Harvest 2012 is nigh, so where are we at now?

It’s like a typical Irish summer: cold, wet and dull. Of late, English winemakers have been producing sparkling wines to rival those of Champagne, this year, however, they are in danger of harvesting next to nothing. The Met Office confirmed it has been the wettest, coldest and dullest periods for over a century.

Summer is a phase in the growing season when nature does most of the work and the viticulturist/winemaker takes a step back, and maybe says a few prayers in the hope of the perfect weather. Around about now, in the northern hemisphere, buds should be flowering. Soon afterwards, little green pellets appear and, subject to the right growing conditions, the vine will bare fruit.

In this great video from California’s Jordan winery, Viticulturist Brent Young discusses the growing seasons of grapevines and how inclement weather during flowering can affect the grape crop. This is from the 2011 vintage. It’s interesting to note Brent mention how some vines flower before others depending on their location and micro-climate.

As the grapes mature, the acidity falls away to be replaced by sugar. I like the analogy of the banana in the fruit bowl. When it’s green and young, it is tart and bitter, and the longer it sits there, the sweeter it becomes until it goes black. It’s the same thing with grapes on a vine, that’s why come September it’s important to pick at the right time.

The most decisive stage in this process is called veraison. That’s when the grapes start to soften and change colour. After veraison, and six to seven weeks after flowering, the ripening gets well underway. With warm, sunny and dry conditions, ripening will be speedy. If it’s too dry and the vine is suffering water stress, the ripening process will come to a halt.

The problem English winemakers are facing now is that the right conditions are simply not there. Continuous rain leads to various problems, such as lack of flowering, thus hindering pollination. Wet and warm conditions combined can cause disease.

We don’t necessarily need sun, but we need a good temperature and no rain. If it continues to rain like this for the next two weeks we’re in danger of losing a large proportion of the crop.

Bob Lindo, Camel Valley in Cornwall (source: Decanter)

Abnormal or freak weather conditions seem to be the norm worldwide as we start to see more tangible signs of the effect of global warming. Even by our standards, the Irish summer has been pretty awful. As winemaking is set to become even more challenging as the years go by, our fingers remain crossed for a better summer and a good harvest this September. Might even say a wee prayer.

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