Record year: English and Welsh wine producers comment on 2018 vintage

With record volumes of grapes harvested across the board, we round up the reports from owners and winemakers in a year that could see as many as 18 million bottles of wine produced in the UK.

Aldwick Estate, Somerset.

As early as July, English wine producers were nailing their colours to the mast and enthusing about the 2018. Bob Lindo, who has been making wine at Camel Valley in Cornwall for just shy of 30 years, told db at the time that he’d never seen such a good vintage with no frost and 100% fruit set.

Stephen Skelton MW, consultant viticulturist for a number of English wine producers, agreed adding that the growing season had been unprecedented in terms of quality.

The prolonged spell of hot weather was followed by a period with very little rain, enabling the grapes to fully ripen on the vine without the need to rush the harvest.

Charles Simpson, co-founder of Simpsons Wine in Kent, told db earlier this month that this year’s harvest was the first in the winery’s history that they had been properly able to choose when to pick.

He added: “We’re taking longer to harvest this year as we have a larger crop which takes longer to ripen,” he said.

“The ‘Beast from the East’ earlier this year was actually really good for us as it kept things behind and meant we avoided early frost damage.

“The year before we had 20 degree days in March leading to an early bud burst, and when the frost came, we lost 60% of our crop.

“This year we can take in the grapes when we need to. There has always been some sort of pressure before, whether it’s disease or the weather. This is the first time that we’ve been able to properly decide when to do it.

Close-up of grapes at Lyme Bay, Devon.

Simpsons also highlighted that the issue this year would be the shortage of winery space – both in terms of processing and making the wine and also storing it.

Simpson added: “The big issue this year is where the grapes are going to go. Even a 10 to 20% increase would be an issue, but this year it’s well over 100%. In July we were desperately trying to find some extra tanks, and when we contacted our English suppliers they simply told us to get in the line”.

David Parkinson, CEO of WineGB, a trade organisation that represents vineyards in England and Wales, said that this year’s harvest provided a much needed lift for the UK in the face of Brexit.

A member of the Hattingley Valley team sporting a t-shirt with the words “Eat. Sleep. Rack. Repeat”.

He continued: “This year’s extraordinary harvest offers the UK wine industry so many exciting opportunities. It comes at a time when there is so much uncertainty around Brexit, particularly in the agricultural sector and is a real boost for the country. With the rise in rural employment that we are likely to see over the next 20 years, the growth in wine tourism that will result from the expansion of wineries across the country and the continuing increase in exports, the future of the UK wine industry looks very bright indeed.”

“Some winemakers started to harvest in September and others are still picking now but all are reporting clean, ripe grapes with concentrated fruit, good sugars and acidity levels, thanks to the ideal growing conditions. Producers across the country are predicting an excellent year for English still wines, particularly red wines. The unusually hot, dry summer has resulted in very ripe fruit with concentrated flavours which should translate into some very exciting still wines. The outlook is just as positive for sparkling wine producers on both the quality and quantity front.

Commenting on the volumes being reported, he added that many producers are recording at least double what they produced last year – although 2017 was a challenging year due to the early frosts.

He added: “With last year’s total volume at around 6 million bottles, the 2018 vintage is likely to be at least twice, if not three times the size. Whilst is far too early to predict actual volumes at this stage, WineGB will be conducting a vineyard survey in the first quarter of 2019.

“Whilst there is a small increase in volume due to new vineyards coming on stream or maturing, the most significant factor for this year’s high volumes and superb quality is the exceptionally long, warm, dry summer and early autumn.

“With consumer demand for English and Welsh wine continuing to grow both at home and abroad, the extra volumes will be welcomed. As the export market continues to expand, there is also more and more demand for our wines from markets such as the US, Asia, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia which presents further opportunities for producers”.

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