What does Britain’s Best Ever Grape Harvest mean for You?
Following on from our previous posts about budburst, getting through spring without frost and then successful flowering and helping with harvest, no doubt you’ve seen reports of this year being the best ever harvest in this country, but what exactly does that mean? The biggest…? The best quality…? What implications are there for you, as the consumer and the vineyard visitor?
The Biggest Harvest?
I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s been the biggest ever wine grape harvest in this country. There are two factors at play here, the number of grapes per vine has been unprecedented, with numerous photos of massive bunches of grapes shared. The number of vineyards being planted is also increasing and some of those will be lucky enough to have had their first commercial harvest (typically 2 or 3 years after planting) in this exceptional year.
The Best Quality?
While much has been made of the great quality, I think it’s fair to say that this year’s conditions have presented the opportunity for exceptional quality, which some will have taken advantage of. Those big bunches I mentioned earlier? They are pretty hard to get ripe in our climate – the producers with the knowledge and deep enough pockets, will have done some pretty brutal “green harvesting” to reduce the number of grapes growing to maturity, thereby giving the remaining fruit a better chance to ripen to a greater degree than is usual here. Where that hasn’t been done, the quality will probably be consistent with a normal year here, so still pretty good!
What does this mean for Sparkling Wines?
Sparkling wine can be made with grapes that are much less ripe than still wine. The additional quantities this year will obviously enable more fizz to be produced, but it will also help canny winemakers build up their reserves. This is both in terms of quantity (to balance out years when little or no wine is produced, like 2012) but also to have additional components or flavour profiles to use in the blending of future wines. This is actually called a “library” and is seen by many as essential to building up a quality non-vintage (NV) or multi-vintage (MV) house style.
What about Still Wines?
Still wines are much more dependent on ripe grapes, so there could be some really exciting wines coming along. Expect some beautiful Chardonnay, exceptional Bacchus as well as more rosé and red wines from 2018. We’re also noticing a resurgence in some of the less popular varieties – while Rondo and Ortega fell out of favour to the more “classic” varieties for a few years, some producers are now realising that the reason they were planted in the first place is because they grow well and are disease-resistant in our climate and are starting to use them again in good quality wines again, either in blends or on their own.
When do I get to Taste these Wines?
This is where you need patience, I’m afraid! Some of the still wines from 2018 will be released in 2019, but many producers will hold them back until 2020 if they can. For the sparkling wines, a second fermentation in bottle means that it won’t be until another 2 or 3 years after that they will start to appear.
So Will there be Bargains?
We’re not expecting massive bargains – it’s an expensive business producing wines in this country and producers will want to make the most of a year that helps to pay them back, and to future-proof their budget from leaner years. That said, we’re already hearing of tanks full and barrels full, which is likely to mean that storage for full bottles will also run out. I think it would be reasonable to expect modest offers on wines already made to help clear out space for the new ones. Such offers will be online, at the cellar door, and no doubt some supermarkets will spot a good opportunity, too; remember that the first two of these options will benefit the winery most.
What about Visiting Vineyards?
There is more wine to sell and a spirit of optimism in the air – at least there will be once the exhausted harvesters and winemakers have had a chance to recover from their exertions! While some producers have good reasons not to open their doors, the number welcoming visitors is increasing all the time (our website lists over 200) and the quality of facilities is improving, too. This year alone, we’ve seen a huge opening from Hush Heath, a new winery and tasting room at Hidden Spring and we know of a good number more in plan. We’ll be out there visiting them and reporting back so you can find them easily and know what to expect when you get there.
What do I do next?
If you’re looking to buy wines, get on the mailing lists of your favourite producers and join their membership scheme if they have one.
Seen the excitement of harvest on social media and want to be a part of it? Check out both the short courses and degree courses at Plumpton College. If you haven’t been involved before, volunteering is a great way to find out if it’s for you – while getting out in the fresh air and meeting new people as well!
Photo of Pinot Noir grapes from A’Beckett’s Vineyard in Wiltshire.
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