Some of the wine from the 1997 Harvest at Moorlynch Vineyard was distilled into Brandy.
Making brandy was an exciting new product for us, and we did have some important advantages: the grapes are quite suitable; we are able to call on the services of an excellent established local distillery (the Somerset Cider Brandy Co.); and in the mid 1990’s there were changes in the way Customs and Excise treat the producers of alcoholic drinks which make the whole project more viable.
Making brandy consists of four principal stages, following the methods used in Cognac:
· First one starts by making a base wine. To make the best brandy it is essential to harvest specifically for that purpose. Some people try to turn failed wine into brandy, and this is seldom successful. The type of grape is not too critical, but it needs to be picked at a higher acid level and lower sugar content than for wine. It needs to undergo a strong fermentation, and on no account should sulphur be used.
· Next the wine is distilled to produce a high alcohol spirit (around 65-70% by volume) - over to Julian Temperley at Somerset Royal
· Now comes the most important bit - maturing in oak casks. By law a minimum of three years, but the longer the better. Spirit which has not been matured in oak is clear, and sold in various countries under different names (Eau de Vie in France; Grappa in Italy for example). During maturation the ‘Angels’ come and take their share, but luckily they have a taste for the rough spirits, and what they leave behind becomes smoother. Of course we have to satisfy Customs and Excise that it is indeed the ‘Angels’, and not mere mortals, that have taken the spirit. Remember C&E have a strong financial interest! We opted not to blend our spirit, and kept the contents of the two casks we made separate. However in order to improve the flavour of the brandy we matured the brandies in two different types of cask (or barrique), first American oak barriques, and then French oak which previously used for Sherry. This latter cask, or barrique, has imparted a wonderful smoothness and deep flavour to the Brandy. The brandy from the two casks will undoubtedly taste slightly different, all of which makes the whole process so interesting. Each cask will be sold as a Limited Edition brandy, with signed back labels.
· Finally the matured spirit is ‘cut’ or ‘let down’ to the required alcoholic strength for selling. This process is done slowly, adding small quantities of ultra pure distilled water produced specifically for the food industry. As the water is added, the spirit turns cloudy with fatty acids being precipitated, and when the desired alcohol level is reached (in our case 40% by volume) the spirit is filtered to clear it. The filter is not as fine as for wine because one is not trying to achieve sterility – the 40% alcohol ensures that!
Our Brandy was matured for five years. The first cask has now been bottled for sale in half litre bottles. The label, as with most of our labels, is taken from original artwork provided by our eldest daughter Nancy, who appears in the picture on our home page. The Brandy is called ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and the picture on the label appears below.
Nancy Farmer’s Original picture for the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Brandy label
To see a wide range of Nancy’s work visit www.nancyfarmer.net