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Vineyard owner’s dismay as grape crop ravaged by late frosts

PUBLISHED: 18:26 18 May 2020 | UPDATED: 18:26 18 May 2020

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant surveying the frost-damaged vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Picture: Bridget Hemmant

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant surveying the frost-damaged vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Picture: Bridget Hemmant

Bridget Hemmant

Late spring frosts have ravaged the region’s vineyards – with one Norfolk winemaker expecting to lose a quarter of his grape yield in an already-difficult year.

A late frost has damaged the grape vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Pictured: A badly-damaged vine bud. Picture: Bridget HemmantA late frost has damaged the grape vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Pictured: A badly-damaged vine bud. Picture: Bridget Hemmant

John Hemmant, who runs the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton, near Loddon, was dismayed to discover on Friday morning that an unseasonable air frost had killed the emerging buds on his most mature vines.

He estimates that half of the 10-hectare vineyard has been affected, and he expects those plants will lose half of their yield.

Other East Anglian growers have also reported frost-bitten vines, which will be a bitter blow to an industry already battling the financial impacts of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Hemmant said although the days have been warm recently, the clear skies have led to damaging spring frosts overnight.

A late frost has damaged the grape vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Pictured: A damaged vine bud (left) alongside one which fortunately survived. Picture: Bridget HemmantA late frost has damaged the grape vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard. Pictured: A damaged vine bud (left) alongside one which fortunately survived. Picture: Bridget Hemmant

“It must have been an air frost,” said Mr Hemmant. “We tend to grow the vines high, almost waist-height, so they don’t get hit by ground frosts. But when the weather comes from the east with winds from Scandinavia and Siberia, our older vines are at risk of air frosts.

“The buds start off looking vibrantly green and shooting well and it all looks idyllic. After the frost the buds crisp up, wither and die. This has happened on our mature vines. It will halve the yield on those plants.

“They will push out a secondary bud underneath the dead bud, but they are never as strong as the first and that will push the ripening of the grapes back a week or two, which will make the more susceptible to fungal attack if it is moist in October and early November. So it has put the crop at risk at the other end too.

“It is a product of our terroir and our climate. We are on the furthest latitude where it is possible to grow vines, so you would expect something like this perhaps one year in seven. There is nothing we can do about it – we just have to take it on the nose.”

READ MORE: Norfolk could make a better sparkling wine than Champagne, says vineyard owner

It was further bad news for the vineyard after the lockdown measures put a halt to wine tastings which account for about 20pc of its annual revenue, and the loss of food and drink fairs where the firm would usually sell its wine. On top of all this, the frosts happened in the same week that Mr Hemmant’s car, a blue Volvo XD90 estate, was stolen from his driveway.

But Mr Hemmant said there was some “good news”, as online sales have leapt 800pc during the lockdown, and the winery has almost finished processing its 2019 vintage, which is due to be launched within the next month – including still and sparkling white wines, a rosé and a pink fizz.


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