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‘Amazing’ harvest with ‘unbelievable’ yields starts in England

Picking has started in the UK with English wineries calling the harvest “amazing” and reporting “unbelievable” yields as the grapes begin to be brought in.

(Image: Squerryes owner Henry Warde)

The harvest is starting in eastern England first – which is warmer and drier – and it’s already clear that this year’s vintage is set to break records for the number of grapes brought in, as well as the weight of the bunches on the vines.

Like Champagne, English vineyards are home to exceptionally heavy bunches, a result of a wet July, which created high levels of summertime ground water, and more than enough soil moisture to swell the berries.

Speaking about the vintage to the drinks business on Sunday, Tom Whitely, who is commercial manager at Henners Vineyard, said that yields were up in the UK by around 40% compared to the average.

This was certainly the case at the Henners Vineyard, where Tom said that the vines were set to yield 10 tonnes per hectare – “even after dropping fruit twice” – when it was normal to produce 8 tonnes/ha.

Similarly, Henry Warde, the owner of Squerryes Vineyard in Kent, described this year’s vintage as “amazing”, calling the yields “unbelievable”, despite “loads of green harvesting” – telling db, “we have dropped a good amount of fruit to improve air flow, because we were concerned about botrytis.”

Continuing, he said that the vintage reminded him of 2014 – “which was our best year”, before adding, “2018 was good, but 2014 was special.”

Like 2014, this year has seen a good flowering and then a wet summer, followed by a sunny September, which has ensured both a large crop but also a long, slow ripening.

Without the warm, dry conditions in September, the grape quality would of course be different, with a very late harvest predicted after a damp, cloudy July.

However, “September has saved our bacon”, said Warde, who told db that the “quality of the fruit is fantastic, and the weather is fabulous now.”

“We benefit from a long slow ripening – our sugars are slowly building – so we will start harvesting in mid-October; we have another 4-6 weeks left,” he commented, noting that English vignerons generally have a month more “hang time” than growers in Champagne.

Summing up he said, “Some years we don’t make any wine, like 2012, but this year we have an enormous crop and great quality; I am bloody delighted.”

Mardi Roberts at Ridgeview in Sussex told db that the vintage is “looking really good”, commenting, like Warde, that “the September burst of sunshine saved the day”.

“July was so wet, and we were hit with a bit of mildew which affected the canopy, but never got to the grapes,” she said.

Like other vintners db spoke to, Roberts said it would be Ridgeview’s “biggest harvest ever”, with “the biggest bunch weights we’ve ever seen”.

In particular, she said that, “this is a good year for Pinot, which is looking really good, and Pinot is the most variable grape in this country.”

With the winery sourcing fruit from Suffolk to Herefordshire, she said it would be bringing in grapes from over 100 hectares, starting with the most easterly vineyards first, where she also said that the fruit was of the highest quality.

“Suffolk and Essex seem to be the best,” she said of the grapes, which started to come into Ridgeview’s winery on Wednesday last week.

Meanwhile, in a quick exchange with Stephen Skelton MW at Hush Heath Estate, it was clear that he was excited by the quality of the vintage, not just at this property in Kent, but across the UK, as a viticultural consultant to a number of English wineries.

“It’s amazing,” he said of the year, adding, “These are the best yields we’ve ever had, better than 2018 [which was a record year for output per hectare] and we have high sugars.”

Finally, England’s largest sparkling wine producer, Nyetimber, has announced that its 2023 harvest will be its biggest ever as it picks from across 350ha of vines, 7.7% up on last year’s 325ha of productive vineyards.

The new record in volumes are set to be produced by Nyetimber (when it starts harvesting on Friday, and over the following three weeks) will be both a product of its enlarged estate – which comprises 11 vineyards across West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent – and the fine conditions this year.

The producer noted that production of English wine has risen by 130% in the past five years, with 12.2m bottles made in 2022, 68% of which were sparkling.

Nyetimber accounts for over 10% of this market and plans to sell 2m bottles a year by 2030, making it the UK’s largest producer of English fizz.

db spent the past weekend visiting English wineries across Kent, Surrey and Sussex as part of The Harvest Tour – a bicycle challenge to raise funds for The Drinks Trust.

Including almost 3,500 metres of climbing across the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent, the challenge took in major ascents such as Pitch, Whitedown and Box Hills, along with Crockham and Ide.

As they racked up the kilometres, the cyclists visited many of the UK’s most famous English wine producers, including Balfour, Bolney, Chapel Down, Gusborne and Squerryes.

Dubbed The Harvest Tour, the ride gave the cyclists a taste of English wine country as producers gear up to pick this year’s vintage.

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