Optimism is high around the UK wine harvest in 2022, even if winemakers are generally reluctant to fully ‘call’ a vintage so early in the process.
‘So far quality has been excellent,’ said Simon Roberts, head winemaker at Ridgeview in Sussex, southern England.
‘We are heading for one of Ridgeview’s biggest harvests ever, possibly topping the record 2018 vintage. The fruit is tasting exceptional,’ he added. ‘Excitingly it looks like a particularly good year for Chardonnay.’
One of the hottest years on record
England has had its joint hottest summer in records going back to 1884, while Wales and Scotland have recorded their eighth warmest summer season, showed provisional Met Office figures on 1 September.
Sunshine hours in England and Wales have been more than double the average, and it’s also been unusually dry.
Several UK wineries said a long, warm growing season has largely benefited 2022 vintage quality, even if heatwaves and drought have also required them to be flexible, most recently in managing acidity, sugar and overall ripeness.
‘Unlike most years, we will be picking our Chardonnay first due to such an unusual year with extremes in the weather with some of the hottest and driest temperatures experienced,’ said Roberts.
Kent-based Gusbourne Estate, which also has vines in West Sussex, began its harvest with Chardonnay for the first time since 2018. Picking started on 19 September and was 95% complete by 6 October, with grapes for still wines set to come in over the weekend.
’Yields are looking good, sugars and acids are looking good, so we’re very excited about the potential,’ said Charlie Holland, Gusbourne’s chief winemaker, adding 2022 is set to be a good year for demonstrating the character of different vineyard sites.
‘We were a bit concerned about acid levels dropping, but as we’ve got to the back end of the season we’ve found that hasn’t been the case,’ Holland told Decanter.
On vintage comparisons, he said 2022 might be somewhere between 2018 and 2016. ‘In 2016 we had high sugar, high acid. And in some of our sites [this year], not all of them, we’re finding that we’re able to retain that lovely freshness and crispness but a very ripe, full flavour profile.’
He added, ‘I think you’re going to have wines that have got great ageability but a lovely generosity to them.’
‘I’m really excited about what I’ve tasted’
White Castle Vineyard in Abergavenny, Wales, had harvested around around 60% of grapes by the middle of last week. ‘I’m just really excited by what I’ve tasted,’ said Robb Merchant, who owns White Castle with his wife, Nicola.
Several producers have reported smaller berries in some sites, although this may aid concentration in the wines, too.
‘Volume is probably down a little bit, not massively, but flavour profile is something to get really excited about I think,’ Merchant said.
White Castle, which last year became the first Welsh winery to win gold at the Decanter World Wine Awards, makes around 10,000 bottles per year on average and 2022 is likely to come close to this level.
Falling acidity has been the most difficult aspect to manage, Merchant said, adding harvest began two weeks earlier than normal. Still, ‘everything is looking good and strong and clean.’
Putting some context on the drought situation, he added, ‘Up until yesterday (4 October) we only had 180ml of rain since second week of January, in an area where you’d expect 1,600ml of rain for the year. To have just 10% [of that] is crazy really.’
He said he was hoping for some winter snow to replenish the water table but added White Castle’s vines have coped pretty well this year. ‘We’re on sandstone, so there’s always a little bit of moisture around.’
Patience for Pinot and Bacchus bounces back
At Lyme Bay Winery, based in Devon but which works with growers across the country, MD and winemaker James Lambert said, ‘The 2022 harvest is shaping up to be one of extremely high quality and ripeness, though it is not necessarily all early, relative to previous years.’
Chardonnay for still wines was picked around two weeks earlier than normal in some parts of the country, he said, citing Essex as an example of where ‘high physiological ripeness’ occurred relatively early.
‘Pinot noir (for still wines) already has very high sugars, but we feel it needs a week or two more hang time for physiological ripeness to catch up,’ Lambert said.
‘We’ll see very high potential alcohol levels this year for reds for those who maximise hang time for phenolic ripeness. Quality looks exceptional, but patience is required.’
He added, ‘For other varietals like Bacchus, they have really bounced back in terms of yields and quality this year, after a more challenging year in 2021 where they were affected by downy mildew.’
A bumper crop for some estates
Langham Wine Estate in Dorset, south-west England, predicted a bumper crop in 2022 as its main harvest got underway this week.
‘We’re still on track for around 90 tonnes overall, which is similar to the legendary harvest of 2018,’ said owner Justin Langham. That’s almost double the total volume achieved in 2021.
‘This year we have reached amazing levels of ripeness on our large yield,’ added the estate’s head winemaker, Tommy Grimshaw.
‘A longer growing season means that our grapes have had longer “hang time” to build up the all-important phenolic ripeness, which leads to wonderful fruit character,’ he said.
At major sparkling wine producer Nyetimber, the 2022 harvest was set to cover a record 325 hectares of vines.
It said recently, ’Despite the extreme weather conditions during the summer with intense heat and lack of rainfall, Nyetimber expects another high quality year with a record volume of grapes to be harvested, in excess of 1,600 tonnes, which will produce well above one million bottles of sparkling wine.’
Nyetimber aims to produce two million bottles per year by 2026, indicative of confidence within the UK wine scene as a whole.
Sales of English and Welsh wines increased by 31% in 2021, according to survey data by trade body WineGB.
Recent research projected that warmer growing seasons in the UK over the next two decades could lead to more frequent top vintages and new areas of the UK becoming suitable for vineyards.
Producers continue to experiment with different grape varieties. White Castle in Wales is set to complete its 2022 harvest with Cabernet Franc vines that were planted alongside Pinot Noir Précoce on a north-facing slope in 2019.
Estate owner Merchant described the project as ‘a bit of a calculated gamble’ in the face of climate change. In time, he plans to make a single-varietal Cabernet Franc but he said it’s a long-term project.