Wine merchant and English wine grower Tony Laithwaite has given the summer a mixed report on a recent blog, writing “fighting the English weather … to the bitter end.”
He wrote that “Barbara’s vineyard is, crucially, a bit higher than Henry and Kaye’s or Theale Vineyard. She and Cherry planted at 300 feet in the Chilterns which doesn’t sound high but nonetheless shortens the growing season by two weeks.”
The Wyfold vineyard looked immaculate this year, the “best it’s ever looked … in Spring”. The Jubilee weather held back the flowering by a month, then carried on “being vile” so the grapes got so little sun they couldn’t grow.
This meant that the retailer had only mini bunches of grapes to pick.
He wrote: “They were healthy, though. They’d been well-tended. Leaves had been stripped back to leave the tiny bunches exposed to whatever sun and dry air there was. (Not a lot). They just hung there. And we hung our hopes on a last-minute burst of Indian summer sunny weather, such as has saved a few harvests lately. But no such luck.”
On top of the damp conditions, Laithwaite reports that “a little Botrytis was seen. Tiny bit of rot. The odd grape going furry but with the very moist warmish weather that could explode all over. So they had to pick. Nine till five we picked. It was a weekday. Only a few could help. And perversely such a tiny crop is fiddly and slower to pick. The black grapes were over the minimum sugar level. Just but so few of them: 20 boxes. The bigger crop of Chardonnay was under the level on average, but some bunches were riper than others.”
After sending the grapes to Mike Roberts at Ridgeview in Sussex for winemaking, the news was not good.
Laithwiate wrote: “No miracle for Wyfold in 2012. Theale,yes. Henry and Kaye’s as yet unnamed Marlow vineyard, yes. Windsor, won’t get any grapes until next year. Wyfold, no. Didn’t make it.
“Annus horribilis for English wine? Well, yes, but far from a total wipe-out. You hang on in there and sometimes you can make it.”
The night before harvesting, Laithwaite had staged an evening with customers at the company’s Locksbottom shop – near Orpington, Kent. Customers were asked to vote on whether they preferred the Wyfold or the superb Paul Goerg Champagne; a Premier Cru. The champagne won – but only by two votes.
“If anyone still has doubts about English sparkling wine’s ability to rival world class fizz … they are probably French,” wrote Laithwaite.