UK 2016 Vintage Report #7 – October

A final note now on the progress / harvest of my 2016 grapes.

The recent weather has turned fully autumnal and temperatures have plateaued at around 10°C each day (and obviously cooler overnight).  The rain, which had been sporadic since the start of October, has picked up and most mornings are now damp from overnight showers.

As I write, we are just in the midst of several showers and they are forecasted for the week ahead.

Tracking nicely ahead of my other varieties from the start of season, my Ortega was the first to be picked on the 9th of October.  Prior to picking I tested the sugar content of the grapes with my refractometer and they came out at 20-21° on the Brix scale (which measures the sugar content of the grapes).  This converts as a potential alcohol content of 11.5% and is absolutely spot on for a white grape in the south of the UK.

Apart from some mite damage during the season my only lament is that the overall crop was significantly down on expectations (this was a feature for all of my varieties this year, and that of the wider UK as I’ve seen).

chard-sept-16

I’ve unfortunately given up on my Chardonnay crop.  I was rather holding out as this is a late ripening variety but, even with the recent rains, the grapes have not swelled and have remained small and hard in nature.  The leaves have turned in colour, much the same as my cropped Ortega, and this means that the saps are descending and there is no future growth to see.

For purely academic reasons I also tested the Brix ° on these grapes which came out as a lowly 9, or a potential alcohol of 4.7%.  Perfect only for the health conscious amongst us!

mvn3-oct16

My MVN3 began changing colour towards the end of last month and have now reached the point where all berries have universally transformed (it’s a real shame I still don’t know exactly what variety this is!).

The current Brix ° as I write is 13, or 7% potential alcohol.  I’ll be leaving these grapes a further week or two to realise their potential alcohol, prior to picking them.

Yields for the MVN3 have proved to be best overall (but this is likely due to the different cane training I used on the vines last winter).  I will be training all varieties the same from this point on and looking forward to the 2017 vendange.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #6 – September

A quick check in on my vines in what has proven to be an interesting month weather-wise.  The beginning of September saw continued sunshine and temperatures hovering around the early twenties (Celsius), and the heat culminated mid-month with the hottest UK September day since 1911!

This proved to be a peak though and temperatures lost ten degrees virtually overnight.  My base of Newbury was at the epi-centre of a spectacular storm which included some of the loudest thunder I have ever heard.  Such was the intensity and proximity, lightning actually obliterated a portion of the road in the street behind my house leaving something of a pot-hole.

The rainfall for the 12 hours of the storm actually exceeded the average full month total such was the intensity, and flooding caused disruption to the local area.

As I write this note towards the end of the month, we’ve passed the autumnal equinox (on the 22nd) and the weather has followed suit meaning that you can already sense the difference, and the wind and cold are starting to be more keenly felt.

chard-sept-16

My vines continue much as they did last month, with the later maturing Chardonnay probably about to come in to its own and the Ortega doing thoroughly well with numerous bunches of well-formed grapes of decent sizes.

ortega-sept-16

My MVN3 still shows substantial difference in the berry sizes, but we have a decent number of clusters and are just starting to see some of the berries developing their true colour.  You may recall from previous blogs that this is the reason I can conclude that it isn’t the Cataratto variety I was intending to purchase, in that it is the wrong colour.

mvn3-sept-16

Speaking of colour change, a few of the lower leaves are now starting to show their autumnal hues.  Pests are also increasingly to be found buried within the knotted vines and I notice that I’ve lost a fair few grapes to them since I last looked.

Hopefully they won’t attack too many more as the overall yield is a bit less than expectations.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #5 – August

A quick catch up now on how my vines are doing in the summer month of August.

There has been continued good weather throughout the month with just enough rain here and there to keep the vines watered.  The temperatures have peaked on a handful of days at 26-28 degrees Celsius (usually during the week when I have to be at work!), but are maintaining a good run in the early twenties.

UK Ortega Aug16

There are two main points of interest since the last update.  The first relates to the vigour of the vines which have basically (and would have done if they could’ve) gone through the roof.  Due to a recent leg injury I wasn’t able to tend them as closely as I should have for several weeks and so it has been increasingly obvious.

When I was able to get back out I needed to seriously prune something like 50% off of the height, and I have even done one further pruning session since then to keep them tidy.  All varieties are seeing this growth, even my Ortega, which last year was noticeably less vigorous than the Chardonnay and the MVN3.

This growth (especially when I was unable to tend them) has had one bad consequence.  When twinned with the high winds that we have seen on several days, my trellising has become loosened and has pulled my vines forward by 2-3 inches. At only 3 years in the ground they are still fairly fragile and, fearing they could snap at the bases, I quickly corrected this.

When winter comes I shall have to look in to installing a new trellising system, more robust than before, that can take the weight of the vigour I am now used to seeing.

UK MVN3 Aug16

The second point of interest is the grape growth, which is coming along nicely, albeit still showing elements of uneven bunch growth (millerandage) on my MVN3.  This is odd as this variety was planted a full year before the Chardonnay and Ortega vines and I would therefore have thought would be more established.

uk-chard-aug16

The Ortega and Chardonnay are coming along nicely with the later maturing Chardonnay progressing just behind the Ortega, but both have good volumes of healthy bunches.  In terms of disease, the mites still seem to be attacking the extremities of the Ortega, but this was cleaned off during pruning so shouldn’t be a problem.

As August comes to an end we approach the final bank holiday weekend of the year.  Traditionally these are wet and miserable affairs in the UK, but the forecasts currently show decent weather akin to that which we have seen recently.  This is hopefully a good sign that we will have a settled and warm September, maturing the grapes in their final 8 weeks on the vine.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #4 – July

A quick glance back at last month’s report on the progress of my vines shows that I requested less rain and lots more sun to help the vines along.  I couldn’t have been more rewarded and, as I write, we are seeing some of the hottest July weather on record with the mercury hitting the low thirties.

The preceding weeks of this mini-heatwave have been firmly nestled in the range of 20-23°C, making it a largely warm month, punctuated by the odd shower here and there to clear the heat.

Chard July 16

In the above picture we can see that flowering has finally started on my Chardonnay but is still in it’s early days.  What it lacked in vigour these past 8 weeks has finally become a thing of the past and, along with my MVN3 (mystery variety number 3), has required careful trimming to curb its growth.

Ortega July 16

The Ortega has found (as I seem to recall it did last year too) a certain decent height that mirrors the top of my trellising and remains at that level.  In a similar fashion to last year it is also the vine to suffer the most obvious signs of infection, requiring careful removal of leaves with lumps full of a white powder (caused by blister mites, and can be seen in the picture above if you look really closely).

MVN3 July 16

Finally, my MVN3 continues to lead in the growth stakes and has some pretty sizeable clusters forming.  It’s a shame that I still don’t know what it is!

The forecast for the next two weeks continues to be warm, although back to the much more acceptable levels of 20-23°C, which will be nice.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #3 – June

A quick check back on my vines now and, as is traditional for the British summertime, the month of June has seen a fair bit of rain with many heavy showers (one particular sudden one whilst I was BBQ-ing) and some isolated hail storms.  Having said that, I can count myself lucky that we haven’t been affected here in Newbury by the severe flooding seen by many parts of the south of the country which caused many areas to come to a complete standstill.

At the same time as the vines were being well watered, temperatures have remained at circa 18-20° and so it has been warm enough throughout.  The side effect of the heat alongside the constant damp has meant is has felt humid for much of the time.

Variety 3 June16

This free availability of water has had the effect of making my vines shoot up (pun intended!), and a quick look back at last month’s report makes them look like mere twigs.  My mystery variety number three (MVN3) has been shooting up all over the place (see picture above), along various walls and in to my neighbour’s garden.

Chard June16

Whilst I’ve been trimming to control the vigour on those vines, my Chardonnay (above) has been able to catch up with the others in terms of spread and leaf canopy, although it has yet to start flowering, which both my Ortega (below) and MVN3 have.

Ortega Buds June16.JPG

Hopefully July will bring more sun, less rain, and healthy clusters.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #2 – May

Spring has well and truly sprung here in the UK, and the month of May has seen its fair share of good weather with most days seeing mid-teen temperatures.  In addition there has also been a handful of days where the weather has tripped in to the early twenties too, which has meant that my vines are all developing nicely and have come on well since the first flowers began to appear in April.

2016 UK vines M2

In addition to the warm weather mentioned above, there has still been a few cold spells and intermittent rain, as well as one patch of frost at the start of the month which has hit the later flowering Chardonnay vines badly.  The Chardonnay is now way behind the Ortega and my ‘mystery’ 3rd variety and so has a lot of catching up to do.

Struggling Chard 1

Struggling Chard 2

As is tradition for a UK Bank Holiday weekend there is rain forecast, but this should be needed by the vines as they continue to gather the resources to start flowering in the coming weeks.

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UK 2016 Vintage Report #1 – April

A short blog now just to kick-off a diary of my vines in the run up to the 2016 harvest.  Like last year, whilst this content may only be of limited interest to readers around the globe, it will enable me to look back in the future and compare progress year on year.  In the spirit of this limited accessibility, I will keep the notes accordingly brief.

TwitPic 2016 Harvest KO

It was a month ago today that I noted and photographed my Chardonnay vines awakening from their winter slumber and so, as the longer days set in and Spring begins to truly take hold, I thought it would be a suitable first checkpoint to note the progress.  The weather remains fairly cool with temperatures in the 10-16° range, some days of heavy rain, sporadic sun, and no frosts.

2016 UK vines M1

Both the Chardonnay and Ortega seem to be at the same stage with the topper most leaves beginning to appear, and buds forming all the way down the canes.

2016 UK vines M1 v2

My third variety is a little further behind and this could be because it is not from the Denbies winery nursery like the others are, but it could also be for another reason!  I purchased the rootstock believing it to be Catarratto but last year, as you can see from the picture below, it bore red grapes (and suffered with serious millerandage), which means it clearly isn’t the variety I expected it to be.

2016 UK vines M1 v3

I now have no idea what variety it is, and hope that, as it has been planted for three years now, I can make some wine with it this year and see what characteristics it gives off.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: August

Here’s a quick update on my vines as we approach the middle of the month, and the lead-up to picking in approximately 8 weeks’ time. Both the Chardonnay and Ortega have failed to give any fruit – these are my newest vines and not yet 3 years in the ground, so this is to be expected. I had begun the season hopeful, especially with the Chardonnay which was very healthy, budded early, and showed characteristic vigour but, alas, it will have to wait until next year.

This leaves my Catarratto, which has been equally as vigorous as the Chardonnay. Many bunches are forming well – some individual grapes growing faster than others (as can be seen in the below picture). At this point I have in the back of my mind the word ‘millerandage’ which concerns bunches forming of grapes of different size and maturity, but all seem to be at the same stage of ripeness, so for now I believe that it is simply part of the growth process.

Catarratto in August

Now my full concentration is on the one variety, the next month will all be about getting the water availability right, as well as any canopy trimming I need to carry out. The weather since my last report has been more aligned to a British summer with many instances of rain (one extremely heavy day) and, whilst we have still seen warm days in the late teens / early twenties celcius, there has been widespread and continued cloud cover. More rain is forecasted ahead.

That said, all my winemaking equipment is sitting waiting to go, and I have my refractometer on standby!

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UK 2015 vine growth report: July

Time now for a quick status check on how my vines are progressing. As I write, the weather has clouded over but has lost little of the warmth, and days are regularly seeing temperatures in the low twenties. We had two days of rain last week which was the first of any consequence in quite a while. The end of June / start of July is home to two British institutions both known as much for what they are, as for the impact of the usual rain, but music fans at the Glastonbury festival didn’t need their wellies this year. Similarly, the Wimbledon tennis championship keeps a day clear (middle Sunday) to allow matches to catch up from rain delays. This year, it wasn’t needed. On to the vines themselves.

                    Month 3 vines v1

Furthest along is my Catarratto, which continues to show good vigour, and is now in the late stages of flowering. My Chardonnay continues showing its characteristic high vigour with vines going off in all directions, and the Ortega has grown slightly, albeit still far behind the other varieties. My concern with these latter two now focuses on the fact that they are not showing any signs of late flowering. Both are early budding and early ripening, so well suited to our cooler climate, but with only approximately 12 weeks to go until harvest, I think they should be more advanced by now (especially with the warm weather we’ve been having). As the vines are not yet 3 years old, perhaps there will be a limited crop from them this year, and I will concentrate on the older Catarratto vines.

                  Month 3 vines v2

Also of interest is that the Ortega shows a white powder on its leaves which quickly disappears once they are full exposed.  Detailed growing notes on this variety are a little hard to find, so I’m not sure if that’s a well-known characteristic, but hopefully it is nothing to worry about and, apart from some darkening of some of the older leaves (due to water stress), the vine looks healthy. I’m definitely going to step up the watering at this crucial time as the weather forecast for the next few weeks is still warm, if not sunny.

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UK 2015 vine growth report: Two months in

It’s been just over two months now since my vines started their 2015 journey, and so here’s a further entry as to their progress, which will make interesting reading at the end of the season, and also year on year. If you want to remind yourself of the last progress entry, you can find it here.

The warm and sunny weather continues here in Berkshire and, although there was hail on one particular day, it was mercifully short in duration. As you will see from the pictures below, my Chardonnay is coming along nicely and has virtually doubled/tripled in height and a number of new vines have sprouted. Leaf canopies are also well established and growing well. It’s a similar situation for my Cataratto, which is also thriving, despite being in a slightly shadier position.

Month 2 Vines

 (l-r Chardonnay, Ortega, Catarratto)

The same cannot be said for the Ortega which, although it has seen progress, still seems fairly muted in its growth and is currently resembling something like a bush vine rather than one being trained. If it doesn’t speed up its growth in the next few weeks I think I’m going to have to do some digging to find out what its general lifecycle looks like. Being a Germanic variety and used to cool weather I thought it would be enjoying the unseasonal warm spell we are having, but clearly not.

To ensure I give all the vines every chance, I’ve replaced the trellising as promised, in readiness for when the grapes arrive and bring extra weight later in the season. This new trellising, which mimics those used professionally, should allow extra breezes through, hinder pests (my previous lattice trellising would have been easy for them to scale up), and allow sunshine to penetrate all sides of the vines.

As I write, the weather is a glorious 24° centigrade, with more of the same planned for tomorrow. Long may it continue!

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