and the exquisite wine produced has elevated Nyetimber’s story once more. With Nyetimber’s everlasting attention to quality, this is a brand we can enjoy for many years to come. We look forward to seeing this pioneer of the English wine industry continue to develop and flourish.