Turning Water into Wine

Turning Water into Wine

Organic Wine Tasting

Friday 11th August


£22 in advance only

(early booking advised)


Much of the talk around climate change and wine has been of increasing temperatures – fine wine strongholds such as Champagne and Bordeaux are producing riper fruit, changing in style (and leaving Champagne houses buying land in cooler climes – not least, England), warm climates becoming too hot for quality wine production (Tyrrell’s in Hunter Valley, Australia, have used a sunblock solution on their vines, as temperatures reached 45°C), and areas too cool for quality wine grapes developing wine industries (Danish wine, anyone?).

Whilst temperature increases alter the character of wines, we can still make wine in warmer climes. We can’t make wine without water. New vineyards in Limari and Elqui, northern Chile, have very low rainfall – as little as 100mm a year. They rely on the snow melt from the Andes for water. But 2014 a 60% decline in mountain snow cover reported, meaning insufficient water for irrigation, and grapes were left to wither on the vines – and vines were left to die.

Water stress is a serious problem in other established wine regions, such as Australia and California. The cost of water for irrigation in Australia has sky rocketed, from $100 a mega litre in 1990 to up to $4,000 today (over ten times the cost of irrigation water in southern Spain), and a lucrative secondary market has emerged for groundwater.

The cost of water is causing many vineyards to explore alternatives – you may see “dry farmed” on the labels of wines from smaller producers in Australia and California. For these, read “unirrigated” – ie., relying on natural rainfall. This will reduce the size of the yield; but from an ecological perspective, it reduces the water footprint of the producer; economically, it reduces their costs; and many critics say it increases the wine’s distinctiveness. Rather than being able to extract all its nutrients from the top soil, the vine roots have to burrow deeper into the subsoil, and form a deeper relationship with that specific site – a core tenet of the idea of ‘terroir’.

But hot, arid climates can leave a wine producer feeling they have little option to irrigate – especially if they see their vines begin to die. Though illegal in the damper climes of northern Europe, irrigation was legalised in Spain in 1996, and in southern France after the droughts of 2003. By way of comparative tasting, we will taste two wines from similar latitudes: a Merlot from Jumilla, Spain, from an irrigated site, and one from Alentejo, Portugal, from a dry-farmed vineyard.

Aside from the irrigation debate, we will also explore the opposite issue – a surfeit of damp, and the difficulties of growing organic grapes in wet climes, with the increased risk of fungal disease. We will also touch on the pioneering water treatment station at Montirius, where waste water from the winery is returned to drinking water standard on site.

Our final aquatic theme is a sweetener – desiccation, or evaporation. A passito wine from the Marche, Italy, will show how reducing the water content of grapes before pressing leads to rich, succulent, concentrated and sweet wines.

We will also run an abbreviated version of this tasting at lunchtime, between noon and 1pm on the same day. This session of Lunchtime Tippling with Tom will feature three wines for £6, allowing you to taste an English white, and to compare the Spanish and Portuguese reds. With lunch available to buy in the cafe afterwards, these sessions are ideal for those who struggle for affordable transport home in the evenings. They are intimate and dialogic affairs, and allow you to taste wine when your palate is cleaner. Reserve your place in the shop or by email.

The Evening’s Wines:

Limney Dry White, Davenport Vineyards 2015

Sussex, England. 11.5% abv. Shop price £15.95

Served with cucumber and dill salad

Merlot, Casa de la Ermita 2016

Jumilla, Spain. 14%. Price TBC

Served with tomato and basil salad

Amoreira da Torre, 2015

Alentejano, Portugal. 14.5%. £9.95

Served with green beans and tahini dressing

Bonarda, Caligiore 2014

Mendoza, Argentina. 14%. £14.70

Served with puréed roasted peppers and walnut dip

Vacqueyras ‘Le Village’, Montirius 2014

Rhône Valley, France. 13%. £14.95

Served with Wensleydale Cheese

Verdicchio Passitio, ‘Curina’, Pievalta 2012

Le Marche, Italy. 12.5%. £17.40 (50cl)

All food organic

Sourced from Folland Organics, row A Norwich Market, & the Greenhouse shop. Bread from Timberhill Bakery.

Menu may vary depending on seasonal availability. Vegan alternatives available on request. PLEASE advise when booking.

Feedback from our recent ‘Values for Money’ tasting:

‘Stimulating, sociable & relaxing’

‘A few surprises & some delightful food combinations’

‘Very enjoyable – educational with a light touch’

Image: Rachel Wright https://about.me/rachel_wright