Nigel’s Harvest Blog 2018

Thursday 1st March
So, something has happened we would have sworn was impossible. March 1st is here and we are already picking; We started in Cornish Point taking in Pinot on February 28th.
This is completely uncharted territory. We are a full month ahead of normal, but two weeks of that is due to the early spring kicking off the growing season 2 weeks early, so the pick is really two weeks ahead of the normal growing cycle. 

Despite a spring and summer of unprecedented warmth with some serious heat (it topped 40C on a few days), the vines are looking calm and relaxed. Canopy is absolutely perfect and the fruit looks healthy and very normal. What it tastes like is anybody’s guess right now, (we haven’t the experience of hot vintages to spot subtle signs eating the fruit) but it seems to be actually very much as usual. The weather calmed down a lot and has been cooler since veraison, with regular rain, so it may be that the critical ripening phase happening in cooler weather has let us off the hook. 

A big harvest team this year, as we need to be ready for anything. With two goats in the fridge I’ll be settling down with Jesse, this year’s vintage chef, to do some serious cooking this weekend. 

He has a pedigree including some of the world’s most exalted restaurants, so we are all looking forward to see what he might bring to the party.

More news soon… until then game on!

Monday 19th March
Normally I’m updating the vintage every couple of days but this year it has been such a tightrope walk, it was hard to know what to say.
Now, after 20 days, we can see the end in sight and are starting to get the hang of it all. We have a clear day today and tomorrow looks like we’ll duck the weather, then it comes in for two days, of what might be fairly solid rain. By the time that happens we’ll be pretty much all in, so nothing to worry about.
I remember a couple of years ago Aubert de Villaine talking about how they didn’t talk in terms of good and bad vintages, but easy and difficult ones. While that might sound a bit like marketing speak, he’s right: these days we should have the skills to deal with most of what is thrown at us and come out with at least some good wine; maybe not much, but something that’s up to standard. Well this year we had some very testing times: the warmest first half of the season since records began followed by the coolest second half for 14 years (maybe longer).  Also, unprecedented rainfall; 6 month's worth in the last 6 weeks.
But, as we watched it all happen, we had time to think, to debate, to respond in the vineyard and prepare our thoughts in the winery. So rather than being a season of panic and despair it was calm, measured and ultimately, very satisfying. Yields were spot on. Fruit was healthy: the rains didn’t bring disease or splitting. At the weekend we pressed off the first Pinot (from Cornish Point) and Blair had a smile on his face.

Tuesday 3rd April
Suddenly April is looking like April, Autumn colours have swept through all the vineyards, brought on by the harvest (as soon as you remove the fruit, vines tend to colour and prepare for winter).
The winery is in full flow: the first Riesling tank was stopped yesterday, almost all the Chardonnay barrels are dry and the Pinot fermenters will all be dry by today. Each day now sees 2 or 3 fermenters being pressed off: the free run juice is drained out and then the hard work of digging out the fruit begins. Each year there is fierce competition for the best times to dig out what is a tonne or so of bunches, skins seeds and stems. All of that goes up to the press to be pressed off (the press wine this produces is a key structural part of each cuvee) and then the wine is sent down to barrel to start its first year of elevage.
The net teams are working their way across the vineyards, removing the many kilometres of bird nets, looking like sone strange, landlocked fishing crews. As soon as they have the nets tucked away there will be compost to spread; the last job of any growing year.