UK gets a grape break
UK wine producers are celebrating an “exceptional” harvest, with many reporting 2016 shaping up to be a high quality vintage.
Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director for English Wine Producers, told OLN: “Although we are not looking to break records with volume the quality is looking just fantastic, which is great.”
Some parts of the country had a challenging start to the growing season with unsettled weather. But the warm and dry August and September, which continued into October, has allowed vines across the UK to produce some high-quality fruit, according to Trustram Eve.
The earlier ripening varieties, many of them for still wines, are reported to be showing ripe fruit flavours, with high sugars and good acid balance.
Trustram Eve added: “Overall, 2016 is looking to be a fantastic vintage for the UK. We haven’t experienced any dramatic weather patterns as seen in other parts of Europe and have had the benefit of some great summer and early autumn weather just when our grapes needed it.”
When it comes to the sparkling wine varieties, consultant and Stephen Skelton MW is expecting sugars and acids on Chardonnay and Pinot to be excellent for sparkling and some great fruit for still wines.
He said: “If people wait, then some very good still wines from these varieties will be produced as well”. These varieties account for more than 50% of all plantings in the UK.
Producers in different parts of the country are confirming this message.
Tamara Roberts, chief executive at Ridgeview Wine Estate, told OLN: “Ridgeview’s harvest 2016 is now all pressed and in the winery fermenting away. The burst of September sunshine and overall favourable weather meant the fruit could remain on the vines for an extended period to increase the flavour profile.
“The quality of grapes across the board coming into Ridgeview was very good, with our own estate fruit of an extremely high standard with near perfect sugar and acidity levels. The yields this year are generally down due to the cold snap in April and mixed weather at flowering, which affected some of our partnership vineyards.
“What 2016 will lack in quantity though, it will make up for in extremely intensified quality”.
Mark Driver, owner of one of the UK’s largest vineyards, Rathfinny Estate in Sussex, said: “It was our first major harvest as we only planted our first vines in 2012. We picked just shy of 80 tonnes of grapes and, although that was a little less than we had hoped for, the quality of the fruit was very high.”
Driver added that the harvest will produce more than 50,000 bottles of sparkling wine, with some likely to be allocated for still wine as well.
Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey is also reporting an exceptional vintage this year.
General manager Chris White said: “The high quality of our fruit is due to the favourable weather conditions, which will in turn enable us to produce a record amount of single varietal ‘vineyard select’ wines.
“We are anticipating high yields and expecting to double the amount of sparkling production from last year’s harvest.”
Kent excitement: Inaugural harvest at Simpsons
One Kent-based producer has particularly welcomed the favourable weather as it coincided with its first ever harvest.
Ruth Simpson, co-owner of Simpsons Wine Estate, told OLN: “This year, for our first UK harvest, has been exceptional weather so we could pick whenever we felt the grapes were ready.
“The challenge in the UK is always the unknown factor of the weather but this year was perfect.”
She added that she and husband Charles, who together set up their French wine business Domaine de Sainte Rose in 2001, always intended their UK business to focus primarily on sparkling wines, but this year’s harvest, from grapes from the 10ha of land they planted in 2014, could lead to a still wine as well.
“We had intended only making a still wine in exceptional years and this has definitely been one. We might designate one small tank to a still Chardonnay.”
From their initial harvest the Simpsons have ended up with 27 tonnes. “It’s a possible production of about 22,000 bottles. It’s on the mid to high side of our estimates, which is brilliant.”
Oz Clarke, who grew up near the wine estate, was invited to speak at its recent opening.
He said: “I have known these fields for many years. They are seriously chalky, well protected and south facing, so I have always wondered why people haven’t planted more vineyards in Kent.
“It isn’t called the Garden of England for nothing as it has always grown the greatest hops, apples and pears and now vines. We probably have more Champagne soil here than the Champagne region does.”
Simpsons will now prepare for May 2017 when it will plant another 10ha.
“We will aim for a total of 30ha under vine, which has always been our plan. We will be in full production by 2021 and should produce up to a quarter of a million bottles of sparkling wine a year.”
Meanwhile, this summer Naked Wines offered its customers the chance to pre-buy wine from Simpsons’ first vintage.
The offer was positioned so that if not enough was produced this year a case could be mixed with wines from the French business.