My latest visit to Luke’s vineyard was on 6th September 2019, on a showery and blustery afternoon with moisture enough to bring out a nervous frog who leapt haphazardly beneath the vines.
Véraison marks a new phase of promise at Sutton Ridge; the changing colour from green to black of Regent, then Pinot Noir, evidences ripening (from the photos you can see that aside from the colour, Regent has far looser bunches than tightly packed Pinot Noir). Sugar levels are rising, acidity levels are falling. The anxious wait until harvesting now begins.
So much can go wrong – damp conditions cause mildews which can set in during the window between the last spray and the harvest; pests want their share of the crop; poor weather can mean ripening is slow and might not happen at all, especially if véraison is delayed. After a changeable summer, I wondered whether véraison would be later than usual but it is happening on schedule, Regent grapes already deep black while Pinot Noir is turning now, a couple of weeks later.
So how is Luke protecting his crop? His bird scarer had been felled by strong winds (here he is resurrecting it), and already one vine beside a hedge appeared to have been raided, perhaps sparing its neighbours from a similar fate. Badgers had already dug latrines into which they had deposited seed laden stools and bare stalks as evidence of their brazen theft. An electric fence probably won’t deter them; Luke accepts some losses to the furry thieves. Deer, too, expect their share. Luke has deer fences, but no barrier is completely deer proof, it seems.
Luke offered me the chance to try a grape or two – sugars definitely on the up but still plenty of acidity too!
Fortunately, although 2019 is not as bountiful a year as as 2018, there seem to be plenty of grapes to go around. Luke isn’t planning any green harvesting, sometimes carried out around now, to lower his yields this year (he green harvested his Seyval Blanc (see right photo) last year to aid ripening). But he is de-leafing to maximise air circulation and sun exposure, which will also make the harvest easier. He is also picking out any signs of disease from each bunch by hand. So there is plenty to do!
Despite growing 5 different grape varieties, Luke expects to harvest for 2-3 weeks from mid October. Luke plans to use all his Pinot Noir for sparkling rosé as he did last year. His still rosé comes from Regent and Phoenix (see left photo), the proportions variable according to how much of each there is. His 5 rows of Regent produce less than his 4 rows of Phoenix, so it ends up about 60/40 or just about even. The grapes are co-fermented together rather than separately and then being blended, giving what Luke believes is a better integration of flavours. Regent gives a dark colour so in 2017 Seyval Blanc was added to adjust the colour to a more Provence-style pale salmon. Bacchus (see right photo) is used for still white wine. Luke would like to make a still Pinot Noir red one day, but would need to plant more vines and acquire an oak barrel! One day maybe…..
In the meantime, as promised, notes on Luke’s Rosés, tasted in July 2019:
2017: Pale salmon, apricot hue. Pronounced nose of rich farmyard, redcurrant, warm fresh strawberries, red cherries and a dairy note. Medium bodied with strawberries and cream flavours, evolving into redcurrant and apricot. Medium + acidity balanced with creaminess and rich fruit which prolongs the finish. A very good wine.
2018: Pale salmon with pink tinges. Clean precise and intriguing nose which evolves in the glass from red berries and currants to cherries, with rose hip, peachiness and hints of oregano and farmyard adding complexity. This carries to the palate which has high acidity and a red gooseberry bite. Light bodied, the acidity is perfectly offset by plenty of red fruits and a creamy mouthfeel. The finish seemed eternal! An outstanding wine. No surprise, therefore, that it won gold at Wine GB, as did its predecessor, the 2017.
You can taste it on Friday 27th September at The Wine Shop Winscombe where Luke will be launching his 2018 still wines. Tickets £5 – to book, ring The Wine Shop on 01934 708312.