As promised, here is a belated update from Sutton Ridge – this time following a visit on an idyllic midsummer’s evening (3rd July 2019). Luke was advising a family hoping to plant a vineyard in the Cheddar area, chilled rosé in hand, from a vantage point on a high grassy bank overlooking the vineyard, Blagdon Lake and the Mendips.
Merely 10 weeks ago in late April the vineyard was neat and tidy with its first leaves of the season showing. Now look at it! After a long dry spell, June brought abundant rain and the vines have responded by throwing out shoots left right and centre. Here is Flo doing her bit to bring order to the chaos.
Flowering is usually expected in Wimbledon fortnight, and despite the chilly wind and rain, flowering was happening, right on cue.
There were no pretty flowers to see, though. Vines self pollinate, so there are no attractive blooms to lure in pollinating insects (except the roses planted as early warning signs of disease). Neither is there much scent to speak of, although vineyards tend to have a honey-citrus perfume around flowering time.
So where are the “flowers”? “Flowers” are simply the seed bearing part of a plant. Vines are hermaphrodite, and so are self contained; they have just what they need to reproduce, no more, no less. So they have male parts (the stamens) which bear pollen (20,000 grains per flower!), which wait for the flower caps to pop off adjacent flower clusters containing the ovary, or female part. If it is warm enough, the clusters open, enabling the pollen to transfer to the ovary and pollinate the vine. The stamens and pollen are only a few millimeters away from the flower clusters, so a gentle breeze is all that is needed for the pollen to transfer to the ovary. Pollination can happen even in still conditions, but ideally some wind is good to blow off the caps and rub the stamens and clusters together. Damp weather at this time is unhelpful as the caps tend to stick and the growth of the pollen is slowed down. If the caps stick they can become embedded in the bunches of berries, increasing the risk of bunch rot in varieties with tightly packed bunches.
Grape growers want to see an early, quick and even flowering so that the crop is full, the harvest date can be predicted, and ripening is even. Late, slow and patchy flowering has the opposite effect. 20-25°C is ideal so lots of flower caps come off and clusters open quickly.
Although warm sunny weather at flowering is important, the quality of flowers is also crucial, and this is determined by growing conditions during May-July in the preceding year.
After flowering, Luke loses no time in spraying against disease, aided by his neighbours at Aldwick Estate who have a tractor with air conditioned cabin for this purpose. But there is no chance of getting a tractor along the rows at the moment without damaging the vines. So the race is on to tuck in the unruly waving arms (see top photo – right has been done, left still unkempt) and at the same time thin out shoots and canes so sunlight and air can penetrate the canopy. Care has to be taken, however, because when leaves reach 50-80% of the maximum size they help the vine build up sugars needed for the next year, so pulling off too many at this stage could jeopardise the health of the vine for the following harvest. So management of the leaf canopy continues throughout the growth cycle since leaves at maximum size start to contribute decreasing amounts of sugars and can be more safely removed.
Already the variation in how tightly packed the bunches will be is evident. The black skinned variety Regent (see photo) has relatively open, spaced out flowers, so the resulting grape bunches should be at less risk of mildew.
So what else has been happening? The 2018 vintage has been released, and I have been sampling it and comparing it to the 2017. Here are some notes about Bacchus (for Rosé wait until véraison blog!):
2017: Pale lemon green colour. Very pronounced appealing nose of nectarine, apricot, freesia, freshly mown lawn and nettles. High acidity and tangy red gooseberry bite balanced by creamy weight and rounded mouthfeel. I would have liked more length but this is a good, balanced and moreish wine. I fancy cheese with this and suspect a tangy vintage cheddar would work well.
2018: Pale lemon green colour. Pronounced, complex yet elegant nose of lemongrass, very ripe pear, red apples, pineapple, and strawberry with a steely note; an overlay of white flower perfume lifts the aroma profile. Smells classy. High acidity, very clean, pure and precise in the manner of a Riesling, with additional distinct white peach and nettle flavours, again with a tangy bite balanced by a creamy weight on the palate. Long if delicate finish. A very good wine that really sings.
Notes made before results of Wine GB announced – Bacchus 2018 won Silver!!.