Harvest blog 2019

by Tim Haywood

Dec 12

Phew! Thank goodness that’s over!
The Harvest of 2019 seemed to go on for ever. We started on 6th September, the first vineyard to start picking in the UK (we think). And we finished on 12th November, the latest harvest at Astley since 1996. And in between those dates, we watched it rain, battled with excessive canopy, weed and grass growth, and hoped for some lovely late Autumn ripening sun (which never came).
It was a toughie.
Our first two harvests had been pretty good (2017) and downright amazing (2018). But 2019 showed us, for the first time, the true extent of the challenges facing winemakers in the variable UK climate. I used to joke about grumpy farmers forever moaning about the weather: now I understand. And, during a spell of 29 days consecutive rainfall in October, I wondered whether it was time to start brushing up on my carpentry and start building an ark!
However, we battled on. And in the end we managed to harvest just over 8 tonnes (pretty much the long-term average) of decent, if not spectacular, grapes.
Our early-ripeners (Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine) benefitted from the best of the weather and produced good crops of nicely-ripe and interesting fruit. Although, even at this stage, it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to be able to attain the levels of ripeness required for a Late Harvest, so we earmarked our Siegerrebe for the drier wines (Sabrinna and, in particular, our new rosé, Branwen, which is now established as one of our best-sellers).
The late-ripeners (particularly Kerner) were more problematic. There was plenty of fruit (due to the good growing conditions early in the season), but there was also plenty of other stuff…
The canopy grew prodigiously and required immense amounts of management, probably twice as much as the other varieties. In a dark moment I calculated that each row required 5 hours’ canopy management per pass. With 25 rows, and 3 passes in the season, that’s an awful lot of pulling and chopping! But if all the fruit ripened, we’d have had a bumper year. So we waited…and waited…and waited, until we could wait no more. The persistent wet was threatening to spoil the grapes, and the looked-for sunshine was still stubbornly not coming to finish the ripening process. As a result, we picked an average quantity of just-ripe, but quite acidic grapes (and left unpicked a fair amount of below-par fruit for the birdies to enjoy). This will likely be used mainly for our sparkling Kerner, which is something to look forward to in about 4 years’ time when it is ready.
So, eventually, all’s well that ends well. We were due a bit of a reality check after the golden, once in a generation, harvest of 2018. Having battled through 2019, maybe we can now consider our apprenticeship complete?
One final word on the harvest: Pickers.
We are, as always, hugely indebted to our wonderful platoon of volunteer pickers. 85 in number, they turned out with unflagging enthusiasm and no little skill to ensure we were able to get the best grapes possible. Harvest is a huge highlight of our year, not only because it is the culmination of a year’s hard graft in the vineyard, but also due to the good humour and community spirit of our lovely pickers. For those hardy souls who braved the rain and near-freezing temperatures on our last pick, a special mention: they will forever be recognised as “the heroes of 12th November”!
Thanks for reading.

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