What an amazing year! Like God was trying to show us the perfect conditions for growing grapes.
A long cold Winter to give the vines a good period of dormancy, build up their strength, and kill the pests and diseases. A nice straightforward Spring. Wet, yes, but no unseasonal early warm spell to encourage early buds, and critically no late frost to “nip them in the bud”. Then that fantastic Summer, providing long, hot growing and ripening days aplenty (the humans may have wilted a bit in the vineyard heat, but the vines were loving it). And finally, to cap off the perfect year, a very benign Autumn. No early frosts, gentle ripening conditions and many superb days for harvesting. Excellent!
So what did that mean at Astley Vineyard? Well, as I said to many of our tour groups, if you can’t produce a good crop in 2018, you might as well give up and go home. And luckily for our long term business plan, the 2018 harvest was a cracker, so we won’t be needing to find alternative employment just yet!
In absolute numbers, we produced 13 tonnes from our 4.5 acres. Not a stellar yield in comparison with some of the more industrialised producers in the South, but almost 50% greater than 2017, and one of the very largest harvests in Astley’s long history.
But it’s absolutely not all about quantity. We pride ourselves, above all, on the quality of our grapes (and hence of our wine). And I’m glad to report that the 2018 harvest was of truly excellent quality. We had almost no disease, and were able to slightly reduce our preventive spraying programme as a result (as we continue to nudge our way sensibly towards a more organic regime). We had a very long growing season, and were able to pick grapes with higher than average sugar levels that still had excellent acidity.
The other factor that transformed the 2018 harvest compared with previous years was our winery.
For the first time in Astley’s history, we are making our own wine. Our winery (see a previous blog) was commissioned in September thanks to the wise advice of Simon Day of Haygrove Evolution, and the rapid learning and immense hard work of our winery team of Chris and Bev. We sized the winery to be able to process 50% more than our typical harvest. And lo and behold, that’s precisely what we had to cope with this year!
This was a glorious, but mixed blessing. The fact that the winery was full to capacity meant that we had a lot of shuffling about to do to optimise storage, and were constantly tweaking the plan to ensure that no good grapes went unpicked. But the positive side of having our own winery in such a bountiful year was immense. We became free from the previous constraints of transporting the grapes to be processed, of minimum batch sizes of 2 tonnes, and of limited choices of winemaking methods. Instead we entered a world of almost infinite variety and flexibility. Slightly daunted at first, Chris (under Simon’s guidance) seized the opportunities presented by the excellent harvest and the control of production to embark on a series of innovations.
Safe in the knowledge that we had sufficient quantities and quality of our “standard” wines, we used the excess of the 2018 harvest to innovate. And so, we can look forward in the coming months to tasting: a wild ferment Madeleine Angevine; a late harvest Siegerrebe (which will in fact present itself as something rather different when released); a new addition to our sparkling wine range; a unique late harvest “orange” Kerner (for the natural wine lovers), as well as an array of different ripeness levels of our usual varities. We may even have a varietal Sauvignon Blanc; although if these vines don’t perform in 2018’s perfect conditions, they may face being grubbed-out and replaced by something more reliable. They have been warned!
Finally, no harvest report would be complete without a mention of our amazing picking team. Our squadron of volunteers goes from strength to strength, and now numbers more than 60. They are neighbours, friends, family, acquaintances, the curious and the enthusiastic, the chatterers and the quiet outdoor lovers. A bunch of rowers. Some amateur dramaticists. Some local historians. And Daisy the dog. We lay on a cheese and wine lunch every harvest day. And good company. And of course the weather is always perfect. We all love the harvest days.