While we have all been enjoying the bonus of a spell of Autumn sunshine, vineyard owners have had even greater appreciation. None more so than the team at Blackdown Ridge Estate, one of the newest English wine producers on the Sussex scene.
The grape harvest there started last week and is continuing through this week. 2016 has seen big problems for winemakers throughout Europe, with various weather conditions causing more than a few headaches. Frost, cold, torrential rain, hail, storms and even drought, have all had their turn in giving the vineyards a hard time.
Thus a dose of calm, warm, sunny weather before and during the grape harvest has been a welcome end to a tough growing season. Although the quantity picked appears to be lower than in the two previous years, quality is looking promising, with clean, ripe grapes which have very little disease and no rot – two common afflictions during harvest time particularly in damp conditions.
As Blackdown Ridge is one of my consultancy clients, I have been keeping a close eye on this year’s harvest and the resultant new vintage in the making. Situated high up on the Weald on the borders of Sussex and Surrey, the vineyard has good exposure to the sun and gentle breezes help to keep the grapes disease free. Both still and sparkling wines are made, the latter being from the traditional champagne mix of grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Sold under the name of Primordia, it is a typical, fruity, dry, refreshing English sparkler and the first vintage of 2013 is nearly sold out. The 2014 will be available for sale soon, the 2015 is still maturing and 2016 is just being pressed and fermented.
The Chardonnay had the greatest problems with the weather this year, suffering from the very wet and cool spring, which affected the flowering of the vines and the setting of the grapes. Due to the position of the vineyard, frost was not too much of an issue. Normally picked before the red grape varieties, it is being left until last, so as to get as much ripeness as possible – always a gamble at this time of year as the weather can change rapidly.
Already getting a loyal following, the quality of the wines at Blackdown Ridge is set to go from strength to strength with the engagement of New Zealander Josh Hammond as the new winemaker. Young and dynamic, Josh has great enthusiasm for English wines and has plans to bring his wealth of experience in making wines for Villa Maria in New Zealand, to Blackdown Ridge. “I believe that this vineyard has great potential for high quality wines” said Josh. “The key is to capture aroma and character,” he continued, “and the basis is top quality grapes and modern wine-making techniques”.
A new trial at Blackdown is with Sauvignon Blanc, and this year sees the first harvest of this variety. The grapes are looking good and Josh should certainly know a thing or two about making these wines. The results will be apparent in Spring 2017, but if the other wines are anything to go by, it will be worth searching out.