We’ve spent a lot of time writing and talking about non-vineyard stuff this year. And understandably so: it’s been a big year, from the rebranding of our entire range to the design, build and opening of our new visitor centre and the design, equipping and commissioning of our new winery.
But while these new developments may have been the focus of much of our communications, our main physical activity is, was and always will be viticulture. Growing the best grapes we can.
And this year has been a cracker (so far…).
The long, cold winter gave our vines a hugely beneficial dormant season, killed off many off the pests and diseases, and enabled us a good long run at the winter pruning and wire and post replacement tasks. Tim, Bev and Matleena (who undertook these tasks) came to learn the wisdom of Matleena’s Finnish saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”, and quickly embraced the ugly merits of long-johns, beanies, and layer upon layer of old tatty fleeces.
The late arrival of Spring was a blessing (reducing the risk of premature buds being attacked by late frosts), and the wetness of the season was also beneficial (particularly in the hindsight of a summer of drought), giving the vines and their deep roots a good long drink to set them up for the growing to come. Quite amazing during this period was to see in action the superb drainage of our vineyard. Monsoon conditions one day, barely wet underfoot the next. God bless Triassic Sandstone!
And then came the summer which we shall be talking about for years to come. Long and sunny and scorchingly hot. Many tour groups asked whether our vines would be badly affected by the drought. A quick walk round the vineyard persuaded them otherwise! The humans were wilting, the grass was brown, but the vines were going crazy. Which makes perfect sense when you think of the “more typical” climates in which grapes thrive (Australia, South Africa, Southern Europe etc). There is much harm being done to the planet by climate change (and much more to come, unless we act quickly), but for English wine, the changes are very advantageous. We can now grow, with confidence, an ever-increasing range of grapes, and achieve better and better results. 2018 may well come to be seen as a watershed moment in our fledgling industry.
But back to our vineyard. All this sunshine had many hugely positive effects: reduced disease risk, increased grape quantities, and early and prolonged ripening. The one downside, so far, has been the extraordinary amount of leaf and stem growth we’ve had to deal with during the process of canopy management (stripping leaves and removing unnecessary stems to improve airflow around the plants and let light onto the grapes). But, if the season finishes without any incidents, and we get the record harvest that currently looks possible, a bit of canopy-management-RSI and a few nights’ dreaming about pulling leaves will have been a very small price to pay!
A bumper crop (if that’s what we get) might prove to be a bit of a challenge for our new winemaking skills, but that’s for a future blog…