Each year, as September rolls into October, the lines of communication between the vineyard and the winemaker increase their pitch and buzz with discussions about berry samples, quality, yields and dates. 2023 had a particular resonance, as we knew from early in summer of the huge potential for this year’s crop. The average number of bunches per vine forming after flowering was consistently higher across the varieties than in previous years and their considerable sizes and weights were very evident as the season progressed. So much so, that in order to ensure quality, we ended up having no less than three ‘green’ harvests – removing a percentage of bunches to allow the others to ripen as well as possible.
But as we know from experience, bunch numbers and sizes are not the whole story. This memorable harvest of 2023 (on one day alone 14 tons of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier were picked with the help of our heroic volunteers!), had its roots in last year’s great conditions at flowering (where buds for the following year are already set).
At winter pruning (the task that underpins all of the following season), each of the 11,066 vines were assessed individually for its vigour and left with a number of buds that we knew would optimise its ability to produce fruit. Spring and budburst arrived with minimal frost and we only had to deploy the Frost Protection system a couple of times as we pushed on into May and June with abundant sunshine and warmth, leading to an ideal period of flowering and fruit set. Although July brought a rather abrupt and wet hiatus to our hoped-for summer, the vineyard actually benefitted from all the moisture, the berries swelling rapidly and our bunch weight samples raising an eyebrow or two!
With the introduction of our Fertigation System (dripline running parallel with our Frost Protection spray), we were then able to deliver specific nutrients direct to the crop’s roots when and where needed, not only across the vineyard as a whole but on a row by row basis. It was as satisfying to see how well the vines responded to this as it was to know we were also reducing the number of tractor operations to get the same job done. The same system was also used to irrigate our 3,500 newly-planted vines to ensure good root growth and rapid establishment.
Despite a relatively benign August and September, veraison and ripening proved to be a more protracted affair than expected (possibly an effect of the colder July) although it did mean that we were able to harvest selectively throughout October (thank you again volunteers!) and provide our winemaker with beautifully sweet, clean and juice-filled grapes.
by John MacRae-Brown, vineyard manager