With comparisons of the great drought of 1976 being made, alarms over drying fields and failing crops, this summer is already posing great challenges to agriculture. Grape growing is not the same as other crops, and this dryness has some interesting positives for wine making.
Alex Carr Taylor, winery manager of Carr Taylor Wines of Westfield, near Hastings, acknowledges that vines have natural characteristics that mean a shortage of water is not necessarily the problem it presents to cereal and crop growers.
He says: “Vines in general are quite resistant to water stress up to a point and indeed it is generally accepted that putting vines under a little stress, water related or not, can help the quality of the grapes and wine. A little water stress can encourage deeper root growth, which creates a stronger vine more tolerant of future drought conditions and roots that can access deeper minerals.
“If drought conditions are prevalent in the vine growing region then irrigation becomes necessary but generally only as drip irrigation. That is to provide just enough of the vines requirements but not too much to make the vine ‘lazy’.”
The vineyard’s location on clay loams over a sandstone subsoil does give it advantages over other soil types in these conditions, says Carr-Taylor.
He says: “In general they are a little better at holding the water than chalk soils. The proportion of clay to sand can influence the water holding capacity as sand is more free-draining.”
A long-established, family-run business, all Carr Taylor wines are made from grapes grown on its 37 acre vineyard in East Sussex or from other local sites managed by the family. Planted by Linda and David Carr Taylor, the second generation Alex Carr Taylor is now at the reins as winemaker.
In his opinion, is the current lack of rainfall likely to hurt growing or winery activity more?
He says: “The lack of rainfall is most likely to affect newly planted/young vines as they have shallow roots. The more established vines are more resilient due to the larger root system. A little dryness can encourage the vine roots to search out water and tap deeper into the subsoil which has the potential to improve quality.”
The extreme cold weather experienced in late 2010 and early 2011 were not a problem for the vines, which are dormant in winter and the cold temperatures can help the wood to harden off and reduce the incidence of pests and diseases.
Carr Taylor says: “The drought conditions are only an issue for the very young vines as mentioned. Obviously when they are dormant in winter they don’t have a significant water demand but other wise during their growth and grape bearing stages then a steady supply of water is essential.”