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Vine Harvest 2018

A near-perfect autumn following a near-perfect summer for grape growing in the UK may never happen again, but lessons learnt from 2018 will help to future-proof vineyards and wineries, should we be blessed again. Despite the green harvest that many practiced in thinning the crop, that is always done with some trepidation, many vineyards still found themselves picking crops well in excess of estimate. The pressure on wineries to process and find suitable receptacles in which to put all this extra juice, is now passing into memory, but some vineyards without contracts or sufficient tank space did have to walk away from good quality grapes.

At the recent WineGB Viticuture Technical Conference, much of the chat between the sessions turned to large harvest experiences. Nick Wenman from the Albury Organic Vineyard in Surrey was very upbeat. “All-in-all we picked 37 tonnes of fruit from the Albury site, which is the most we have ever picked, and more than twice the harvest of last year’s 15 tonnes”. No wonder Nick was smiling as, like many growers, in 2017 the damage caused by an early budburst followed by late spring frosts, led to a very poor harvest.

In his November WineGB Chairman’s report, Hampshire vine grower Simon Robinson congratulates everyone on “what must surely be the largest harvest in our history. We will not know exactly how large it has been until we complete our annual survey early in the New Year, but the sweepstake here at Hattingley is betting on it being between double and triple that of last year. I suspect we will all be looking back at this year wistfully for many years to come and hoping that ‘this year’ will be like 2018”.

Simon voices the concerns of many about the shortage of winery capacity in the UK. “Quite a few wineries had to turn fruit away or scramble to find extra tanks and presses. Most raised their game significantly but, even so, it was not enough this year and some growers were left looking for buyers – in vain, in some cases. So, what will happen five years from now when the three million newly-planted vines mature? Where are those grapes going to go? Of course, many have been planted under contract to wineries, but I suspect there are quite a lot that are not contracted. To put it in perspective, three million vines should produce around 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes in a good year, and more in a very good year like this one. That is around 20 more wineries of the size of Hattingley Valley. But while there is some evidence of wineries being built, I am far from convinced that enough are under consideration, particularly wineries catering for smaller growers.”