Grape growing in the UK resembles cricket: there are just so many different ways to be out. Accordingly, frost damage is a duck - caught for nought. Yet even at the end of the season, like a batsman chasing down a score to save a game, you can suddenly find yourself stranded without partners. Your carefully constructed innings was all in vain.
In the cool 2021 vintage, it felt like we scraped a result with the last ball of the game. The final day of harvest was the 10th November, 145 days after flowering began. I remember watching the sun set behind the winery at 4.15pm.
The 2022 growing season had its moments too, though at the other end of the metrological scale. The French ‘canicule’ sounds more dramatic than ‘heatwave’ and 41.43 oC was intense. Elevated UK temperatures generally combine with high humidity and low windspeeds. This year’s record heat came with 15% humidity and 25 mph winds. For a few rows of vines perched above 10 metres of gravel the season was over, because the other story of the 2022 vintage was drought. We recorded 10 mm of rainfall across the summer months of June, July and August. Without access to water a small part of the crop withered on the vine.
Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, the lack of moisture proved a boon. Shoot growth slowed and canopies attained a good balance between leaves and fruit without needing too much intervention by us. In our Sleipnir Block we resorted to tressage, wrapping shoots round the top wire in order to maximise leaf area and fruit exposure.
Veraison began on the 13th August and was largely completed by the start of September. Colour change heralds in a period of sugar loading. We needed rain to kickstart the process - not too much though - and the weather duly obliged. Between the start of September and the end of harvest on the 13th October we received 37mm of rain. Perfect, really.
We have observed a trend through previous heatwaves: where Chardonnay bolts, Pinot flags. Maybe it’s the Mediterranean Gouais Blanc DNA in the former, but our first still white press was on the 24th September. The Coquard was busy squeezing still and sparkling grapes from the middle of September to the 8th October.
Stylistically, we put our still Chardonnay through full malolactic fermentation. Sugars at harvest were between 92-95 Oe (13-13.5% ABV) and TAs in the range of 10-11 g/l. We could have waited longer, but we are keen to maintain a lithe, orange blossom lift to our wine rather than trying to impress with clunky gym muscles.
At the beginning of September we thought harvest would be over by the first week of October, but the first month of autumn drew a cool breath and ripening slowed from the 20th for a week or so. There was some concern over highish acidity levels and low pHs, but early October was remarkably bright with warm days and cold nights. Photosynthesis resumed, while the descent into autumn encouraged the movement of potassium from leaves to fruit, belatedly raising pHs.
As with Chardonnay, the analysis for the Pinot - now fermenting - was excellent. Sugars were relatively high at 95-100 Oe with TAs between 8-9 g/l. Perhaps more telling was the quality of the fruit. At times we were able to run the sorting table at 2.5 tonnes per hour. The clusters were pristine: no insect damage, sunburn or botrytis. Moreover, the grapes were pert; the individual berries dropping out of the destemmer were entire, showing none of the slushiness that can afflict Pinot that’s been left to go over by a crucial day or two.
In the winery, the hard labour of gentle punchdowns is now underway. The first Chardonnays are through to dryness and look remarkably complete, something we’ve never seen at this stage before.
Danbury Ridge has a short history, but since our first harvest in 2016, this is without doubt the finest fruit we have seen and tasted.