Steven Spurrier ‘angry’ about 2016 harvest in UK

Leading wine authority, Steven Spurrier, who grows Champagne grapes in Dorset, told db yesterday that he was angry about the 2016 harvest in the UK and described reports that this year’s vintage is “fantastic” as exaggerated.

steven-spurrier

After 50 years in wine – and inspired by the unique chalky soils on his wife’s Dorset sheep farm – Steven Spurrier decided to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in 2008 to make sparkling wine

Following a report sent by the English Wine Producers last week that the 2016 vintage was unusually high quality, Spurrier – who owns the Bride Valley vineyard in west Dorset – said that yields this year were as much as one third of what he required to break even, adding that he believed that reports about the excellence of this year’s vintage were exaggerated.

Referring to the quantity of bottles of English sparkling wine he may be able to make from the 2016 harvest, he told the drinks business, “I was hoping for 25,000 bottles, but we will only make 7,000.”

Drawing attention to the difficult conditions for grape growers in the west country over the past few vintages, he said, “In the last four years we have made 39,000 bottles, and to break even we need to make 20,000 bottles each year, and our overheads are very low.

“I’m not happy,” he then stated, adding, “I’m angry, but I’m not worried; however, next year, if things aren’t better, I’ll be angry and worried.”

Acknowledging that Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director of the English Wine Producers had recently described the 2016 harvest in the UK as “fantastic”, he said that he believed that it was an “exaggeration”.

He said that his view of the vintage may have be different to others due to his more westerly location compared to the majority of English wine producers, who are mostly found in eastern parts of the UK, such as Kent and Sussex.

bride-valley-wine

Spurrier has over 10 hectares under cultivation, which he uses to make three wines

“We have a damper climate in Dorset [than Kent or Sussex] but that doesn’t worry me because we have chalk, although it does mean that we do harvest later, we are around 10 days later than vineyards in Kent or Sussex,” he said.

Having planted Champagne grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier at his vineyard near Bridport, Spurrier admitted that “Pinot Meunier doesn’t work in Dorset.”

As for the other two grapes, Spurrier said that the Chardonnay in 2016 had “tiny bunches” while noting that his Pinot Noir is ripe and that it will be picked today.

According to the English Wine Producers, pickers were out in the vineyards as early as mid-September in some parts of the UK this year.

The organisation said that after a challenging start to the growing season in some parts of the country, with cooler temperatures and unsettled weather up to and over flowering, the warm and dry August and September allowed the vines to produce some high quality fruit. In particular, the group reported that earlier ripening varieties, many of them for still wines, are showing ripe fruit flavours, with high sugars and good acid balance.

In contrast to Spurrier’s experience at Bride Valley, two other west country producers said that 2016 had produced good results. Bob Lindo of Camel Valley in Cornwall said that he is anticipating “a fourth good year in a row”, with plenty of grapes and great quality fruit, while Daniel Ham, who is the winemaker for Langham Estate in Dorset, believes that the 2016 vintage is “their best to date”. He also recorded that “The grapes are showing fantastic physiological ripeness with near perfect levels of sugar and acid” – although he didn’t mention the yields from the harvest.

After 50 years in wine – and inspired by the unique chalky soils on his wife’s Dorset sheep farm – Spurrier decided to join the English sparkling wine scene, and, in 2008, he planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the Bride Valley.

In 2011 the first harvest was picked, selling out on release in 2014. Today, Spurrier produces three sparkling wines from a little more than 10 hectares of vines on the chalky south facing slopes above the Dorset village of Litton Cheney.

On Thursday 20 October, three days after this story was published, Bride Valley vineyard manager Graham Fisher told db that the Pinot Noir he has picked this vintage is “very nice, with good sugars and good acids, and it is very clean with absolutely no rot at all!” He added that he is “hoping for the same with the Chardonnay.” However, echoing the points made above, he admitted that “the yields are rubbish”, commenting, “So we may not have a great deal of 2016 but, hopefully, it will be top notch.”

 

5 Responses to “Steven Spurrier ‘angry’ about 2016 harvest in UK”

  1. Roy Cook says:

    I can confirm that here in East Sussex we have had some of the highest sugar levels we have experienced in 30+ years of growing grapes. Our Solaris variety reached 13.8% natural alcohol from which we will make a dessert wine. Regent, our red wine variety reached 10% natural alcohol, as did several other varieties. Most varieties had yields above average. Yours not angry or disappointed.

  2. Michael Edwards says:

    I think Steven’s comments on the reality of the harvest for sparkling wine, certainly in Dorset, are spot-on. His comment on the volume of the crop being significantly smaller should be heeded and mirror reports from Champagne, which is 30% down much worse in the Aube). As for Kent, talking to one fine organic sparkling wine producer a few weeks before the harvest, he was fighting a battle against mildew after a rotten early summer. The warm weathe overall in August may have saved the vintage, again as in Champagne, but I woudn’t be surprised if the maturing cycle of Pinot N and Chardonnay are very different one to another in England, as in the Marne. Let’s not exaggerate the quality- wait until the grapes are all in and the first fermentations are complete before we rush to judgement

  3. Michael Dable says:

    Delighted to observe that age has not dimmed your forthrightness Steven, I beg you never to change……………Michael Dable

  4. David Cowderoy says:

    Just been in East Anglia helping out Flint and Vine with their maiden vintage and I would concur with Julia that this year is very good indeed. A perfect balance of sugar, acid and flavour. With acceptable yields. This is from a perspective of over 30 years making wine in the UK.
    Yes, the further west you get the less rosy the picture. And the further north. But on balance for the UK winter industry as a whole this is a vintage to be very happy with.

  5. Yields are very variable in UK vineyards this year with the west of the country faring worse than the east (apart from selected spots in Cornwall of course). Conditions leading up to flowering were not ideal and some vineyards suffered from early bunch stem necrosis and flowers withered away to nothing. Flowering was not perfect, with the first week of Wimbledon being wet and the second week much better. Some later sites flowered better than earlier sites as they hit better weather. The weather for most of July and the first half of August was not good, far too wet and cold, and the bunches did not develop sufficient size which is partially responsible for the low yields. The very good weather in the latter half of August and the whole of September really saved the day and has given some excellent sugars, although quite high acids. In Kent and East Sussex some growers had very acceptable yields, not massive, but certainly not disastrous and whilst high sugars are always very welcome, its yield that really matters. Chardonnay and Pinot noir are difficult varieties to grow in the UK and are at a disadvantage when flowering and bunch development conditions are adverse. Varieties such as Bacchus, Reichensteiner, and Seyval blanc, varieties we used to rely on before the Champagne varieties took over, sometimes have their advantages.

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