Harvest 2023 in England is officially over and we must say, it’s been quite the harvest here at Hattingley Valley!
Of course, we couldn't have done it without our hard-working winery and vineyard teams and the efforts of our fabulous harvest volunteers!
This year UK viticulture saw one of its largest harvests to date and here in Hampshire, it was no different. It’s fair to say that this vintage will be characterised as a rollercoaster, with plenty of rainfall and extremely high yields. Fortunately, our vineyard and winery teams did an excellent job at managing these challenges and we came out with a good (if slightly diluted) quality of fruit, despite the British summer. But, of course, when you get down to it, there's much more to it than that…
In our Vineyards: Notes from our vineyard team on this years harvest in English wine
From a wet start in the spring, between April and May, we saw nearly 80mm of rain in the vineyards, which increased disease pressure (early botrytis, downy mildew and phomopsis, for the nerds out there!). However, the vineyard team worked hard to manage these risks and kept the disease at bay. In June, a spell of warm, dry weather made up for the slow start, where we caught up and the growth rate increased. July and August saw more challenging conditions and wet weather, where the vineyard team had to work hard to keep the quality of the fruit safe. Of course with much rain comes higher bunch numbers and massive yields, which we had not seen the likes of before, even compared to that immense harvest of the 2018 vintage!
In September, the vineyard team decided to carry out a green harvest, to reduce bunch numbers and allow more sunlight into the vine canopy, giving the more developed bunches more room to ripen. The weather gods then blessed us with a few weeks of sunshine and sufficient temperatures to increase the speed of ripening and allow the grapes to develop further. However, a wet and warm end to the month going into October, once again, meant there was an increased disease risk. The vineyard team worked hard to keep the fruit clean by spraying organic product, twice as often as usual through October in time for harvest.
It's not all about winemaking in English wine: A helping hand all the way from grape to glass
Since the times of the pandemic when we relied heavily on the help of volunteers in the vineyards, we have had an ever-growing list of committed workers, from near and far who are always keen to lend a hand.
Every year we are amazed at the hard work our volunteers put in and this year especially so. They rallied, despite the at times, rather challenging weather conditions, with 25 - 35 volunteers harvesting on the vineyard each day. Colin our vineyard manager and the team were not only grateful for their immense harvesting efforts, but for their baking efforts too! We ran a number of Macmillan Coffee Mornings in the vineyards throughout harvest, in which the volunteers showed off their impressive baking skills with an amazing array of cakes and biscuits each day. We are proud to say we raised a staggering £730 thanks to the volunteers and vineyard team!
In the Winery; An English Winemaker and the Bumper Yeilds of 2023
Of course, this wasn’t just a viticulturist’s vintage, where the very best growers produced a good quality of fruit despite all the challenges. This was very much a winemaker’s vintage too, where handling low sugars, low acids and less flavour concentration across a massive volume of wine was a challenge and a skill. One which will continue all the way through the winemaking process to disgorging and release.
The challenges we faced in the winery are of course a reflection of the growing season in the vineyard, with high yields being the main concern from the start. From a logistical standpoint, preparing for one of our largest harvests yet, meant that the preparation stage was vital. This included the addition of new stainless steel fermentation tanks for increased capacity and much tidying to find a use for every inch of space we had at our disposal.
In addition to these preparations, we experimented with quite a few new winemaking techniques this harvest. We adjusted our use of oak and trialled different ideas on malo-lactic fermentation (the conversion of tart malic acid into lactic acid, which gives our wines their characteristic and deliciously creamy mouthfeel). We also trialled some new barrels, 500-litre puncheons, which we hoped, would impart that subtle touch of oak influence we love so much here at Hattingley. Lucky for us, they did just that and because of their higher volume, it meant that less labour input was needed in cleaning and using the barrels, so the winemaking team were very happy too! What’s more, we had the puncheon racks made in Sheffield, using British Steel for our British Wine! So, it’s fair to say that we are big puncheon fans here at Hattingley.
Despite the challenges of the vintage, there always seem to be substantial returns for our labours. Apart from the obvious, (the highest quality English Sparkling Wine!), a more immediate and significant benefit this harvest, was in the camaraderie and hard work of the winery team across both permanent staff members and harvest staff. The winery team really pulled together in terms of lateral thinking to make this vintage work, especially in the depths of harvest when everything seemed to be turning south and equipment was breaking left, right and centre. In that vein, some of the improvements we made to the winery before harvest worked well and we’re going to continue to rip up the rule book with improvements to the winery in the future too. Thank you to the team for all their hard work and to the harvest staff from near and far who we hope to see again in the not-too-distant future.
An English vintage to remember
All in all, we can’t remember another vintage quite like this one! In terms of capacity, of course, 2018 comes to mind. But as this harvest was significantly larger and there were many more factors to consider, we’d say we did pretty well with what the weather gods gave us. However, this one was nothing short of challenging. The resulting wines from this vintage could make for some very approachable and gentle English Sparklings, that won’t need excessively long to mature before disgorging. But, if one considers acidity and ripeness to be two of the undeniable factors that contribute to genuine wine quality, then 2023 might come up a bit short in comparison to harvests like 2022 or 2014.
What wine do we make in England?
Because of the nature of Winemaking in England, we cannot guarantee the production of our full range of wines year on year. However, we do guarantee the production of our core range of Hattingley Sparklings (We couldn’t very well leave you without them!). That being said, this year we will be producing our core Classic Reserve, Sparkling Rosé and Blanc de Blancs, as well as our premium collection the Kings Cuvée and Kings Rosé. Not forgetting our unique Still English dessert wine, Entice. Of course, all good things take time. So, you’ll have to wait a while to be able to purchase this year’s iteration of each, for our 2023 Vintage.
Climate change and English wine
You’ll hear a lot of people in the business of making Traditional Method English Sparkling say things like: “The temperature in the South of England is around what Champagne’s was in the seventies” and this is true. However, the significant difference lies in England's maritime climate vs. Champagne's inland location. Because of the continental distribution and the jet stream, England is a lot wetter than the continent and there is a definite lag in peak temperatures in our growing season. In other words, our summers begin later and we have a lot more rain. This dampness in the growing season means yields will always be lower than on the continent and will continue to vary between vintages. Even those aforementioned warmer harvests of 2022 and 2014, were not without their challenges.
This is why wine education is so important, especially in England, as consumers have to have a level of understanding about vintage variation and the process of making Traditional Method English Sparkling, to justify the categories' premium prices.
If you would like to learn more about the Hattingley Valley process from Grape to Glass and get a sneak peek into some of the behind-the-scenes action at our Hampshire Winery, why not join us for a Winery Tour and Tasting and explore the world of premium English Sparkling wine. And for a limited time, this Black Friday: When you spend £70 on our website you will receive a complimentary tour ticket for our Winery Tour and Tasting Experience. Use the code ‘BFTOUR’ at checkout to avail of this offer.
What happens in the vineyard after harvest?
As the post-harvest hangover subsidies and the vines begin to wind down into their winter dormancy, we look back on the growing season with pride and great relief. The English wine industry is certainly a challenging but exciting place to be and the ongoing legacy of the wines from this harvest, are a particular marker of the skilled labour and passion we benefit from in this country. So, as the season comes to an end, we look to the future with much hope, perhaps most especially for just a little more sunshine in 2024! Cheers to another vintage in the bag!
Looking for a little more Hattingley-related reading? Why not check out our Christmas Gifting blog and get a little festive with our: Top 5 Gifts for Wine Lovers This Christmas.