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‘Never call it until the harvest happens’: the English wine vintage hangs in the balance

English wine producers are set to kick off the 2022 harvest over the coming weeks, with a number of wineries picking early as a result of the hot, dry weather this summer. But with rain forecast over the coming days, the quality of the vintage still hangs in the balance.

'Never call it until the harvest happens': the English wine vintage hangs in the balance

According to Simon Thorpe, CEO of WineGB, while “2022 looks to be good for still wines”, there is a big variation in the vintage this year, depending on the location of vineyards.

Speaking at a press conference on 6 September, Thorpe was reticent to say too much on the upcoming vintage, but warned that “we haven’t seen one like this before”.

Even 2018, the hottest growing year for English wine in recent history, saw more rain in the growing season than we experienced this summer.

Cara Lee Dely, head of production and operations for Bolney Wine Estate, noted that despite the hot weather, vines have experienced no drought stress. The estate is set to begin picking on 14 September, and high temperatures have eradicated the risk of disease.

Sun damage has affected some of the estate’s vineyards, causing a number of Bacchus grapes to raisin, but Dely sees this as “better than disease”.

Despite challenges to still wine production in 2021, with Pinot Noir picked as late as 8 November last year on the estate, 2022 is set to be “a good year for still”, Dely said.

Dely’s biggest concern now is rain. While grapes are “nice and soft, ready to harvest next week”, big storms could force berries to split, or risks diluting the grapes.

Not all English winemakers are concerned by the current downpour. Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley Wines is set to kick off the harvest next week, finishing in mid October.

Olly Putter, UK sales manager, noted that while yields are a little below average, the rain is helping to swell the berries.

For Luke Spalding is the viticulturist and general manager of Everflyht Vineyard in the South Downs, Sussex, drought was the real concern.

Testing grapes a fortnight ago, he found that extraction was down to 40% compared to an average of 60-65%. The rain is therefore a welcome relief. The winery is set to kick off its earliest picking to date on 30 September, reporting yields higher than 2018.

The harvest hangs in the balance of the next few weeks. Ridgeview Wine Estate, also located in the South Downs, plans to leave grapes on the vine as long as possible, with harvest dates set no earlier than usual.

“That’s the secret with England,” said Mardi Roberts, director of communications at Ridgeview.

Volumes for the estate are above average, at 500-600 tonnes, and despite inconsistency across sites, drought caused little issue for the estate’s deep rooted Chardonnay vines in particular.

Despite the positive outlook, winemakers are yet to sigh a breath of relief. As Roberts put it: “Never call it until the harvest happens.”

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