At the sharp end: harvest 2022
The last bunches are cut, the secateurs are packed away and harvest 2022 is complete. And what a harvest it was, with extraordinary fruit, enthusiastic local pickers and palpable excitement in the winery.
There’s something deeply romantic about the idea of harvest. The teamwork and camaraderie. The long days amongst the vines and under sunny skies. The lingering, convivial dinners. But there’s nothing like a touch of England’s autumnal chill to make you realise that grape-picking at 51-degrees north is a slightly different matter.
On 18th September, in the crisp, bright morning, teams of pickers assembled in our Kent and Sussex vineyards. After an extraordinary summer, one of the hottest and driest in recent history, expectations for the vintage were set high.
The 2022 growing season
“The growing season was near perfect,” says Jon Pollard, our Chief Vineyard Manager. Although during the hottest days temperatures spiked at 39-degrees, the vines (or “Mediterranean weeds” as Jon affectionately dubs them) thrived.
“We saw some heat stress in the vineyards,” he says. “But the vines had access to water deep in the soil profile.” This meant that the leaves were healthy, the fruit quantity was good and the berries themselves were disease free and in perfect condition.
In the weeks before harvest, Jon was a familiar figure in the vines. Walking the rows, tasting the grapes and chewing the pips – tasting, watching and waiting for perfect ripeness. Each parcel was scrutinised: which fruit should come in first? Where should we let it hang a few more days?
At last, with the first grapes ready, Jon gave the harvest teams the nod. This year, most workers were locals – some well-seasoned regulars, others dipping a toe in the world of agriculture for the first time. Working in pairs, with one partner on each side of the row, the pickers moved in a high-vis wave through the vines. Their gentle conversational hum was interrupted only by the runners, whisking away the full containers of picked fruit so that it could reach the winery within minutes.
It’s a mesmerising process to watch – efficient but also painstaking as every bunch is scrutinised. The grapes are notably different from those you’d find in a supermarket: the berries are small, jewel-bright and dense, pressed together in a tightly formed cluster. Any stubborn “shoulder” berries, which have refused to fully ripen, are teased away from the top of the bunch with the needle-nose secateurs and discarded.
Thanks to the summer’s weather, the pickers had a straightforward task; there was no disease in the vines and almost every bunch was perfect. Even the thin-skinned Pinot Noir, which is notoriously tricky to grow, was in wonderful condition. Amongst the Pinot, the pickers engaged all their senses, sniffing the bunches to make sure the fruit was fresh and clean; at any hint of imperfection, it was dropped.
From vine to tank
Over 12 days in Sussex and 13 in Kent, the pickers moved through the different parcels and plots. On 11th October, the last bunch was picked.
Meanwhile, in the winery, a different team was working with pace and precision – pressing the grapes, transferring the juice to barrel or tank and inoculating it for the first fermentation. By the end of the harvest, more than 200 base wines had been made, giving the winemaking team an incredible spectrum of possibility when it comes to blending in the New Year.
“Having tasted through some of the wines as they’re fermenting, I think 2022 promises to be a terrific year, with different wines showing intensity and weight, character and energy,” says Laura Rhys, Master Sommelier. “The winery team have been focused on letting the quality of the fruit do the talking.”
There are some exciting projects afoot too. Charlie Holland, our Chief Winemaker, is trialling English oak, other fermenting vessels and also working with native yeast. “We’re feeling very positive about the vintage, from both a still and a sparkling point of view,” says Charlie.
The year rolls on
With the most frenetic weeks of the year behind us, calm has now settled over the vineyard. The leaves are starting to turn red and gold; the mists sit over the vines later into the morning, and autumn begins to pull away from summer’s last lingering warm days.
The vines have done their job for another season, and they’ve earned a rest. Meanwhile, in the winery, the quiet alchemy of winemaking is taking place. Charlie, Laura and the team have a winter’s wait ahead of them before they’ll be able to taste 2022 in all its glory.