Harvest 2015 Update

Harvest is over and I can breathe a sigh of relief. Now the English weather can throw what it likes at us and I won’t worry for a few months!

In the end the grape quality of the 2015 vintage was much better than I had dared hope for given the relatively poor summer and late ripening.

Volumes on some varieties were down on 2014 but in the end this was a blessing in disguise…as the lower the yields the easier it is for the vines to ripen what grapes they do support – so in a late season, low yields are a critical requirement for achieving quality.

After a cool and damp August, there was Just enough good weather in September and October for us to pick some lovely fruit, with well balanced sugars and acids. I am now looking forward to the 2015 wines which I know have a lot to live up to after our incredible success with our 2014’s.

The vineyard gate is firmly shut for two months now while I concentrate on the wine making and sales side of the business. Come early next year we’ll commence the winter pruning of the vines…but now they are going into a period of dormancy and rest (don’t we all wish we could do that!) as the leaves turn colour and fall.

In the winery, all the wines have now completed alcoholic fermentation, which lasted from between six to 22 days depending on variety and our desired style.

For the wines we intend to make into sparkling (which we call base wines) they are also undergoing a different type of fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation which changes the acids present in the wine. This involves warming the wines to encourage the fermentation to take place and spending a few hours in the lab checking on progress by placing tiny dots of the wines on special paper! It takes me back to school chemistry classes!

Meanwhile, we are developing a special gift box for Christmas containing three of our award winning wines. This will be available for sale from our cellar door (for pre-Christmas opening times please see our website or follow us on Twitter) and via our website (www.albourneestate.co.uk).

If you are in the Chichester area on December 5 please do come to the Vicars’ Hall (10am – 5pm) where representatives from five different Sussex and Hampshire vineyards are presenting and selling their wines in a special ‘pop-up’ shop. We hope to see you there!

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Harvest 2015 nearly here!

Preparations are now underway for harvest. After a cool and damp August and an unsettled start to September the grapes are ripening – but slowly – so we will be later starting this year than in 2014. I am hoping that we will be picking our earliest ripening variety, Ortega, at the very beginning of October, with others following on after.

We have been busy in the vineyard doing everything we can to help the grapes ripen – from repeated trimming to removing more leaves around the grape bunches even to removing some bunches themselves. This latter job is called ‘green harvesting’ as we are cutting off bunches that are still green and unripe. The aim of this is to give those bunches left on the vine the best chance of ripening fully – it’s heart breaking for me though to see fruit discarded on the ground after so much hard work to get it to this stage!

A few weeks back, the grapes went through ‘veraison’. This is the start of the ripening process and is most noticeable in the black grape varieties as this is when the grapes skin turns from green to black. During ripening the grapes then swell and their sugar levels increase.

I can also tell the grapes are ripening because many animals have started showing an interest in eating them…from birds to badgers!

Meanwhile, in the winery we’ve been busy planning and ordering items we need for the upcoming harvest – from new oak barrels to ferment our Ortega into the wide range of yeasts we use to ferment our different varieties. Developing a harvest plan is critical at this time although it’s always difficult to predict exactly when and how much we will pick. We now take regular bunch samples to measure the ripeness levels of the grapes to help us predict – but it’s not an exact science as so much depends on the weather over the coming weeks.

The last tour planned this season is on Saturday October 10th . Please do book a place via our website if you’d like to see the vineyard during harvest. It won’t happen again for another year!

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May at Albourne Estate

In many ways this is the most beautiful time of year in the vineyard. So far we appear to have dodged any frosts without having to light the ‘bougies’ (hurray!) and the young shoots are growing fast. This photo of the Chardonnay vines shows the young shoot now with four or five leaves unfurled and the developing inflorescences, generally two per shoot, each of which will go on to form a bunch of grapes.

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Also growing fast (as I’m sure those of you with lawns to mow will know!) is the grass and weeds. So we have started regularly cutting the grass throughout the vineyard. Apart from this, the main job we’ve been doing this month is basal shoot removal. This involves rubbing off by hand all the shoots growing at the base of the vine (see photo below) which will not bear any fruit, so that the vine concentrates its efforts on the shoots growing from the fruiting cane. That’s a lot of bending down (41,000 times in fact!)… but thankfully I have help with this!

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In the winery we finished our 2014 vintage work with the bottling of over 12,000 bottles of sparkling base wine in one day. These are now sitting in cages in our bottle store whilst secondary fermentation gets underway. This is how the ‘bubbles’ get into ‘traditional method’ sparkling wine. Fermentation will take several months.

Beyond this exciting things are happening as we launch the 2014 still wines with numerous tasting events including the start of this season’s Vineyard Tours & Tastings. I am also delighted to say that the 2014 wines continue the competition success of the 2013’s – already winning multiple awards at Decanter, IWSC and IWC 2015…

Lastly, don’t forget its English Wine Week 23–31 May with many special events and promotions going on in vineyards, restaurants and wine merchants in Sussex. We will be at Hove Lawns on 30 and 31 May as part of the Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival.

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April Blog on Sussex Life…

April is a month of avidly watching the weather forecasts and sleepless nights for award-winning wine producer Alison Nightingale, as the first buds start appearing on the vines at her vineyard, Albourne Estate, near Hurstpierpoint.

The beautiful warm sunny April days have been a mixed blessing for us.

On the one hand, it is bringing on bud burst in the vines – the first stage in their annual growth cycle. The dormant winter buds first swell, then a fluffy brown covering appears and then finally the buds burst with the first leaf tips appearing.

On the other hand, bud burst heralds a month of anxious weather forecast watching and sleepless nights as a frost now can be hugely damaging to the young buds as they emerge. The worse case scenario is that the frost completely kills them. The vine will usually then go onto produce a secondary bud and shoot – but these rarely have much fruit on them. So a whole year’s crop could be lost in one bad frosty night!

The main defence we have is site selection. That means choosing a vineyard site on a slope, at low altitude and near the south coast. Frosts are very rare near to the sea and cold air that can cause frosts tends to drain down slopes so leaving the vines on the slope unharmed. However, no site is completely immune. And there are many different options out there ranging from the very basic to the hugely expensive to help prevent frost. At the high end, as practised in parts of New Zealand, you can fly helicopters over the vineyard to disturb the air and prevent frost settling – a bit out of our budget range. We operate at the lower end by buying frost ‘bougies’ (candles) from Champagne in France. These are large white metal cans full of wax that can burn for up to 10 hours. These are put out amongst the vines – main photo shows my children helping to do this (somewhat reluctantly) during the Easter holidays.

Now I have to watch the forecast every night and get up during the night to check the temperature on my weather station… if I think a frost is coming then I’ll be out in the vineyard at about 3am lighting over 750 ‘bougies’! Can’t wait… at least I’ll be up in plenty of time for the school run!

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