Overall the one word we would use for this year is challenging! However, this is not unexpected in cool climate viticulture and keeps us vigilant. The year began slowly with delayed budburst due to cool weather and pressure from frosts. We lit our bougie frost protection candles on four separate occasions. Despite this, we were more fortunate than our European neighbours who suffered frost after bud break, with sadly lots of damage reported. As our English viticulture growing season is a couple of weeks behind Europe, the frost damage was actually minimal to our vines.
With the start of the growing season in May, the challenges continued with extreme rainfall. We experienced more than double the rain than what we would usually expect in the critical growing period May/June/July. There were several overnight torrential downpours; perfect conditions for downy mildew. The consensus here and on the continent, is that downy mildew hasn’t been seen at these levels for decades. Vigilance and good canopy management have been vital. Despite the rain, by the time flowering began we had made up for a bit of the slow start. We were grateful for the late burst of September sunshine, which was generally dry and above-average temperatures which really helped with the bulk of the ripening.
Harvest will begin in earnest around mid-October which seems late but is actually historically normal for England, it is just that we have seen early harvests for the past few. October has started with more rain and extra challenges for ripening however, it looks like the weather will be improving for when we are in the full swing of harvest. It is now time to hold our nerve! The good news is that the crop is largely clean with an open canopy which is down to our fantastic viticulture team being on top of everything throughout the season.
This year also brought the added problems with labour shortages. Due to the perfect storm of Brexit, covid and large industry growth meant that labour was an issue throughout the critical times of the season. This will continue into harvest with a fuel shortage thrown in for good measure!
We have had early fruit in from East Anglia who has fared better with the weather this year, so far this fruit is coming lovely, clean and ripe. Ridgeview sources fruit from all over Southern England with the philosophy that it is best to spread the growing risk as some regions will fare better than others in difficult years. Like most years now the Pinots will generally ripen before the Chardonnay as their acids will drop first.
We are hoping for average volumes with some nice depth of flavours due to the long growing season and the time the fruit will have spent on the vines. All of this is a reminder of why making wine on the edge of cool climate viticulture will always bring challenges but is rewarding and keeps us on our toes with no year ever the same!