With the first fermentation under way, the vineyard and winemaking teams are beaming.
In a challenging year of cooler, wetter weather and a late start and finish to hand-harvesting, everyone at Gusbourne is delighted with the quality of the grapes, so carefully and skilfully tended by Chief Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard and his team throughout the growing season.
Bud burst happened in mid to late April, as expected. Flowering came a bit later than usual, around the end of June. Overall heat and sunlight levels were lower than average over the course of summer, but the sunshine and higher temperatures in late August and early September compensated. More rainfall during the season presented pressures on the vineyard team from a disease-prevention perspective, but Jon also points to the positives: greater moisture in the ground enables roots to more easily absorb the nutrients from the organic fertilisers we add to our soils.
“We started picking on the 6th of October – around two weeks later than we normally would,” Jon says. Wet, windy weather slowed harvests all around the UK as the teams at Gusbourne tested and tasted while sugars built and acidity levels began to fall. A demonstration of their experience and instinct as they waited for that ideal moment where peak ripeness signals the perfect time to pick.
Jon’s team constantly surveyed the vineyards, testing each block and “following the quality” as they hand-harvested – always with one eye glued to their weather apps for planning each day’s picking. “It was a bit nail-biting at times!” Jon admits, but patience and the good fortune of being in a well-positioned location and altitude meant a successful harvest was delivered.
Head Winemaker Charlie Holland shared Jon’s determination to hold out for the best moments to harvest in-between bouts of inclement weather. “Fortune favours the brave, and we held our nerve at the right time. It’s been a long harvest, picking over a full month, and this challenging growing season had blocks ripening and developing differently and at different rates. We just needed to be patient – and it’s paid off.”
In years to come, Charlie believes that 2021 will prove to be the year that defines why at Gusbourne we only use grapes from our own vineyards: it means complete control and fruit of consistently high quality. “It’s down to the blood, sweat and tears of the husbandry – everything that Jon and his team do throughout the year, not just during harvest. They’ve done an absolutely amazing job.”
Looking back at harvests that took a similar trajectory – 2013 and 2015 – both Charlie and Gusbourne’s Global Ambassador, Laura Rhys MS, agree that 2021 feels very positive for the potential of the wines to come from this vintage. “Those were two of our most loved vintages, and each was excellent on release and as they’ve aged – that’s down to the acidity profile lending backbone and structure, which is great for ageability.”
Laura’s first impressions of the first pressings? “I’m feeling excited, especially after what I would term a ‘classically British summer’ – cooler average temperatures and fewer long stretches of heat and sunshine during the growing season. The first fermentation is under way now, and the base wines will undergo malolactic fermentation in December before we do our base-wine assessments in January. Given the quality of the fruit that’s come in during harvest, I’m really looking forward to those tastings and to how this vintage develops in tank and barrel.”
2021: Another vintage story
As with every year, Gusbourne celebrates what each harvest brings, harnessing the qualities of the fruit. “Vintage wine is an expression of a single year and everything it brings,” Laura explains. “The quality is always there in our grapes even if acidity and sugar levels vary a bit from year to year – that’s both the challenge and the charm of crafting vintage wines. Of course we have a Gusbourne style, and that style is really about quality – it’s not about making a completely consistent collection of sparkling wines through blending different vintages. We’re not looking for the exact same result every year.”
Charlie agrees, “A vintage is all about the expression of the conditions we encounter in a given year. For 2021, with our cooler UK summer, we’re expecting wines that are more structured, more precise and completely authentic to our terroir. There’s a story, a fingerprint, an imprint… and we celebrate that.”
Come see us at Gusbourne Estate in Kent for a tour and tasting to learn more about how we make our award-winning sparkling and still wines.
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