Snow, wind and rain was not how producers had envisaged the start of the growing year to begin, but that’s exactly what happened as the Beast from the East arrived on 22nd February, covering the UK in snow over the following four weeks.
The cold period latest until the beginning of April, delaying budburst for many. Some vineyards were still too wet to work in. Yet, some growers recorded budburst starting on 14th April. The temperature improved at the end of April as the UK heated up to 25°C, before frosts made an appearance at the beginning of May. Hampshire was the worst region to be affected, whilst vineyards in East Anglia and the south-east of England were relatively unscathed. The rest of May turned out warmer than usual and was reported as being 2°C over the long term average of 1981 to 2010.
Something miraculous then happened, “between mid-May and mid-June, the season went from two to three weeks late to two to three weeks early”. (Stephen Skelton MW, UK vineyards harvest report 2018) June provided excellent weather for flowering, with Chardonnay vines flowering first on 9th June, before temperatures heated up to +30°C at the end of the month. It was this period of weather that enabled bunches to grow, allowing more space for additional berries, resulting in growers being able to harvest double or more than ever before.
July turned out to be the second warmest on record, causing véraison to begin mid-July for Germanic varieties whilst the three champagne varietals began to change berry colour at the beginning of August.
The end of August was a wash out with rain lasting until the beginning of September. The rain allowed the grapes to swell, resulting in even higher yields for some growers. Harvesting started incredibly early for some at the end of August, and continued until October. A dry and warm autumn allowed growers to leave their grapes on the vines longer, gaining greater fruit concentration and full-ripeness.
A total of 13.11 million bottles are thought to be produced, more than twice as much as the 2014 harvest.
2017 was a very unusual year for the weather. The beginning of the growing season caused particular worry for many grape growers and winemakers. It was also a year of many early arrivals in the vines.
Budburst started in mid-March, two weeks earlier than normal, resulting in the earliest budburst that many grape growers can remember. This is likely to be linked to the rising temperature in March, which was reported to be 2.2°C above the 1981 to 2010 average.
April brought with it bizarre weather, which saw temperatures rising to 25.5°C at the beginning of the month in the east and south-east of England. Followed by frosts and temperatures as low as -3°C on the 19th and 20th. Temperatures dropped again on the 26th and 27th to as low as -7°C in some places, resulting in the loss of primary shoots and buds in many vineyards. Some even lost whole crops. The last time the UK experienced such terrible frost damage was in 1997.
Warm, sunny days filled May and June, with highs of over 30°C in mid-June. Flowering started on the 10th June. Again, the earliest UK grape growers can remember.
The next three months saw a fairly typical weather pattern of sun, wind and rain. However, this created many hours of canopy management and weed control in the vineyards for growers, and for some a challenging few months of disease management. Véraison was complete for most by mid-August, yet again earlier than normal.
Some growers started picking the 3rd week of September and many vineyards were fully harvested by mid-October.
Given the weather of 2017, bunches were very large and grapes had high sugar and ripeness levels with balanced acidity. Due to the frosts many vineyards had lower yields. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were the worst affected, producing yields so low they were well below the economically sustainable levels for most growers. However, some growers reported achieving excellent yield levels with Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, Siegerebe.
A total of 5.3 million bottles were produced.
To summarise 2016’s harvest report we must split the UK into two. Vineyards located in east and south-east England faired much better, experiencing a drier and frost-free spring with good weather conditions during and after flowering. Yields were average.
Vineyards located in south central and south-west counties were exposed to wetter weather coming in from the Atlantic, which caused minimal flowering to occur and a constant threat of disease. Downy mildew was a particular problem, becoming increasingly worse the further west vineyards were located. Yields were poor to very poor, with some growers in the west reporting harvesting nothing for some grape varieties and, therefore, struggling to make a living. However, those grapes that were picked had excellent sugar and acids levels with concentrated flavours.
The weather improved throughout the UK in mid-August and continued during September and October, helping to save grape sugars. Chardonnay was recorded as producing its highest ever sugar levels.
Bacchus, Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Précoce all suffered with Early Bunch Stem Necrosis (EBSN), which can partly be held accountable for this year’s low yields. Yet EBSN seemed not to hold Bacchus back, which was picked with good sugar and acid levels.
2016 was a particularly good year for Reichensteiner and Madeleine x Angevine 7672, and a year to keep your eye on in the future as certain wines could improve with age.
A total of 4.2 million bottles were produced.
2015 was overall cooler than normal, producing leaner and fresher styles of both still and sparkling wines that will benefit from ageing, especially Chardonnay based sparkling wines.
Spring was cool and, importantly, frost free. By the time flowering arrived the weather had warmed up slightly, but it was around two weeks late in many vineyards. June and July were again cool with uncharacteristically cool nights, causing the grapes to develop much slower than usual. A cool August and September followed, before the weather started to warm up in October when growers started to pick. Most growers reported picking good yields and healthy grapes.
A total of 5.06 million bottles were produced.
“A dream year for UK vineyards”, Stephen Skelton MW.
The growing season began after experiencing the wettest winter in the UK in over 100 years. Rainfall was recorded as 265% higher than the long-term average. To follow was minimal frost during spring and good weather at flowering. August was wet and cold, only to be improved by a warm September and October. The growing season saw one of the highest Growing Degree Days (GDD) totals to date, meaning average temperatures over a period of time were higher than normal.
Most growers reported harvesting good yields, with excellent sugar and acid levels. 2014 was an excellent year for still wines, and worth looking out for are red wines which are more fuller-bodied and rounded than we have come to expect from homegrown reds. Sparkling wines are on a par with those from 2009.
A total of 6.32 million bottles were produced.
The growing season started early in 2013 and enjoyed a frost free spring. Flowering was later than usual, followed by véraison only slightly later than normal having caught up thanks to temperatures warming up in May. Some growers started picking at the beginning of October as rain and winds threatened the harvest, however for some 2013 saw the latest harvest on record in modern times as growers picked in mid-November. 2013 was not a great year for still wines, but sparkling wines will be long-lived.
A total of 4.45 million bottles were produced.
2012 was a terrible harvest for many growers. The season started in a drought, followed by cold and wet weather throughout April, May and June. The bad weather was still present at flowering and many growers were battling disease. As grapes failed to ripen, picking commenced roughly 10 days later than usual. Some growers (Nyetimber, Fox & Fox) chose to pick nothing at all - a devastating blow to a end a tough year on.
A total of 1.3 million bottles were produced.
Bad weather at flowering resulted in poor bud growth, only to be made worse by millerandage affecting Pinot varieties. 2011 ended the growing season in an Indian summer, making all the difference for some growers. It is a year that varies in quality, with some producers having made wines of outstanding quality.
A total of 3.02 million bottles were produced.
Weather at flowering was ideal - warm with little wind and rain. The summer months were warm, with vineyards in Sussex receiving no rain for 12 weeks, only to be followed by the coldest and wettest August in over 100 years. Harvest commenced early this year, with most growers prioritising Pinot varieties as sugar levels began to rise too high. 2010 was a good year for both still and sparkling wines, with many producing wines that are delicate and elegant.
A total of 4.05 million bottles were produced.