Our first harvest is over! With a team of friends and family we picked the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier on the 13th October. Sugar levels were very good considering the summer we’ve had – 70/73 oecshle and acidity was very good too, at 10/12. Perfect levels for sparkling wine. We knew that the yield would be low, a poor flowering period led to uneven fruit set and small bunch size. We managed to pick 850kgs of good, clean fruit. Considering that some vineyards have not picked at all this year, we were pleased to have been able to achieve this.
As for the Chardonnay, we might have left them a little longer on the vine but a large flock of starlings took up residence in the trees next door and began to gorge themselves on the grapes. They seem to be impervious to all our anti-bird measures and unafraid of brightly dressed people or loud noises. We took the hint and brought forward the harvest to the 21st October. Only just in time – we picked over 1.5 tonnes but estimate that the birds got at least 250kgs. The quality was good – nice clean fruit with sugar levels at 65/68 oecshle and acidity at 13/15.
All our fruit was pressed on the day of picking. We estimate we will have 2000 bottles for our first vintage. Now we only have a few weeks to wait until we can taste the base wine after primary fermentation.
Early summer is when vines come into flower and these flowers are then fertilised. This is a crucial period for us as good fruit set (flower fertilisation) results in a good grape yield. All we need for this to happen is a couple of weeks of bright, dry sunny weather! Unfortunately, like everywhere else in England, early summer has brought us a mixture of cool and wet weather. Where has the sun been! The vines are all healthy but fertilisation took several weeks (making fruit set uneven) and on a few vines there is no fruit at all. Yields will be low this year. We just have to hope that what bunches of grapes there are in October, are healthy and high quality.
Springtime in the vineyard is very exciting, but also quite stressful. The changeable Spring weather can mean frosts which could cause damage to the newly formed buds. This year due to the relatively mild winter the vines started to come alive early. The Chardonnay ahead of the rest hit woolly bud stage by the end of March, with the buds bursting around the middle of April. During April the air temperature got down to -0.3 in the vineyard, but thankfully the buds survived. After this scare we have invested in 180 bougies, so if a frost hits us in May we’ll be ready to raise the temperature in the vineyard by 1 or 2 degrees.
This year will be the first year we will start to look like the picture perfect vineyard. The vines will have one year old trunks and all the Spring growth will be controlled at the fruiting wire. The grass seed we sowed at the end of September has germinated and is now fully established. To keep the grass nice and short, we’ve purchased another incredibly useful and powerful tractor attachment, a flail mower, which can also be used to mulch the prunings. Maybe this year I’ll be able to replace the stock photos on the website for the real thing.
We’ve really begun to understand first-hand how much work owning a vineyard can be - pruning this year has been an enormous task. Last year we only needed to lift the tubes and prune the vines to 2 buds. This year however we needed to remove the tube, prune one cane to 6-8 buds and leave a spur, paint the pruning wounds, straighten the stake, tie the trunk to the stake, attach the cane to fruiting wire, and collect up the tubes. We started pruning in December and finished late March.
During Richard Smart’s visit in January we pulled up a fair few vines to see if we had trunk disease. Had it not have been for this rather brutal way of diagnosis we would likely never have been aware that something was eating away at our vines below ground. It took a week to figure out the culprit, it was the occasional 3cm hole by the trunks that made us realise it had to be voles (field mice). They burrow underground at the base of the vine, and then eat their way through the trunk - in many cases leaving no roots at all. To try and control what seemed to be a vole plague we've installed a barn owl box and a kestrel box. I learned that barn owl babies eat 3-4 voles a day. So let's hope a barn owl decides to make our nice new box a home.
Graham passed his PA3 test on the 22nd of August so he no longer has to rely on the Grand dad clause to keep him spraying legally. This year we used our brand new Carraro sprayer to protect against downy and powdery mildew which looks to have kept the diseases at bay. We used the 3 K’s: Kindred, Kumulus and Karamate and sprayed 3 times this year: 30th July, 20th August, 27th September.
We sowed grass seed onto all the alleyways , we were originally planning to sow alternate rows, but as the vines are already growing well we decided the competition with the grass wouldn’t be an issue. We planted a mixture of clover and fescue. It’s a slow growing grass mix that will require less mowing, and the clover in the mix is also good for releasing nitrogen back into the soil. We sowed the seed using a seed drill and a water filled roller attached, we rotovated the soil twice, rolled twice, sowed the seed, and then finally rolled one more time.
Ensuring all the shoots are tucked in is very important for 2 reasons: one so the vines don’t snap off and two so that the alleyways are clear when cultivating. Unfortunately all our efforts on September the 5th were for nothing as the remains of Hurricane Katia whooshed through Woodchurch the following week with up to 35mph winds. Those laterals did not want to stay within the trellising wires, especially the Pinot Noir which grew extra laterals that also grow downwards. We’re really starting to notice the downside of having an exposed site, let’s hope our windbreak gains some height and depth soon!
In the second year along with shoot selection and pruning the other task that needs to be done to every vine is topping out. Once the vine reaches above the fruiting wire (1 metre above the ground) we need to tip out. Tipping out involves cutting the vine on or below the fruiting wire, leaving at least 2 laterals 10cm below this point. This will focus growth into the chosen laterals and these will form our fruit cane and spur for next year.
We've now completed this year’s soil correction tasks using our first piece of PTO powered equipment, a Vicon spreader. On the 16th of April we spread prilled lime, and on the 22nd of April we spread muriate of potash and triple superphospate evenly across the vineyard.
Vineworks Ltd started installing our trellising on the 6th of December. The rows are 190 metres long, and we’re installing a metre wide walkway halfway down the rows. There are a total of 260 wooden posts, 4 per row, and a total of 2080 metal posts, 32 per row.
Due to the early May planting the vines managed to avoid any frosting during the end of April/beginning of May. The vines have grown very well, some reaching over 8 foot in length. Our first year of work involved shoot selection during the month of June, weed spraying on the of 20th July by Steve Moate. To prevent the more vigorous vines snapping we did some tying up during August.
On May 5th 2010, Ernst and his team from Germany planted 10,400 vines, 6080 Chardonnay, 3200 Pinot Noir, and 1120 Pinot Meunier. Using GPS technology to plant the 65 rows of 160 vines. The varieties have been arranged to maximise growth and fruitfulness based on variety and rootstock.