With the first sparkling grapes likely to be harvested around the third week of September, and the majority not until the start of October, the UK’s wineries are facing a nervous final few weeks before vintage.
While 2018 was freakishly perfect – and already being picked at this time last year – a combination of warm and wet weather over much of the summer has left 2019 balanced on a knife edge.
‘We’ve had heatwaves mixed with rain, so disease pressure has been an issue this year,’ said Henry Laithwaite of Harrow & Hope in Buckinghamshire. ‘If the weather behaves itself over the next fortnight, we will be ok. If not, we could be picking [to avoid] rot, rather than on ripeness.
‘There’s been a lot of humidity floating around this year. Now we need at least two weeks of good dry weather,’ he added.
Harvesting grapes earlier than the winemaker would like might avoid the crop being decimated by botrytis, but it could lead to greener flavours in the grapes.
‘The vineyard guys are having to earn their salary this year,’ said Hattingley Valley’s winemaker Emma Rice. ‘Rain has meant that it’s been harder to find spraying windows, yet we’ve needed to do it more.’
Stylistically, Rice likens 2019 to the 2015 vintage. ‘It’s a later vintage and not quite as ripe, with higher acidity. But for producers of sparkling wines, that’s not a problem at all. Last year we worried about fruit being overripe,’ she said.
Volume wise, 2019 is still looking healthy. Wineries Imbibe spoke to put the likely crush at 20% less than last year’s record-breaking harvest, but still well above average. If correct, the estimates would suggest production this year of around 12m bottles.
‘The vines were still pumping after last year, and we had really good weather during flowering,’ said Dan Cahill from Worthing-based Fitz. ‘In fact, the big problem is winery capacity. Everyone is still full from last year.’