The 2023 season has proven itself to be one of mixed fortunes. Many are struggling with large clusters, and large yields, but are having to deal with the usual suspects of mildews and Botrytis, and with reaching adequate maturity levels. Whilst others are celebrating a bumper crop! 

The season started well at the Plumpton College Rock Lodge site, budburst across all varieties was pretty much in keeping with the yearly average. The reasonable weather continued into late spring, with no frost, providing good conditions for flowering. July however, turned out to be overcast and wet, and this continued into August. A damp and dull summer. 

For many the dreaded Downy mildew started to cause problems, as had been seen across Europe earlier in the year. Mild and humid conditions brought on by the overcast skies providing ideal conditions. Some good news though, in that although ideal conditions for Downy, the lack of long periods of hot sunshine did mean that Powdery mildew was not much of a worry this year. 

Things brightened up as we entered September and a last minute, mini-Indian summer, was much needed. Veraison and ripening was increased and I am sure that some vineyards, lucky enough to be in a good spot, will be celebrating a plentiful and healthy harvest!

A final sting in the tail, which given the overcast summer was not really a surprise, the emergence of plague proportions of Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) at the beginning of October. The heavy rain mid-September led to some berry splitting which attracted the pest into the fruit zone, and given that a single female can lay over 300 eggs, and that those eggs take little more than a week to hatch into adults. We had put out all the food traps that we have, and having been insecticide free for six years now, we have a healthy number of beneficial predatory creatures to help out, but the little blighters still made a sustained attack on the Pinot noir – so we harvested it as quick as we could!

Overall, not a bad year for Rock Lodge. Six years with zero herbicide and insecticide use, no Downy mildew all season, very little Powdery Mildew and very little Botrytis (so far) a good yield albeit a touch under ripe, in fact all was looking good if it wasn’t for that pesky fruit fly…

Photos: Sarah Binns