A brief post to report on happy hours spent snipping bunches for Aldwick Estate in Somerset this autumn.
Brief because the salient point is that there were LOADS of grapes! So many in fact that we were instructed to be even more ruthless than usual. Only the very best grapes were to be harvested. Anything else was either to be buried in the ground, or to be harvested in another pass, or try, when it had ripened fully.
The exceptionally hot weather in summer 2018 inevitably meant that this year’s grape crop was eagerly anticipated, but of course rain is never too far away, and the Madeleine Angevine white wine grapes which ripen earliest and are very sweet suddenly swelled when rain came, splitting the skins – so the wasps moved in!
The Bacchus grapes, which had been a slow tedious harvest in 2017 due to mould issues, were a much more rewarding proposition in 2018, so I am hoping that a single varietal Bacchus free of taint will emerge from our efforts.
The Seyval Blanc vines, usually bountiful even in tricky years, had gone potty. There were simply too many grapes to use everything, so inevitably there was wastage. Aside from yield limits somewhat belatedly publicised by the powers that be, the local winery in Shepton Mallet, so ably managed by Steve Brooksbank, could only cope with a relatively finite quantity of grapes.
Pinot Noir we harvested for fizz posed a challenge in this year of heat and rapid ripening, in that it was necessary to harvest quickly once optimum ripeness was achieved for fear of losing the acidity levels so crucial for sparkling wine production. This is a challenge when the workforce consists of volunteers paid in wine who cannot be summoned to harvest at a moment’s notice, and the winery can only take delivery of grapes when the allocated slot dictates.
A pink fizz was vital this year – Aldwick Estate needs this for its thriving wedding event business, and last year the wine destined for pink fizz decided to change colour and become a white fizz instead – a Blanc de Noir!
For me, however, the main event was harvesting Pinot Noir for a single varietal red wine. This is something which can only be done in UK vineyards in the very best years, and even then this is a brave decision because there is a much more reliable income stream from English fizz.
However, the success of Aldwick Estate’s first ever single varietal Pinot Noir in 2015 (see previous Judgement of Winscombe blog) will I hope have furnished Sandy and Elizabeth with the requisite knowledge, experience, equipment and confidence to go for it in 2018.
In the hope that the grapes would be good enough, I must confess that I was not perhaps the swiftest harvester of the crew, taking care to select only the very best berries of each bunch. Elizabeth was kind enough to encourage me to squeeze the berries for the optimum amount of “give”, to sample berries periodically to check the sweetness (they were sweet indeed!) and to thin out the bunches leaving the remainder to attain full ripeness more quickly.
I am afraid that my intended debrief with Elizabeth when the harvest concluded was not possible – sadly I had to dash from the vineyard to Weston Hospital because my father-in-law sadly passed away (many thanks to Mary for checking out my secateurs which I had to abandon in my barrow!). There is therefore a lack of technical information in this piece.
I hope, however, that this rudimentary report gives the general idea of what went on, and the care and attention that went into Aldwick Estate’s hand harvesting processes.
I will now have to wait until the harvest supper next June when I hope we will be updated as to how it all went when the grapes became wine…..
In the meantime, a reminder that Aldwick Estate are always happy to welcome new harvesters, on the understanding that they are paid only in wine! It is a lovely way to spend a few hours each autumn, and those with an interest in wine will learn first hand what happens in an English vineyard.
There are also other benefits including delicious bacon baps, a tasty lunch, and making new wine loving friends. And for dog lovers, here is a picture of Dennis, the quintessential vineyard canine. Guess what he is staring at…..