Veraison – the name for the ripening of grape berries just before the harvest.
It’s such an exciting time to visit a vineyard. Red varieties are beginning to show their true colours and the whites are turning transluscent and pearly as the sweetness reaches bursting point.
Here in the UK autumn days can be golden and vineyards are situated in some of our most beautiful countryside.
There’s been a surge in visibilty of English wine since we first discovered it for ourselves and helping with the harvest is part of that growth.
With 522 commercial vineyards and 164 wineries throughout England and Wales annual production has rocketed from just under 6 million bottles a year to 15.6 million in 2018 alone. That’s some growth spurt.
Plonk a compass on a map of the British Isles and you’ll find vineyards north, south, east and west.
Lovells Vineyard sits in the beautiful Malvern Hills just below Worcester with Coddington and Furnace Projects in nearby Herefordshire. And the most northerly commercial vineyard is Ryedale in North Yorkshire.
Two thirds of production remains sparkling wine, using the champagne method with traditional grapes like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
But more and more wine-makers are experimenting with still table wines, with whites ranging from dry to medium and even some dessert variations. Soft, summery rosés are becoming increasingly popular and, due to the cooler growing conditions here, light and fruity reds from Dornfelder, Rondo and Gamay grapes are growing in popularity.
In other words there’s an English or Welsh wine suitable for any occasion, not just an alternative fizz for weddings and anniversaries.
And of those 522 vineyards more than 200 are open to visitors. Of course it all gets a bit hectic at this time of the year. Depending on the grape variety and the weather, harvest can happen from mid September right through to the end of October and it’s all hands on deck to get the precious fruits in at just the right time.
Elisabeth Else from Wine Cellar Door says generally the signs for the English wine harvest in 2019 are pretty good.
‘From going around the country I get the feeling that harvest is likely to be a bit higher than average, but not as high as last year. What everone needs now is sun for ripening and dry, gentle breezes to keep mildew and botrytis at bay – the main risks to a good harvest at this point. We can’t say what it will be like until the grapes are safely picked and in the winery!’
If you’re a real fan of wine why not see if a vineyard near you uses volunteers to help out at harvest time? We’ve taken part in two special days – one at Bluebell Vineyard in Sussex and one in Kent at Woodchurch Wine.
Donna Barbour from Woodchurch says their grapes are looking great so far and thinks they’ll have a similar amount of fruit to last year.
‘We’re a week behind last year in terms of ripeness. We’ll be picking the Pinot early October and the Chardonnay mid/late October. No disease so far and some sun and not too much rain over the next few weeks would be helpful.’
And they’re branching out from their traditional, award-winning sparkling wines.
‘We’re planning on making a still rosé from the Pinot Noir. The key is to get the acid low so we can avoid malolactic fermentation, that way we can keep the fruit flavours intact.’
Kristina Studzinski says things are moving fast at Off The Line Vineyard.
‘For us, it is looking like an above average crop of high quality. But still a little way to go especially for our Pinot Noir which we pick last. The recent warm spell with cooler nights is very good news. We are starting harvest now, which is the earliest ever start for Off The Line. ‘
‘We’re planning to have a friends and volunteers day in mid-October, but with the way things are going we may have to bring it forward.’
Where to help with the English Wine harvest
Not every vineyard is set up to welcome guests at harvest-time.
Don’t want to help out but still want to see English wine-making for yourself?
Many vineyards remain open to drop-ins even at this busy time but it’s best to check directly with the vineyard you’re planning to visit and be prepared to keep out of the way if work is going on.
Photographs © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk