The news that one of England’s major sparkling wine producers had made the decision not to harvest this year saw the news media write off the industry, claiming the wet summer we have all endured had put paid to the English industry.
According to Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers, all other leading English wine producers are now harvesting and remain on track to produce the 2012 vintage. Harvesting of the traditional varieties for sparkling wine production (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) across the south of England has just started, following the early ripening varieties that were picked earlier in the month.
Trustram Eve says: “The projected volume from this year will be measurably lower, albeit the quality of the fruit reported from commercial growers is very good.”
Difficult growing conditions have plagued the 2012 harvests across Europe, with reports of a significant drop in yield from Champagne to Bordeaux, even Spain and Italy. In the UK, the cool and wet weather over flowering in June and July both reduced and delayed the fruit set leading to smaller crops and delayed ripening.
Close attention to the vineyards this year has been paramount, and appropriate measures have been taken to ensure healthy fruit development.
“Vineyards are reporting that the fruit they have is looking clean and the sugars are reaching respectable – in some cases very good – levels,” says Trustram Eve. “This year the vinegrower needs patience and the grapes need extra care.”
One of those years
Mike Roberts, founder of Ridgeview Wine Estate in East Sussex, says: “This has just been one of those years where we’ve had to be more vigilant in the vineyard. We and our partner growers have vineyards of a size that can be looked after with great attention to detail. The result is, even in a poor growing season, that very good grapes can be carefully picked, as we are seeing today as we press our fifth day of this year’s harvest.”
Rupert Taylor of Hush Heath in Kent adds: “Our fruit is looking very good, although we are looking at a smaller than average crop. We are small enough to harvest selectively so we can ensure that the resulting wine will come from the best and ripest fruit.”
Stephen Skelton MW, a consultant to a number of vineyards across the South East, comments: “It’s not all doom and gloom. Good sites, well sheltered and where growers have done the canopy management and spraying, have OK yields and quality considering that this has been such a challenging year. There is still a way to go for some varieties, Chardonnay especially, and I can see some going as late as early November. Late yes, but not disastrous.”
Geoff Bowen of Pebblebed says it has been a very difficult period since poor weather at flowering, and for much of the summer!. means that the vineyard has very mixed berry sizes on the same bunch. As the grapes have ripened the small grapes become very ripe well before the larger grapes so picking a date has been difficult – pick too early and the quality is poor – pick too late and the crop is spoilt or eaten by the birds. Pebblebed’s white grapes are normally a month behind so it is likely to be the end of the month or even into November for harvest.
Gusbourne Estate in Appledore, Kent admits it is going to be a “harvest of smaller quantity than usual”. Pickers are now working on picking Pinots (Noir and Meunier), as they are displaying optimum ripeness and acidity for sparkling wine production, as well as Chardonnay according to the best ‘weather windows’. Acidity is at the higher end of the spectrum, but within the limits the grower requires, again for premium sparkling wine production. There is a small amount of botrytis with its Chardonnay crop, but they are able to deal with this through rigorous selection, says the vineyard.
Selected blocks of Pinot Noir, the source material for its red wine, are being given extended ‘hang time’, and managers watching these closely should any signs of disease arise.
Whilst there will be less still wine available on the market next year, availability of sparkling wines will remain buoyant, as stocks from earlier, larger vintages have yet to come on stream, and commercial producers will remain in a position to sustain supply, augmented by new producers launching their wines on the market next year and beyond.
STOP PRESS: There will be no harvest at Stopham this year. White Pinot flowers especially vulnerable to lashing rain in Sussex, says the vineyard.