Weather yields quality harvest for wine makers

Warm spring and cooler early summer combine for a stronger grape flavour as vineyards report continued high demand.

English wine growers are reporting high-quality grape harvests this month despite a dip in yield, with the overall growth in the sector of previous years continuing.

The early part of the growing season was marked by an unprecedented warm spring that brought the vines on earlier than normal. The pattern was redressed by the cooler late June.

English Wine Producers marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve said: "Summer 2011 won't be remembered for many warm, sunny days, nor was there a marked amount of rainfall. Some parts of the South East, particularly, remain dry.

"As a result, grapes are smaller than normal but possess a concentration of fruit that will give the wines some excellent flavours."

Wessex Vineyards Association chairman Paul Langham said: "Quantity is a little down but the quality is definitely good. The Pinot Noir we picked last week will give us a strength of 14.3 per cent, which for England is stunning. The recent hot spell has finished things off nicely - you could see the grapes ripen on the vine."

He added: "The Wessex region will continue to see new interest and new planting, which is good. It's nice to have neighbours."

In Yorkshire, Leventhorpe Vineyard owner and acting chairman of the Mercian Vineyards Association George Bowden said harvests of high-quality, high-sugar but smaller berries leading to a lower yield were also the case further north.

"We had a dry summer," he continued. "Fortunately, we're on sandstone, which is always damp."

West Sussex Highdown Vineyard co-owner Aly Englefield said: "We are fortunate in being on the sea side of the South Downs. Flower set was patchy, the summer was challenging, but the season has redeemed itself since.

"Our first picks have been low in yield, but the quality has been staggering. We've had our highest sugar levels, which make such a difference. Others I'm leaving on for a week or two more."

She added: "Demand remains high and I am being firmer about selling it from the cellar door rather than through intermediaries.

"We have put some prices up just to slow down the demand, but it hasn't made much difference."

Harvest starts early

Grape harvesting, including the picking of traditional varieties for sparkling wine, got underway earlier than usual this year.

Some vineyards that traditionally pick in mid-October reported that they started at the end of September.

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