Ok, you caught me. We're not opening a wine bar... or are we? You'll have to read until the end to find out!
Another year has come and gone. I can’t believe it! And I am certain that you can’t either. Though, we will all be happy to see the back of it and hope for better times ahead.
In the five years since we planted there has always been a point of reference in each year gone by that usually reflects the growing season or the winemaking that has taken place. This usually makes it easier for us to recall the year. I don’t want 2020 and our point of reference this vintage to be stained by Covid-19. However, it will be hard to forget the quick runs into work with no traffic on the roads during the first 6 weeks of lockdown, and no one else to be seen on the farm other than whaling peacocks (this isn’t a peacock that is hunting whales just FYI) or my brother-in-law, Dan, chasing after a goat that had recently ventured onto greener pastures… or so it thought.
This was fun for a while. No one to pander to, no one other than yourself to please and no cleaning up other people’s mess! It felt like freedom, like an alfresco toilet break.
The year ended as quickly as it began. No sooner than we had finished pruning the vines and pulled out the old wood, the vines had already put on new growth. Spring had snuck up on us. After a long, very mild and very wet winter bud burst was early. This could potentially lead to a longer growing season, which would be very beneficial for grape quality, all else being well. BUT, for those of you who have joined us for our “Signature Vineyard Walk & Wine Tasting” will know all too well that we would be in for one heck of a bumpy ride.
In the early hours of 14th April we had our first frost event. We were prepared as we knew temperatures would drop below 0 degrees. We had been mowing the alleyways as low as possible to allow any cold air to drain away, we had sprayed a coating agent, which provides a physical barrier to prevent ice forming on delicate vine tissue AND we were out lighting fires between 3am and 7am. EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT for the 15th too! Vine tissue at this stage was less vulnerable as buds were still in early stages of swelling meaning they were less prone to freezing unless temperatures dropped below minus 2-3. It seemed as though we missed the worst of the frost, with other producers bearing the brunt of the damage in some areas of the country. Very sad indeed.
You’d think we’d be in the clear after what had proven to be a devastating frost event for some. Oh no, of course we weren’t! The English weather is like a cruel mistress beating you into submission. Perhaps not the best analogy, but at the time it seemed very apt. The vines had put on some immense growth and it was full steam ahead, choo choo! We were on average at 5 leaves unfurled. The inflorescences are visible at this point as well, inflorescences being the structures of the vine that show as flowers and then the grapes. Being visible means VULNERABLE!!! You know what comes next, yep, another two frost mornings. Repeat protocol above and hope that the now more vulnerable green tissue is saved!
We recorded temperatures of minus 2.5 degrees on the morning of 14th April but amazingly, we suffered very little loss. The hard work and early mornings paid off and we were off to a very promising start to 2020.
The following period between May through to June would be crucial in inflorescence development helping to determine bunch architecture, size and weight. This has important implications on yield and quality. The weather was inconsistent during this time with temperatures still low and the diurnal temperature swings greater than average meaning the nights were much cooler relative to the daytime temperatures. This hinders inflorescence development. We speculated that this may have resulted in much smaller bunches in all three of our varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Our average bunch weights were down as a result of smaller berries and fewer berries per bunch.
Flowering began very early this year, just flicking through my pictures, we had the first flowers popping out at the beginning of June. Flowering is considered to be in full swing when you are on average at 50% flower across your vineyard. Although we experienced early flowering, primarily due to the warmer weather at the beginning of the year, the weather behaviour was very unusual. The weather turned cool and we had some extremely stormy and wet weather. Flowering stagnated during this period and nothing happened for about 2 weeks. If flowering had been further ahead, I believe we would have had more issues with poorer fruit set affecting quality and quantity come harvest.
Full flowering was finished in the Chardonnay by the end of June, which is still slightly early for our cooler climate and both Pinots not far behind. The weather over the bulk of flowering was very good apart from one stormy weekend, thank you storm Fred!
With a strong fruit set, now all we needed to do was protect the crop we had through the summer until we could pick the grapes. Keeping mildews at bay and doing all the painstaking tasks to make those small gains in the vineyard to help alleviate disease pressure and improve ripening conditions.
We had a lovely summer, granted not as consistent or as bright as 2018 and 2019 but the days and nights were warm all the way through until September. July was fantastic, it was very hot, however when we got into August I seemed to remember seeing an awful lot of grey, overcast skies. Given how in the early stages of the season we were about 12-14 days ahead of the previous year, things had normalised by this stage. In fact, veraison (ripening) was later than last year. Usually appearing towards the end of August, we were getting into late August/ early September by the time we saw any colour changes in the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Then the panic set in. Well, for me it did anyway. Toby and Jeremy stay very calm throughout the season and they have to put up with my incessant whining. It started to rain, and I mean a lot of rain. By this time, the end of September through to the beginning of October, ripening had really caught up in all three of the varieties and I was amazed at how quickly it had happened. We could have picked earlier than we actually did but we held out for clearer skies as we didn’t want to be picking in the rain.
It was a strange end to the year, it felt like the grapes had been hanging out on the vines for an awfully long time. This year seemed to produce grapes of fantastic quality for sparkling wines, where the longer growing season led to more flavourful grapes, with darker and thicker skins on both the Chardonnay and the Pinots. In spite of the fruit hanging on the vine for longer we had great acidity and good natural sugar levels still in their peak. What can happen is that sugars climb too high and the acidity level can drop to a level that won’t lend itself to a well structured and balanced sparkling wine.
The rain almost caused lots of issues for us. But we timed it perfectly and we couldn’t have done this without the remarkable energy and enthusiasm of our team of harvest helpers and volunteers. For those who were able to make it, we hope you all had a fabulous day out, we thoroughly enjoyed having you and would like to thank you all for your hard work.
I’d like to mention some people in particular that, without them, the harvest couldn’t have been as successful as it was.
Firstly the volunteer crews on the Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th October (I can’t name you individually due to GDPR… at least I don’t think I can).
You were all perfect. I am so glad that amongst this rubbish that everyone has been and is still going through that you had the strength to come out. Not an easy thing to bring yourself to do when there is a deadly virus kicking about. I thought the day went superbly and you all conducted yourselves wonderfully well with the covid guidelines in full force.
Second only by listing and certainly not importance, the grape logistics team - All round amazing. I know people think these guys had it easy, but driving the tractor all day long for 6 days straight is dull as. Plus they lifted 20,000 kgs of fruit between them! That’s pretty impressive. On top of that, they got the fruit to the winery on time to get it pressed so we could make the most beautiful wines.
Thirdly, the front of house & grape pickers extraordinaire
Ben & Hayley (University friends - absolutely incredible)
Jack Grey (Probably the most helpful and nice guy ever!)
Alex Lello (The most personable and polite person)
These guys were super enthusiastic and drawn upon to help in every scenario without any warning. Long hours and very physical work over 2-5 days and all for the pleasure of being in my company. Thank you so much!
The exquisite nourishment & behind the scenes
Chef David Icely - What an incredible job he did. He came up with a delicious spread of homemade and lovingly prepared dishes that could be served safely and (relatively) efficiently ;). Probably the best beef and ale stew I’ve ever had!
Jackie Yates - The thankless task of clearing and tidying and setting up for the next meal then repeat! Well, not thankless anymore! We all thank you!
I hope I haven’t missed anyone…
Thanks for reading… if you got this far. If not, then thanks for nothing ;P
I will be posting another blog in two years time!