England's largest single-estate vineyard picks first grapes from this year's vintage

22 September 2016

The first grapes from what is expected to be an 'exceptional' vintage are being picked in Surrey vineyard Denbies today.

With weather that contributed to perfect ripening conditions – a dry summer and sunny September – Denbies' winemaking team has predicted 2016 to be one of its most successful vintages ever.

According to John Worontschak, chief winemaker at Denbies, they have witnessed sugars rising and acids falling dramatically. If October remains dry, the estate expects top-notch fruit quality, especially with premium late ripeners like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

'The quality is expected to be quite exceptional this year. We are anticipating high yields and expect to double the amount of sparkling production from last year’s harvest,' said Denbies CEO Christopher White. 'The exceptional quality of this year's vintage will also enable us to produce a record amount of single varietal wines, labelled under our Denbies vineyard select range.'

The first day of picking at Denbies
The first day of picking at Denbies

The south of England offers great conditions for growing many grape varietals. 'We expect the fruit to reach higher levels of natural sugar and achieve more intense flavours than in a normal year,' added Denbies viticulturist Duncan McNeill. 'Warm night time temperatures have caused the acidity levels in the grapes to drop faster, which is fantastic as getting the relatively high levels of berry acidity to drop before harvest can be a challenge in the cool UK climate.'

English wine is easily one of the hottest topics around this year, so how does Denbies' success compare to other English wine producers?

Sparkling wine producer, Ridgeview, is sharing Denbies' sentiment: 'It's been a very positive year. It started off chilly, which is why we're expecting lower quantity than some years, but we always want quality over quantity,' said business development manager for Ridgeview, Tom Surgey. 'The grapes are looking clean, and we expect to be harvesting in the first week of October. East and west Sussex vineyards are doing the best.'

'Budburst occurred mid-April which was normal timing. The Chardonnay flowered well, however the Pinot suffered slightly from a few days of rain. August and September have been tremendous, particularly since veraison,' added Matt Strugnell, vineyard manager.

With a harvest expected for the first week of October, slightly earlier than previous years, Strugnell added: 'The fruit is looking fantastic, with slightly smaller than average berries which will intensify the flavours.' Price wise, expect to see no change with Ridgeview as they have only recently adjusted their pricing – for the first time in four years – to match the rise in quality.

Kent estate Gusbourne also seems set for a great vintage. 'It's been a sensational year weather-wise. We had a fantastic July through to September and it's looking to be an extremely positive year,' said winemaker Charlie Holland. 'We will be starting our harvest at the beginning of October and don't plan to change our prices if the quality of wine does increase.'

Liam Idzikowski, head winemaker for Lyme Bay Winery, added: 'We are just gearing up to harvest. Normally I am quietly pessimistic until the grapes are picked but this year I am very excited. The weather has been perfect for grape ripening during August and September and yields are looking pretty good across the board.'

'We won't adjust the price. When the grapes are good quality we get a better yield so don't see a need to increase prices. It's in the difficult years the costs increase,' added Idzikowski.

Another advocate for this year's vintage is English Wine Producer's Julia Trustram Eve. Speaking to Imbibe, Trustram Eve revealed that the last few weeks have really added to the strength of the vintage. 'There's no bumper yield, but it's going to be a pretty good quality vintage,' she said.

'Red fruits have really shone through, but with more sparkling wine vineyards planted, sparkling is expected to be the dominant style.'

However, wine consultant Stephen Skelton MW revealed that the UK had a late flowering, with not all vineyards having plentiful crops. 'The west had fared worse, with very light crops in some vineyards,' he said. 'Early varieties have good sugars and that is to be expected after a good August and September. We have another 5-6 weeks to go before we really know what the quality is like'.

Regardless, from fizz to fizz-less, there are all round high hopes for this year's vintage. Hurrah for Blighty booze.

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