‘Optimism’ for English wine harvest following UK heatwave

27th June, 2017 by Arabella Mileham

English wine producers say they are more optimistic about this year’s harvest following last week’s heatwave, which has helped to mitigate the damage done to vineyards from the late Spring frosts.

Camel Valley Vineyard (Photo: Camel Valley)

Temperatures across the south of England dropped to -6C in some areas in late April, leaving English wine producers fearing that the frost would wipe out developing buds and could affect yields by up to 80%. However, this week they reported that the recent heatwave that swept the country has provided a major boost to vines during the crucial flowering and setting period.

Bob Lindo of Camel Valley in Cornwall tweeted that the heatwave across the South of England last week had helped “reset expectations” on this year’s English wine harvest “to normal”.

Speaking to db today he said that he was far more optimistic about the harvest following the heatwave, which had made “a tremendous difference” to the vines, although he cautioned there was still a long way to go till the October harvest.

The early primary buds had been affected by the frost in late April, he explained, but because of the disparity of the timing of primary buds this year, the frost had not affected as many buds as was initially thought.

“I thought we would have about 50% wiped out, but only about a half of that was out to be lost,” he told db. “We thought it was the end of the primary shoots, but quite a few followed and all those flowered and set in the beautiful weather, so all of those will be fruitful.”

“We probably would have had a perfect year and we would have had to take bunches off in order to ripen,” he added.

Frost impact

Chris White, chief executive of Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, said it was encouraging that not only had the fruit recovered as a result of the hot weather and the fruit had set well, but the estates had not lost any vines in the sub-zero weather, which had been one of its biggest concerns.

“We’re now anticipating a 50-60% drop on normal harvests, which is not great, but it is better than we anticipated earlier in the year,” he told db.

He added that the damage predominantly affected Denbies’ still wine varieties, although some Pinot Noir was also affected.

Bud damage at Albury Organic Vineyards. Credit: Albury Organic Vineyards

He added that the set-back meant the estate had been able to bring its planting programme forward, planting 30,000 vines of mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for its premium sparkling wines on south-facing slopes which had been protected from the frost.

“We had a few months where we would normally have been spraying and carrying out work in the vineyard, but because the vines were damaged, we picked up the pace on planting, replanting about 8-9% of the vineyards, including some grubbing up. The work was destined to be done over the next couple of years, but we brought it forward and did it all this year,” he added.

“So not only is it better than we thought this year, and we’ve planted more vines this year, but we’re anticipating good growth so it will all be potentially there for next year,” he said.

Albury Organic Vineyards in the North Downs agreed that although the vineyard has recovered quite well in parts, it was obvious that the damage sustained in April was still going to have a “significant impact” on the harvest.

Owner Nick Wenman told the drinks business that he estimated the estate would lose around 50% of the harvest as a result of the frosts, rather than the 70% he had initially feared, noting that the weather had been “very helpful” in encouraging growth and “the bunches are doing well”.

“There are a few bunches from secondary shoots which are coming though, but there is not as much fruit and they have less time to ripen so there is always a question mark as to whether they will be ripe enough come October,” he said.

Variation across the varieties

The was a variation across the vineyards and the varieties, Wenman pointed out, with the Chardonnay worst hit because its shoots had been well-developed when the frost struck. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier volumes were also likely to be down, he said, although Seyval Blanc, initially thought to be affected, is now “laden with fruit”.

The damage to the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier was likely to hit the 2020 release of the vineyard’s sparkling wine, Wenman pointed out.

“I’m sure that will be the case for a number of vineyards, it depends on how much reserve they’ve got and how they will even off the amount of wine they release to the market over the next few years,” he said.

“For us, it means we won’t ramp up sales of sparkling wine as we had planned this year, as we had planned to so we can delay some sales and make up for the reduction in availability in subsequent years. A big vineyard might have the reserves to make up that shortfall, but it varies quite widely.”

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