Wherever in the world you do it, growing grapes is something of a rollercoaster; but perhaps none more than in the UK. Even with careful planning, nature has its own momentum and we can’t always anticipate its next curveball. The key dates in the vineyard diary change from year to year, but thankfully they always follow the same order - pruning, budburst, flowering, ripening and finally harvest. We employ a low intervention approach in the winery but our wines start firmly in the vineyard. Vines need careful maintenance throughout the year - and we always listen to what they tell us.
NOVEMBER - MARCH
Pruning is the beginning of our year at the vineyard. The good news for us is that it’s best not to prune when the weather is poor. Weather dependant, pruning at Westwell can take up to 4 months to complete. We’re always trying to achieve a balance between what we need from the vine for the coming year and ensuring that the vine will continue to grow healthily well into the future. Diplomacy and careful thought is required at every snip!
FEBRUARY - MAY
When the sap begins to rise up the vine and wake from winter, it develops tiny, delicate buds. At this point, frost is our biggest challenge. Anything below 0°C for a period of even just a few hours can damage any buds that have emerged. When a few days of clement weather lull the vines into a false sense of security and budburst occurs too early, frosts can destroy this delicate young growth. For this reason, we welcome lower temperatures well into March and beyond to keep the vines dormant until it’s safe for them to wake up.
JUNE - JULY
Flowering is one the most critical events in the growing season. It’s surprising how much damage can be done by just a few days of rain at this point. Certain varieties are more susceptible to coulure (the French term for poor fruit set due to damp conditions at flowering) than others. Luckily, Ortega is pretty robust, but the Pinots can be a bit fickle. The knock-on effect of bad fruit set is chicken and hen or millerandage (in which grape bunches contain berries that differ greatly in size and maturity) which then leads to uneven ripening and associated problems with botrytis.
Quite simply, the hotter and drier now, the better! Wet weather at this point can significantly increase the risk of botrytis and will also impact on the sugar and acid levels in the grape.
A stunning period of dry weather from mid September to mid October can rescue what might have been a poor harvest but you can never count on it.
Too much fruit can be an issue if the vine is not able to fully ripen the crop. This could be because the plant is too young and does not have the root system and trunk structure or because climatic conditions are not favourable.
We end our year with harvest - always trying to pick as late as possible to develop ripeness and big, full flavours. The fruit always tells a story of the weather throughout the year and we do everything we can to ensure that it’s a good one.