With the autumn fast approaching, English vineyards are gearing up for their most challenging time of year, harvest. At Bolney Wine Estate in the heart of rural Sussex, head winemaker Samantha Linter and her team will be keeping a very close eye on the crop and constantly evaluating the grapes until that small, optimum window opens in which to start picking.
This year’s harvest is looking a little different as Mother Nature threw a curve ball earlier in the year. Warm and sunny weather during spring brought the vines ahead of schedule by two to three weeks, which then meant flowering was pushed forward. However just as the grape flowers started to bloom the rain came.
“The result of rain during flowering has meant that the vines have suffered millerandage, meaning a small number of grapes on the vines have not matured as they should. Whilst this means a reduced crop, those grapes that have developed will contain a higher concentration of fruit and sugar leading to more complex aromas and flavours” says Linter.
“Also we will have a ‘truncated’ harvest, with our red grapes coming in two to three weeks early as expected and all the rest one to two weeks later as they were slowed by the rain.
“Ideally in the run up to harvest we would like lots of sunshine and nice warm temperatures during the day! Occasional rain early September would be good but not too close to picking. During the night we need the vines to stay warm and temperate as too many swings in Celsius between day and night can cause the grapes to lose sugar.”
This year the vineyard has 36 acres of vines producing grapes, thirteen more than last year, although these new vines are only in their first year of production and will produce one third of their expected yearly output going forward. Based on this, the producer estimates a total of approximately 70 tonnes of grapes will be picked over the harvest, which equates to a sizeable 6-7 tonnes to be picked daily.
She adds: “For 2011 our sales are promising to hit the estimated target of 77,000 bottles, a 30% increase on last year, the extra bottles coming from increased production in our vineyards.
“During the next two to three years there is huge potential for the business to continue growing. 2012 will be a very exciting time as we celebrate our 40th anniversary as well as the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Once all our 40 acres are fully producing, we expect to be selling 120,000 bottles per year.
“This vintage, although potentially smaller than the last two, is shaping up to produce more complex and richer in fruit wines.”