Wineries in England and Wales are battling to get their heads around one of the most unusual and asymmetrical vintages of the last 20 years.
2017 will probably be most-remembered for the spring frosts that took a heavy toll on many estates. But it is also one of the earliest vintages on record and, with a reasonably warm, dry summer, some producers are delighted with the quality of the grapes they’re seeing.
Denbies started picking its early-ripening Solaris variety on 6 September, two weeks earlier than usual – the earliest start to picking in the winery’s 31 year history.
Producers of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are expecting to start picking in the third week of September, weeks earlier than normal.
Volumes range from ‘slightly lower’ (Denbies) and Ridgview’s ‘minimal damage’ to volumes at barely 30% of the normal.
‘It was a once in every 25 years frost,’ sighed Ruth Simpson of Simpsons Wine Estate in Kent. ‘Do you invest in the expense of frost protection for that? It’s a lot of money. But then in years like this you end up with hardly any wine to sell.’
Hattingley Vineyards, one of the country’s mid-sized producers, is fairly typical in expecting volumes to be at 60% of a ‘normal’ year, and will be adopting the technique of the Champenois of releasing stored wines from its cellars to make up the shortfall.
‘Previous years have seen us lay down much larger stocks, ’ says winemaker Emma Rice. ‘This should see us through the leaner 2017 vintage which won’t be on the market until 2020 at the earliest.’