UK winemakers hold their breath for ‘dream harvest’ as picking commences

As the uncharacteristically long and hot UK summer continues, winemakers are hopeful of a “dream harvest”, according to trade body Wine GB, with producers recording one of the earliest harvests on record with picking starting last week.

Having benefitted from a long hot summer, which is expected to continue into October, high yields are predicted with early ripening resulting in large volumes of healthy fruit, bringing harvest forward by an average of two weeks, while more acreage coming in to production has also boosted potential yields.

Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, for example, has already received the first grapes for harvest, the earliest that an English commercial vineyard has started harvest, it believes, following what it describes as an “incredible growing season”. 

The first grapes picked are Siegerrebe, an early ripening, aromatic variety grown on the vineyard’s 75 acre estate, on 30 August 2018, with the first pressing taking place later than day.

“We have had early years before, but I have never witnessed such a good, complete season,” said Martin Fowke, winemaker at Three Choirs. “The weather has been perfect at flowering, and the continued warm temperatures through August have assisted in giving an evenness of ripening through every bunch that I have never seen before”.

The winery is already preparing to launch the first English wine from the 2018 vintage, called “The First Release, which will go on sale in Late November.

Likewise, Bob Lindo, at Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall, said the industry had waited “30 years for this vintage” which he believed will become a benchmark for years to come. “There is huge potential and it’s a joy to work through.”

At Biddenden Vineyard in Kent, Julian Barnes, said 2018 will be its earliest harvest since it was founded 49 years ago, while Matt Strugnell, vineyard manager at Ridgeview Vineyards in Sussex said 2018 was shaping up to be its “biggest and best vintage yet”, with the team receiving fruit in the winery earlier than ever before.

Simon Robinson, chairman of WineGB and owner of Hampshire-based Hattingley Valley, added: “The whole wine industry is excited about the potential this harvest brings which will probably lead to the highest level of production ever. Growing conditions across the country have been ideal and this shows in both excellent quality and high yield. This is very welcome as sales of wine continue to rise rapidly, both domestically and overseas. The wine industry is a bright star in the UK agricultural sector which is concerned about the post-Brexit world. The wine producers of Great Britain are looking forward to the future with increasing confidence. 2018 looks to be a very welcome harvest, although as many have commented, nobody counts on anything until the grapes are safely in tank or barrel!”

Among Welsh producers, the outlook is also positive. Robb Merchant, owner of White Castle Vineyard and chairman of the Welsh Vineyards Association, has predicted his largest harvest since his first vintage in 2011.

“We’re expecting to start harvesting some of our early-ripening varieties on 9th September, two weeks earlier than last year and a month earlier than average,” he said. “The grapes are looking very clean and we’re confident that the quality will be excellent. I’ve spoken to many Welsh vineyard owners over the last few days who are all reporting earlier harvest dates and large crops.”

The 2018 harvest comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the wine industry of Great Britain, with the hectarage of vines planted doubling in the last ten years. In the last two years alone, over 2.5m vines have been planted in England and Wales.

Last year, a total of 5.9m bottles of wine were produced in the UK, with sales increasing by 31% between 2015 and 2017, according to the Wine GB survey, which it said was “impressive” given the heavy frost damage in April 2017.

Earlier this year, WineGB set out its growth predictions for the industry over the next decades, indicating that by 2040 annual bottle production will reach around 40m bottles.

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