The Vineyard's Harvest Report for 2017

November 13, 2017

The Vineyard's Harvest Report for  2017

Forty Hall Vineyard's Co-ordinator and driving force, Sarah Vaughan Roberts shares her report on this year's harvest after what's been an undeniably challenging year for the Vineyard.  Ultimately, this year's harvest is a tale of good quality, but low yields.

2017 has been a roller coaster of a year in English and Welsh vineyards – and Forty Hall Vineyard has had its own share of highs and lows. The year started very positively with good progress being made on our gentle vine pruning.  A warm spell early in the year brought bud burst on two weeks early and the whole vineyard looked fantastic by the end of March.  We were all hoping for a major uplift in our yields as the majority of our vines are now mature enough to produce fruit.

Then a couple of frosty nights in early April brought catastrophe.  Cold air sweeping down from the artic swept air frosts as low as -6C through southern England, France and as far south as Barolo in Italy.  Vineyards across Europe were badly hit and, as a result, global wine production is expected to fall to its lowest in more than 50 years.  Within two days of the frost, the entire vineyard looked like it had been burnt with a blow torch – dried, shrivelled and thoroughly frosted shoots right across the vineyard.  Our only option was to pick off all the dead shoots and hope that the vines would produce more from the secondary, less fruitful buds.   Frosted vines usually only produce 50% or less of the usual yield.

Flowering was brought on earlier than expected by a warm spell in June and all was looking more optimistic.  Then three weeks of very warm, humid, still and cloudy weather in July (remember those sleepless nights?) encouraged early onset powdery mildew in the vineyard, especially in the Bacchus vines.  This was the worst year for disease that we have experienced.  As an organic vineyard, we are limited in the sprays we can apply against disease and we rely heavily on good canopy management such shoot thinning and as leaf stripping and to ensure air circulation and sunlight penetration to inhibit disease.   But we were unable this year to stem the spread of disease.

Finally, towards the end of the season, the parakeets which have always bothered us, returned to the vineyard as the grapes ripened in larger numbers than in previous years. These hungry visitors also contributed to our overall loss of grapes. 

The final harvest was better than we had dared hope earlier in the season.  It was our earliest harvest on record and the sugars and grape quality were unexpectedly good, especially in the Pinot Noir.  However, we were over a third down on our crop last year and this in a year when we should have seen rising yields.  Our Bacchus was very badly hit and we were only able to pick enough to produce a couple of hundred bottles.  We are looking closely at how we can learn from such a challenging year and have plans to improve disease monitoring and canopy management in the vineyard in 2018. 

We are also are also planning a supporters’ scheme to help us raise funds for new equipment to deter birds, to improve weed control and to support us through a difficult financial patch whilst we work for a better harvest in 2018.  In the meantime, if you would like to donate to Forty Hall Vineyard you can do so here.

Finally a huge thank you to all our valiant volunteers and harvest helpers who worked to hard to bring in this year's harvest - sometimes in less than ideal conditions.  What a great team!


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