About a month before the harvest gets underway, English wine producers have expressed relief that predicted volumes are down on last year’s record levels, despite the fact they’re still estimated to be above ‘average’.
As veraison is now underway in England, the overall impression from producers across the country is one of quiet confidence. By most accounts, yields are set to be lower than the exceptional and record year of 2018, but with good quality levels.
While some producers have experienced some disease pressure, there were no major bouts of frost early in the season and the weather experienced during critical periods such as flowering was favourable.
Speaking to the drinks business at the WineGB trade show yesterday (4 September), Ruth Simpson, co-owner of Simpsons Wine was upbeat.
“It’s been pretty good this year,” she said. “Everyone has been saying that it won’t be as good as last year, but we’ve had no frost and had a good flowering earlier this year. We are hoping to start harvesting at the end of September and are going to have the same volume as last year, but this is because we have another site coming into production this year which skews the numbers somewhat.”
Fellow Kentish producer Biddenden, which is celebrating its 50th year in business this year, shared Simpsons views but said volumes will be down on what was achieved the previous year.
Josh Donaghay-Spire, head winemaker at Kent-based Chapel Down, was quietly confident.
“We don’t want to count our chickens as it’s early days, but we’re anticipating slightly lower yields than last year,” he told db
“There’s been a bit of disease pressure but this has been managed well and we’re on top of it. We expect that yields will still be above average and that we’ll start harvesting on 9 September for our early varieties, then on 16 September for Bacchus and finishing with our traditional varieties on 23rd.”
Winemaker at Gloucestershire’s Three Choirs, Martin Fowke, said he was looking forward to having “more acidity” this year than was achieved last year.
“We’ll be making more fizz. Last year we didn’t make much of it as we didn’t have the acidity levels we wanted,” he said.
“We’re running around two weeks behind, so it will be more of an ‘average’ crop. Quality looks reasonable but the yields will be slightly down. It’s a less even crop than last year, a little bit gappy,” he said.
Simon Bladon, owner of Hampshire’s Jenkyn Place, said the vineyard had suffered slightly with millerandage and that he was expecting that the harvest would be smaller than last year. However, he said for him this was positive news.
“For me it is quite a relief,” he said. “I was virtually having baths in the stuff last year – our harvest was twice the size of what we took in the previous year. I’d say this year that we’re looking at around 60% of that volume, so we’re still above what we harvest on average.
‘I don’t want to goat-mouth the harvest’
Winemakers and vineyard managers stressed that there was still some time before the grapes were taken in. David Line, vineyard manager at Greyfriars said that the early signs were encouraging.
“I’d say my fruit is the cleanest it has been, and I always have clean fruit,” he said, adding that he expected to start harvesting in the second week of October, compared to the end of September in 2018.
“We’re expecting around 140 tonnes,” he said. “Last year we got 200 and I’d expect our average amount to be around 120.”
Co-owner of Greyfriars, Mike Wagstaff, however, stressed the need for caution.
“Commenting on the English harvest now is like celebrating a win at half time,” he said. “All I can say is that in England, it is always a white knuckle ride until the grapes are in the tanks – ask me again on 1 November. To borrow a phrase from Jamaica, I don’t want to goat-mouth the harvest.”
CEO of Ridgeview, Tamara Roberts, said that 2019 had been a “solid year”.
“It has been more typically English and not as ‘out there’ as last year,” she said. “In 2018 we actually did a lot of green harvesting because the harvest was so big, but we haven’t had to do any this year. The weather is still unseasonably warm and we’re not concerned about grapes ripening in time.”
Sales and business development director at Ridgeview, Tom Surgey, added that things were “bubbling away nicely” and said critics should not discount 2019.
“I know we shouted a lot about 2018, but this year could match last year in terms of quality,” he said.
Nicholas Hutchinson, trade account executive at Bolney, echoed Ridgeview’s comments. “It’s not going to be as good as last year yield wise, but the quality is good,” he said. “Flowering was good, but yields will be less this year,” he said.
He added that 2018 was the first year in which Bolney’s grape harvest was incorporated with that of the neighbouring 67-acre Pookchurch estate.
“Pookchurch’s vines are still quite young so we’re not at full capacity yet,” he said. “By 2021 we hope to be making around 350,000 to 400,000 bottles.”
Emma Rice, head winemaker of Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley, said 2019 would be “another great vintage”.
“2019 has been more challenging than 2018 with more varied weather and a later start to the growing season. Disease pressure has been high in the vineyard, but we have it under control, and despite this we are looking at a ‘normal’ harvest date of early October with great potential. Botrytis will be a threat as we head into the ripening season thanks to a large crop load and a later harvest,” she said.
Rice added that the bank holiday heatwave had “accelerated veraison” and that while initially she was expecting a crop as large as 2018 “this has been revised downwards, as green harvesting has taken place and anticipated losses and later ripening are taken in to account.”
In Cornwall, winemaker at Cornwall’s Camel Valley, Sam Lindo said this year there was “nothing particularly interesting to report”.
“It’s a normal harvest – we wont be anywhere near as big as last year,” he said. “The grapes are healthy and nothing is getting eaten! We certainly won’t be having the harvest in shorts this year though.”