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Grape expectations for East Anglia’s winemakers after perfect summer for vines

PUBLISHED: 15:56 31 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:17 31 August 2018

Peter Ross checks his Rondo grapes at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Peter Ross checks his Rondo grapes at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Winemakers and grape growers expect to raise a glass to a bumper harvest this month after the hot summer swelled the bounty from their vines.

While many East Anglian crops struggled in the heatwave, the climate has been near-perfect for grapes growing in the region’s burgeoning number of vineyards.

Rain in early spring raised moisture levels in the ground, before the long, hot summer days created conditions more like those in famous wine-growing powerhouses such as California or Australia.

At Babu’s Vineyard in Weston Longville, near Lenwade, a best-ever crop is expected this year.

Peter Ross, who planted his 800 vines in 2010 after retiring from a career with the Royal Navy and Norfolk police, said: “We are expecting the best harvest we have ever had.

Peter Ross' Rondo grapes at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville, soon to be harvested to make a rosé wine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPeter Ross' Rondo grapes at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville, soon to be harvested to make a rosé wine. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“The conditions at bud burst and at flowering this year were absolutely perfect. Light airs and warm temperatures have contributed enormously, and of course this long summer we have had, with these beautiful high temperatures, has been absolutely perfect for the vines.

“If you could engineer a season for growing grapes, you couldn’t engineer it any better than this.

“The vines have long tap roots and will hunt out water – they look in peak condition, even though they have not been watered at all in the long summer.

“By complete contrast, last year’s harvest was disastrous. We had a frost in April after bud burst had happened, and we reckon we lost probably about 75pc of the potential crop we were looking forward to. So in the space of 12 months we will have gone from the smallest harvest we have ever had, to perhaps the largest – but you should never count your chickens before they are hatched.”

Peter Ross at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPeter Ross at Babu's Vineyard at Weston Longville. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Ross, who grows Rondo grapes for rosé wine and Solaris for white, aims to harvest towards the end of September, when the perfect balance between acidity and sugar is reached.

“The critical thing about harvesting is that the sugars and the acids in the grapes should be well balanced,” he said. “As the season progresses the acid levels in the grapes reduce and the sugar levels rise. The right moment to pick is when the acidity is enough to give the wine its body and bite and the sugars are enough to give the right level of alcohol.”

But after the recent rains, Mr Ross now hopes the weather doesn’t turn too wet before he can gather his crop, as this could bring damaging mildew or grape diseases like botrytis.

DREAM SUMMER FOR WINEMAKERS

This year’s dream summer for winemakers could also have knock-on benefits for next summer’s grapes, said an East Anglian grower.

Ben Witchell, of Flint Vineyard in Earsham near Bungay, said his fledgling vines had thrived in the hot summer, even though their first main crop is not due to be harvested until next year.

“This year is probably the warmest and driest on record so the grapes are looking brilliant,” he said. “You would normally take your first crop after 3-5 years – ours are only in their second year but because we have had such good weather, and the vines are growing so well, we will be able to take a very small harvest of some Pinot Noir and Bacchus grapes from our own vines this year. Anything we get this year is a bonus.

“The fact that we have had a very warm and dry June means next year will be a very fruitful year.”

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