Overall, 2023 has been a good year so far. There are various potential pitfalls for vineyards through the season, from late spring frosts after the vines have started to shoot, through inclement weather during flowering, to the amount and timing of sunshine, warmth and rain through the summer and in the final weeks before harvest. We avoided frosts and the early summer featured some very hot weather in June. Although we had wet, cool and breezy weather in early July, flowering was mostly good. And there was plenty of rain at the right times, before the September mini heat wave. This pattern is an echo of 2014, which was a stunning year for English sparkling, and Squerryes in particular.
Vineyard owners and managers have been excited by the amount of fruit this year, which was widely anticipated after we saw near perfect conditions in the spring of 2022, when the vines formed buds for the following year’s shoots and fruit. Add to this the favourable growing conditions and you get the potential for a bumper crop. The challenge is to make sure that the fruit ripens sufficiently in whatever weather we get dealt.
The vineyard team has a few tricks up their sleeve to get the best from the conditions and to minimise the risks from diseases that are never far away. First, we have stripped the leaves from the area around the fruit, to allow good air movement and expose the fruit to the direct sunlight. Second, we try to keep the weeds and grass down, reducing the temperatures and moisture levels so conditions are less favourable for mildew and fungal diseases. We need to be vigilant in these final weeks, and nip signs of these diseases as early as possible.
Veraison, where the colour of the fruit starts to change, acidity drops and sugar levels increase, is an important date in the vineyard, as we know we are definitely on the countdown to harvest. At this point we need to make accurate forecasts of the likely yield.
The yield predictions are based on counting the average number of bunches per vine from random locations across the vineyard and weighing representative bunches. Multiplying these two numbers gives us the likely yields.
The other work that we do over the final few weeks before harvest is to take samples from the different blocks across the vineyard, to monitor sugar levels and the levels of ripeness. The bunches are squeezed and the juice is analysed, this exercise is being repeated each week to record absolute levels and the rate of change. This will inform not only the start date of harvest but also the order in which different blocks will be picked.
Finally, the other important part of planning for harvest is to ensure that we have a picking team ready to go, along with all of the other practicalities, from secateurs and gloves to buckets and picking bins.
Author: Richard Dyson