Ripe place at the right time

Ripe place at the right time

British vineyards are enjoying a better year than their Mediterranean rivals due to the corking weather – and the Indian summer is providing a final boost.

Wine experts are predicting the best ever harvest this year for domestic grape growers thanks to near-perfect growing conditions in southern England this summer.

It comes as Italian wine producers are bracing themselves for a 30 per cent drop in their harvest after the Med endured a dreary summer of typically-British weather.

And the French had already declared the season a catastrophe after hail storms wiped out 80 per cent of their Pinot noir and Chardonnay crops in Burgundy earlier this season.

But with the mercury set to soar well into September, growers here predict it could give record crops a final boost before next month’s harvest.

Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down Winery in Kent – one of the biggest in England – said: “Anybody giving a forecast for a harvest is a fool, but this year is looking spectacularly good.

“It follows our record harvest last year and I think we will see a harvest in excess of 10 per cent greater than that in terms of volume this time.

“More importantly, we are expecting it to be one of the great years in terms of quality.

“The sunshine and the warmth that we have had of late has been sensational and it has given us what we hope is going to be a true vintage year in English wine.”

Mediterranean producers have faced a dismal July, August and September, with cold temperature, clouds and rain for much of the summer.

In Italy, experts are expecting this year’s harvest to be 15 per cent down on usual, with growers in the south bracing themselves to produce 30 per cent less bottles in 2014.

Golf ball sized hailstones pummeled French crops in July, leading the prestigious Pommard Winemakers’ Association to declare the season “a catastrophe”.

But British growers had an early heatwave, regular but light showers throughout the summer, and a last minute balmy September.

Keith Willingdale at Bow-in-the-Cloud vineyard in Garsdon, Wiltshire, is cautiously optimistic about his harvest, set to be gathered in mid-October.

The award-winning winemaker said: “We had a very good start to the year, and this is perfect weather for but right now – couldn’t be better.

“But it’s also good for disease, the fungus that can affect things.

“Whether or not it will be a great year will depend on whether a vineyard has got its fungus under control.”

UK winemaker Sam Lindo, who owns Camel Valley Vineyard near Bodmin, Cornwall, said the continental growers will be hit hard by the reduced crop.

“We’ve had a brilliant year for our wine,” he said.

“If the sun shines, everything flowers and there’s no particularly bad weather between now and October, then we could make up to 200,000 bottles.

“On a bad year we can make 50,000. In England we accept that we have bad years from time to time but in Burgundy they’ll not be used to having such a bad season.”

Vineyard owner Simon Day said the bumper harvest could banish myths pedaled by continental rivals that English wine is second class.

He said: “English wine used to be a bit of a joke. The French, Italian and Spaniards – the stereotypical wine-growing countries – would say, ‘the English can’t make wine’.

“The French are intensely proud of what they produce themselves. Of course 99.99 per cent of what is drunk in Burgundy is made in Burgundy. But when they try our wine out now they’re pleasantly surprised.

“Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the devastation in Burgundy and France have been absolutely horrific. Storms can be quite localised and some vines have been completely stripped bare.

“Obviously storms and strong winds are something English winegrowers are aware of too but it’s just been the right weather at the right time for our wine.

“It’s been perfect weather – sunny, warm and light, breezy winds. It’s not all done and dusted yet though, but everything looks very promising.”

Mr Day who used to work on vineyards in France but now runs 16 Ridges Vineyard in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where he hopes to produce 60,000 bottles from this summer’s crop.

He added: “The demand for English wine has been outstripping supply for the last 10 years.

“You never see English wine on the shelves but that’s because it’s already sold. It’s sold at the vineyard’s gates, or in local pubs and restaurants, so that’s why you don’t see it.

“A lot of English vineyards are exporting their crop. We’ve seen English wine bought in Scandinavia, the Americas, China, Japan, Russia, you name it.

“English sparkling is most often compared to Champagne. It’s similar in style but some say better.

“That’s because Champagne is struggling with over-ripening thanks to global warming while England’s climate is perfect.”