Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Inspiring Away Day

Guest Blog – Enham Trust

Managers from the prestigious Vineyard and Donnington Valley hotels had an inspiring day visiting the disability charity Enham Trust last month.

Thirty four senior managers were invited to the Trust, which is based south of Highclere, as part of the company’s social responsibility programme.

They volunteered to do some redecorating, and spruced up interior corridors at the Trust’s residential care homes.

They also had a chance to meet Enham’s disabled residents at a BBQ and were bowled over by the positive vibe and the high levels of independence amongst the residents, who live with a number of different physical and learning disabilities.

“Everyone was impressed with the work being done at Enham,” said Emma Jenkins, The Vineyard’s HR Director. “We learned so much and want to be involved with the charity in the future.  Our next project there may be joining forces with their gardening activities.”

“Most people are not born with a disability. It could be any one of us who has an accident or an illness which leaves us unable to manage. Enham Trust is there to help disabled people manage every aspect of their lives,” said Vicky Hamlen, The Trust’s Corporate Fundraiser. “Support from companies like The Vineyard Group is so important, and we really value their time and interest.”

Many of the charity’s clients, whose ages span 18 to 90, come from West Berkshire. The Trust offers a wide range of living, care, employment and community support to give disabled people choice in how they live their lives, and the ability to achieve high levels of independence.

Cathy Alexander
Enham Trust

Chardonnay and the Quality Divide


“Chardonnay, chardonnay how I love you Chardonnay As I reach to hold you with my trembling hands

In my hands my trembling hands Chardonnay,
Chardonnay you’ll be glad to hear me say
I will never need you more than I do now
In my hands my trembling hands

When I’m sad sad and blue
You are my friend constant and true
I dedicate this line to you
And I would like to take you home with me

Chardonnay, Chardonnay I’m in love with your bouquet
You’re so cold but you so beautiful tonight
In my hands my trembling hands”

“Chardonnay” Written by Cook/Cornwell and performed by Cerys Matthews. Re-discovered by James Hocking

It’s the world’s most popular white wine, it’s planted and successfully cultivated everywhere, it produces some of the most sublime nectars ever created (Think DRC Le Montrachet, Marcassin Vineyard!), yet still seems to have such a stigma surrounding it in certain markets. Why?

Well the answer is quite simple. Oak. In it’s freshest form, the Chardonnay grape can be described as a citrus, tropical, refreshing style, with bags of natural acidity. Think about two key wines made with Chardonnay – Champagne and Chablis. Both relying on their delicate, crisp notes. Poles apart sit the Grand Cru’s of Burgundy and their new world counterparts from California, Australia, and California (see where this one’s going!), with ripe fruit, allied to the delicate vanilla, woodsmoke and subtle nuances that new French oak bring, albeit at a price. So here we have two styles made from the same grape and both very individual.

Now we come to the reason as to why Chardonnay is reviled by many. Most of the varietal that we see on the shelves in the supermarkets is made from fruit of a poorer quality level in the first place. Well, that’s OK in the purest form as at least the wine will have acidity and depth of flavour. Then, the juice is placed in a tank and filled with sawdust chips of oak. A cheap, efficient way to oak wine without costly barrels. The result is a sweet, low-acid, sticky wine with aromas of sawdust, tastes of sawdust and a long, lingering finish of, er, sawdust. No wonder we’re all put off!

So, what can you do? Well personally I would avoid the cheapest (sub 5-quid) bottles, especially from the new world, trade up to around £8.00 or more, and rediscover village Chablis. As a VERY general rule, spend a tenner or more and the wine has seen a proper oak barrel. And so it should!

The two wines pictured both fall into the ultra-high end, French-oaked category. Moone Tsai is from the Charles Heintz winery, Sonoma Coast and Talley is from much further south. Both are currently in stock and both are in my opinion amazing.

Happy drinking!

James Hocking
Director of Wine

Vineyard Prep



At our Oakville property, we’re preparing the soil for additional vineyard plantings.  The famed red dirt is strewn with boulders and, as a result, this project is no easy task.  The properly selected vine will struggle, yet yield beautiful wine, in this rocky terroir.

We look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor!

My two top pink wines this season

A great blog from The Vineyard Cellars. Get the run down and taste wide range of rosé wines from all around the world by joining the rosé wine school on Wednesday 19th June with James Hocking and Alan Holmes, our wine and restaurant director – just £30 per person. Call us on 01635 528770 to book.


My two top pink wines this season

Rosé has arrived in the Hocking household what with all that lovely sunshine at the moment (sure to change, of course), and I’ve found a couple of stunners that we’ll be drinking quite a bit of this year. Of course, dry, Provençal pink wines will always be in fashion, as will Sancerre Rosé and quite right too – they are lovely…however, these two are a little different from the norm but merit further investigation.

Denis Malbec, former winemaker at Château Latour and since 2000 with his Swedish wife May-Britt vintner in Napa Valley, started to make wines under the Alienor label in 2005. Their red cuvée is a very good and highly recommended interpretation of red Bordeaux, and since based on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it’s more towards the St Emilion style than the Médoc. However, it’s their micro-production 2009 La Roseraie that we are drinking at the moment.

This rosé, the second vintage, is made with the saignée method by bleeding of the juice of equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and only two percent of Petit Verdot) after just a few hours of maceration from the fermentation of their 2009 Alienor Grand Vin. Again, grapes are sourced from vineyards in Lake County. The pink coloured juice was fermented in neutral French oak barrels with commercial yeast and then kept in the oak for around one year, and during the ageing there was some bâtonnage. It’s a very classic rosé, pale pink in a typical French style, and the nose is quite elegant but also a bit closed.

Moving next to Wind Gap Wines and their extraordinary Pinot Gris from the Windsor Oaks Vineyard in Chalk Hill. Pax Mahle is the winemaker and owner of this project and we’ve known him a long time. Put simply, his wines are absolutely stunning. His 1936 American Wine Company building is hidden in the backstreets of Forestville. Friendly dogs wander through the cellar, while the crew works down a list of crush preparation. Wind Gap Wines are made using comparably traditional methods: no added yeasts, and red grapes are trod underfoot with the aid of beer and a modern sound system.

The orange-pink Pinot Gris is a nominally white wine fermented on its skins. With aromas of apricot, mango and a hint of cherry, this cool, clean wine floats rosé-like strawberry, watermelon flavors on a watery, Pinot Gris palate and finishes with satisfying astringency, a vibrant and food-friendly wine that may win accolades for the daring dinner host. You’ll have it if you come to my house!

Have fun trying…


Director of wine



The Napa Valley


This will be a difficult one! Compiling a small blog piece about one of the world’s most lauded viticultural areas, producing a consistent array of compelling wines that either age gracefully for decades, or provide immediate enjoyment. So, I think for this time, we’ll concentrate on facts and figures…

Fly in to San Francisco airport, head north through the city over the Bay Bridge (Golden Gate if you want but it’ll take you longer ), drive for around 1 hour and you’ll find yourself in Napa County. Napa Valley itself is totally formed by volcanic activity. It’s roughly 25 miles running north-south, and 3 miles east-west. The valley floor is flanked by the two mountain ranges of the Mayacamas and the Vaca, with vineyards heading up in the hills on either side. There are over 400 wineries in this relatively tiny piece of land, but only produce about 4% of California’s wine. This however is the 4% of extreme quality. You will not find Blossom Hill or another one that I can’t name for fear of legal reprisal (!!) anywhere near this spot.

Cabernet Sauvignon rules here, but Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and others are also successfully cultivated. However its the Bordeaux Blend-style wines that really work. Any uber-sexy bottles that I’ve preached about before – Dalla Valle, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow etc are all here, nestling alongside famous vineyards such as To-Kalon, Inglenook, and Backus. Don’t forget the well-established icons of Heitz, Schramsberg, and Freemark Abbey also. The visitor will see that almost every piece of land is taken over by grape-farming on a impressive scale.

I’ve skipped around here and will cover some individual regions within the valley in more depth, however when you visit the valley and drive either Highway 29 or Silverado Trail that run through this hallowed ground, you will love it. Oh, and make time to stop at Joel Gott’s Roadside Diner in St.Helena whilst you are there. The best burger in Napa and have a glass of the local brew whilst there…



James Hocking
Director of Wine

Wine Terms: Sulfur


Sulfur has been used in wine making since Roman times. Yet, today its role in wine growing and making is often misunderstood.   Small amounts of sulfur are, in fact, essential for vine nutrition and for the stability of finished wines.

In the vineyard, sulfur is used to control molds and fungi, such as powdery mildew.  For this purpose sulfur compounds sprayed on the vines periodically.   As a vine nutrient, soils are rarely sulfur deficient so it is not routinely added as a nutrient.

In the winery, sulfur is used for its antimicrobial properties and as wine preservative that naturally protects the wine from oxidation.  The small amounts of sulfur compounds present in finished wines have no effect on the wine drinking experience except in the rare case of the drinker being truly allergic.  In point of fact, modern winemakers use far less sulfur than was common even a couple of decades ago.

A Day of Loving! Thoughts on Valentine’s Day


A Day of Loving! Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

OK, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t actually like Valentine’s Day. I don’t like the commercialism, the tacky (and potentially fire-hazardous) cuddly toys, or the restaurants that charge double the price for a table ‘cos it comes with a plastic red rose. Humbug…humbug I say…

However, do as I say, not as I do, and to avoid a spell at your local A&E department, it’s probably a good idea to make an effort. Here follows a few ideas on smart bottles that really go beyond mainstream pink stuff and show that you care…or at least like a decent glass of wine.

Champagne should be in the mix somewhere and we use Taittinger here as the quality has always been consistent and erring towards the fuller-bodied style. Their Rosé is fantastic, loaded with all that strawberry/brioche character, and has beautiful length. Pink bubbles are a reliable, if not a safe choice, but this one will make sure you get a really decent glass. Doubtless, you’ll be having a few Oysters as a starter (Helford Natives worked for Mrs Hocking), so bring out the Chablis. Raveneau or Dauvissat are the best producers – more body and elegance. Main course? Well protein man here suggests beef, but that could well be because of all those top-flight Californian Cabernets that work as an amazing match. This year, Moone-Tsai Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon will be the bottle. New to us and loaded with a core of ripe fruit, vanilla, cedar and just a hint of cigar box. Sensational.

Dessert gives you the chance to clean up with something chocolate to “seal the deal”. Not the easiest thing to match with wine but I’ve got a plan. Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles make half bottles of a wine called Obtuse. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon that’s been late-harvested and has a great deal more residual sweetness than normal red wine. It’s slightly lighter than Port and is just beautiful with chocolate or cream desserts. The other bonus is that it’s a tenner for a half bottle and you can buy it from your favourite (and only!) Californian wine merchant.

One last thing. Don’t forget the card and present. Experience dictates that it’s the kind of thing you only ever forget once…


Third Annual Wine Festival

A round up of last weeks wine festival. A fantastic event we hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did!


The Third Annual Wine Festival – Positive Post Mortem!

The bottles have been consumed, the glasses washed and returned, and many satisfied customers are now awaiting their purchases to be delivered. I guess from any angle, the wine festival can be adjudged a success…

On Saturday 27th October, around 150 guests arrived at The Vineyard to taste their way through upwards of 100 wines. In actuality, the exuberance of the suppliers (myself included) meant that just short of 160 wines were opened. There really was just about every style from every wine producing country represented. Whilst I missed the first hour (presenting an on-air wine tasting to BBC Radio Berkshire’s Henry Kelly a.k.a. “Going For Gold”), the day really came into full swing in the afternoon, with a crowded room of enthusiastic critics. It was a good day.

Difficult to pin down individual successes now I’ve analysed what sold and what didn’t, but the New World probably came out on top in terms of bottles taken home, although France claimed the fizz sales with some great Champagnes being opened. South Africa did well in both red and white, and our organic/biodynamic supplier sold many bottles of unfiltered, unsulphured cloudy stuff which I was delighted about. Sometimes organic wines seem not quite as “polished” as their more sterile counterparts, but the taste sensation is almost always better.

Masterclasses were held throughout the day covering such topics as glassware, dinner party wines and how to taste wine professionally. Yohann was kept busy throughout the day answering anything and everything about wine and Daniel produced really quite stunning charcuterie and cheese plates.

Finally, as a true testament to the spirit of the day and the ardent will of our guests, the spittoons remained largely unused…

It was fun. We’ll do it again in 2013. See you there

James Hocking

Director of Wine
The Vineyard Cellars