Rain or shine?

The expectation of delivering a crop in perfect condition can set one’s nerves jangling.

My first harvest in England was as a student in 2000 at St George’s vineyard in East Sussex. My memory of that year was the rain and having to pick in the rain as there simply were not any dry days. 

Nearby Lewes and Uckfield were badly flooded and Lewes station made an appearance on the front cover of Private Eye magazine, ‘The boat arriving at platform 3 is the delayed 3.25 from Hastings’.

Well OK, it’s nowhere like it was then, but the recent remnants of storms tracking across the Atlantic has given us constantly changing weather forecasts. According to some of my colleagues at Ridgeview head office, I am approaching harvest in a buoyant and calm mood. As one of them put it, I haven’t yet been seen doing my ‘don’t talk to me about harvest’ face. 

Even when the crop is looking magnificent, the expectation of delivering a crop without a hitch and in perfect condition can set one’s nerves jangling. Have I booked enough pickers? Have I chosen the right day to start picking? Will the fruit be ok until we get around to picking it? Will the bird scarers work ok? Has my sampling been representative? Will the crop forecasts hold true, or at least be within an acceptable tolerance? Will the weather be ok for picking?

The weather was great throughout most of September, right up until the 29th. The rain since then has meant picking schedules have been moved around and ripening is slowing down, but thankfully still slowly climbing.

Titratable acidity (TA) has been a curious thing this year. Right from the start of sampling in early September, the TA was looking lower than normal, particularly in the Pinot noir and Pinot meunier and in many vineyards. It was pleasant ripening weather, but we’ve had plenty of nice Septembers in the past so nothing too unusual. 

Veraison was around the normal sort of time. There wasn’t much rain to speak of, so nothing to dilute the acidity. There was a spell of quite chilly nights too, something that we rely on to keep the acidity high. Yet the TAs were getting below 20g/l before any appreciable sugar accumulation. With the recent wet weather, my worry has been that the acidity will be further diluted, but in fact what is happening is that they have fallen to just about the perfect level and have pretty much stayed put.

I suppose the story of 2019 has been a year of stop-start weather; mid 20’s in February, record breaking temperatures over Easter, a cold start to June, good flowering weather, but a fairly ordinary August apart from the Bank Holiday heatwave. Social media has shown pictures of individual bunches displaying the full spectrum of berry development from green, pre-veraison, right through to full ripeness. 

A few instances of berry shrivel that looked like heat stress and there is a large spread of bunch counts and bunch weights. Despite this what is currently hanging out there right now looks fantastic. The Pinot noir and meunier is all safely picked, the winery team are happy, and we are now waiting to pick our Chardonnay. Very happy with the ripeness and the general health of the crop, it’s just trying to get a good day to pick it.

Perhaps we have been slightly blessed with the weather at harvest for the past few years. Sure, there have been rainy days over the harvest period, but I can’t remember being quite so anxious about the rain at this time for quite a few years. Once the pickers have started, I’ll find myself going through the crates, picking out random bunches, tasting them, testing with the refractometer and making sure that the fruit is clean and ripe. Then I walk a few rows seeing how full the crates are. Is that crop forecast looking good? 

In a year of ups and downs, overall it is all looking very promising at the moment and as ever I am sure everything will work out beautifully… fingers crossed.

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