Following the two recent incredible harvests, Vineyard Manager Duncan McNeil has prepared a report as to how these two consecutive years developed through the seasons. Compare and contrast the two years and this gives an insight into the challenges and variance’s of English wine making.
A very cold period from February through until early May meant a later than normal start to the season, with a late bud burst. There were no late spring frosts after bud burst, so no crop losses due to frost. In June we were up to 3 weeks behind a ‘normal’ growing season, but the temperate started to rise dramatically. Flowering started two weeks ‘late’, around 10th July with mercifully dry and hot weather throughout this period. June and July were very hot months with very low rainfall (35mm in total over June and July). Flowering lasted for longer than normal, eventually taking around 3 weeks to complete. This not normal considering the hot dry weather we had at the time, but the large number of flowers and large size of those flowers contributed to the length of time required for pollenation to complete.
With August came wet and cold weather. We had 100mm rainfall in August alone, and daytime temperatures fell from 30 degrees in July down to 16 degrees in August. From this point on the temperatures were in fact lower than the 30 yr average, and with these cooler conditions it was clear that sugar accumulation was not going to be high, bearing in mind the heavy crop.
September and October were also wet months, and much harvesting was done in the rain. Many varieties were picked at around 8 – 9% potential alcohol, and due to the persistent rain bunches started rot in places.
2013 will be remembered as a year of plenty, the heavy crop was a blessing after the preceding two years of extremely low yields. It was also notable as being the first season in which a commercial crop of Sauvignon Blanc grapes was harvested in the UK, here at Denbies.
Heavy rainfall during winter 2013/2014 meant that soil moisture levels were very high at the start of the 2014 growing season. The winter was very mild and bud burst was actually recorded at the end of March – a record in modern English vineyard history. There were three frost events at Denbies during April and May, but crop loss was negligible as a result of various viticultural practices which were used to counter the threat.
Warm temperatures and sunshine, interspersed with frequent rainfall characterised the first period from May through until the end of July. This was turning into the greatest growing season in recent memory. There were many inflorescences on the vine for every variety, and the size of the flowers was even larger than in 2013 – due to warm temperatures and plentiful soil moisture during the months of April, May, June, July. The weather conditions during flowering were again ideal, being hot and dry, despite some heavy morning dew on some days. By the end of flowering the growing season was considered to be 3 weeks ahead of a normal season. The hopes for a harvest of high quality were building by this point.
With August came colder wetter weather, exactly as had been the case in 2013. Many felt that the hopes for quality may have started to slip away, and approx 1 week of ripening was lost during this month – although we were still considered to be 2 weeks ahead of ‘normal’ by the end of August.
In September the warmer weather returned, seeing record warm temperatures for the month which helped with ripening enormously.
Harvest started on the 1st October. Due to the warm weather very low levels of grape acidity were noticed, and they continued to drop fast due to continued warm weather. Rainfall did in fact return during October and some instances of bunch rot were seen.
As the crop came in, it was noted that yields appeared to be even higher than 2013, but sugar levels were also far higher – an extra 2 -3% potential alcohol in some cases.
The 2014 harvest will be remembered as the rare occurrence in English winegrowing when high yield and high quality occurred in the same season.
Denbies Wine Estate