English winemakers hope for hat trick

Frost-free spring conditions followed by a heatwave during flowering have left English winemakers “cautiously optimistic for a great vintage.”

English wineWith the harvest still around eight weeks away, producers across the southern heartland of England’s wine industry highlighted promising conditions so far this growing season as new and maturing vineyards look set to build on the record-breaking 2013 and 2014 harvests.

Reporting from Camel Valley in Cornwall, winemaker Sam Lindo told the drinks business: “2015 is on course to be an outstanding harvest. In fact this will be the first time we have ever had three big years in a row.”

Further east in Hampshire, Simon Bladon, owner of Jenkyn Place, noted: “We were possibly a little worried earlier on in May and early June because we had quite a lot of cold nights, which made things a bit slow.” However, he highlighted the better conditions that followed, saying: “Flowering in the first two weeks of July coincided with really hot weather up to 36°C, which was great.”

Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down in Kent, echoed this praise of “near perfect flowering condition during the crucial Wimbledon week.” While emphasising that “with 6-8 weeks until harvest much can happen,” he nevertheless conceded: “We do remain cautiously optimistic for a great vintage.”

There was further optimism from Tamara Roberts, CEO of Ridgeview in East Sussex, who reported: “So far the growing season has been good with excellent prospects for a decent quality and quantity harvest this year.” In particular, she observed: “We had very few frost concerns this year and a successful, even flowering in July which are important milestones in the season.”

Meanwhile at Gusbourne Estate, which has vineyards in both Kent and West Sussex, owner Andrew Weeber drew comparisons with the warm 2009 vintage, “although we don’t have the same high yield as that year,” he added.

In common with many other English producers, Gusbourne has new vineyards coming on stream this harvest, with additional plantings – including a 20-hectare site planted in Kent this year – due to bolster volumes still further in future.

Likewise, Thompson commented: “2015 has seen some very exciting and significant developments for us at Chapel Down with 85 acres planted at our new Boxley site on the North Downs and much more to come.”

For other producers, expansion is being achieved through new grower contracts or reducing the proportion of estate-grown grapes being sold off to third parties. Roberts confirmed that Ridgeview was expecting “additional volume from 2016 onwards from a new grower coming on stream and our existing growers’ expansion.”

Over at Jenkyn Place, which recently signed a UK distribution deal with New Generation Wines, Bladon remarked: “I wouldn’t mind new vineyard planting but we’ve run out of land.” Instead he explained: “I sell an increasingly smaller proportion of my grapes to others and that enables me to increase production slightly every year.”

Returning his attention to the 2015 growing season, Bladon observed: “It could be another ’09 but so many things can go wrong.” With wet conditions at this stage likely to spark an unwelcome outbreak of botrytis, he concluded: “We’d love an Indian summer – I’m quietly optimistic.”

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