The speed of ripening is slow and languorous affair in England and in fact, it’s this long ripening that gives the fruit a longer time than in warmer climes to develop deep, complex and interesting flavours - one of the reasons that our sparkling wines are world class. Though slow, our ripening times are varied, but as a rule of thumb, from veraison (when fruit gets its colour) to harvest takes about four weeks.
Ortega is the earliest ripening fruit generally followed by Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. We finish with Chardonnay around three weeks later. The spaced out ripening and harvest dates are great for us as they allow us some grace to pick everything at the right time without needing several presses!
Because of immature root system and narrow trunk, young vines only have the capacity to ripen a small amount of fruit properly. Regardless of this, they like to try, so they tend to produce a lot of bunches from three years old. This year, because of the late spring and lower than average number of sunny days, we had to remove quite a bit of unripe fruit to ensure the overall quality of the grapes remained high from all our vines.
Uneven ripening is another pitfall we encounter which tends to be due to wet weather at flowering. When the flower bunches which eventually become grapes set fruit a week or two apart on the same variety, then ripening in turn can be two weeks apart. Due to this, the later immature fruit usually doesn’t ripen.
Ripeness can be measured by testing the sugar and acidity levels in the grapes. We do this by collecting fruit from different sites around the vineyard and running the juice through a refractometer - a machine which runs a light ray through the juice and is then able to measure the precise sugar level. Up until harvest, we will do this sometimes daily which helps us predict when to pick.
We also test fruit for levels of acidity. We want to retain acidity for balance and these levels can begin to drop dramatically if we get too much rain at harvest. Taste, however, is probably the most important factor in determining exactly when to pick the grapes with weather also a major consideration.