Harvest 2017: England
As with the rest of Europe, England experienced an earlier harvest and lower yields, mainly due to April frosts.
Despite the initial predictions of significant losses, many producers managed to secure a decent, quality crop. The overall drop in volume is expected to result in price increases, but with new plantings coming on-stream this year, the effect of this less than ideal vintage can be coped with more than otherwise might have been the case.
“The 2017 harvest will be remembered for the severe frost of Wednesday 26 April,” says John Worontschak of Litmus Wines. Although not as bleak as the original 50% estimated loss, yields across the country were still down this year due to severe frost damage.
Despite the challenging year, Bibendum buyer for England Jamie Avenell is very positive about the category. “After initial doomsday reports that followed the spring frost, warmer weather at the beginning of the summer allowed secondary growth and some decent recovery. Some producers have been hit harder than others and there are some volume challenges, particularly because the category has been experiencing such growth. But a challenging vintage won’t affect the rise of English wine which is here to stay. Both still and sparkling now deserve a place on every wine list, and the future for the category is incredibly exciting.”
Here is a round-up of the harvest from some of our producers in England:
Like the rest of England, frosts in late spring caused problems for Coates & Seely. Yields were lower than in previous years, with frosts hitting their Chardonnay vines particularly hard. However, the quality of the fruit has been very high.
Vineyard manager Paulo Veloso made some key decisions in the harvesting period to ensure the quality of fruit remained as high as possible. “We harvested late, leaving the fruit to ripen into the last week of October,” he said. “The fruit was full of flavour and entirely clean.”
“While we are unlikely to make a vintage wine this year, it is largely because we will need all the fruit we have to make our key non-vintage wines,” says Paulo, “- a reflection not of reduced quality, but of diminished quantity.”
It was an unpredictable spring for Litmus. “The episode of severe frost was followed by one of the hottest and driest summers on record, allowing some amelioration of the damage,” says chief winemaker John Worontschak. “Larger than expected cropping levels were observed in many, but not all vineyards.”
These warm temperatures, combined with lower yields, resulted in the earliest harvesting period on record at Litmus with some varieties ripening three weeks earlier than average. The quality of the wine is still good this year, although not quite exceptional, and John believes that cropping levels could have been 30-40% higher had the spring frosts not have been so severe.
In the vineyard Chardonnay fared better than Pinot Noir due to high pollination strike rates. This encouraged heavy growth in the Pinot Noir berries, producing tight clusters that increased the potential for disease.
Bolney saw its longest harvest in years this autumn, starting on 20 September and only culminating in November with the picking of their Chardonnay grapes. Frosts affected volumes by approximately 50%, but they are very pleased with the quality of the remaining grapes.
“Despite the unprecedented spring air and ground frost that hit most of Southern England and Northern Europe vineyards to varying degrees, and a challenging wet August, the harvest here has been high in quality,” says winemaker Sam Linter.
“The smaller crop ripened extremely well on the vines over the mid-summer period resulting in an excellent quality harvest across all our grape varieties.”
The 2017 harvest could be defined as a season of two halves: pre and post fruit set,” says Ridgeview vineyard manager Matt Strugnell.
Spring frosts were battled with bougie candles lit between the vineyard rows, and thankfully Ridgeview’s home vines saw limited damage. Volumes were excellent for their estate vines, and other contract growers who escaped the frost damage had good to average yields.
Warm temperatures in May and June lead to early flowering. “The weather remained superb until the berries were petit pois size. Late July rains resulted in rapid berry growth, with the potential to cause early botrytis, so canopy management and well-timed sprays were crucial,” says Matt.
The high temperatures throughout summer and warmer weather at the end of September gave vines the last burst of energy for ripening and speedy verasion, leading to the second ever September harvest at Ridgeview.
The Chardonnay yields were high and while Pinot Noir saw lower yields, the grapes had plenty of flavour. Pinot Meunier, although fewer in number, produced some huge, ripe bunches.
“Overall we are very happy with 2017 quality: fantastic depth of flavour from the ripe fruit, with good volume considering the difficult start to the season,” says head winemaker Simon Roberts.
“All in all a challenging year,” says Matt, “but we got very good yields of ripe, clean and flavoursome fruit, and as a vineyard manager I couldn’t ask for much more than that!”