Winemakers gather amazing grapes after late sunshine saves the harvest

Flint Vineyard directors Hannah Witchell, Adrian Hipwell and Ben Witchell on their vineyard in Earsh

Flint Vineyard directors Hannah Witchell, Adrian Hipwell and Ben Witchell gathering the 2021 grape harvest on their vineyard near Bungay - Credit: Danielle Booden

Winemakers across East Anglia are gathering some impressive grapes after a much-needed burst of autumn sunshine helped save the harvest.

The 2021 wine harvest is under way two or three weeks later than usual, after a cold start to the season which delayed the growth of fruit on the vines.

But a warm September helped accelerate the ripeness of the grapes - bringing back optimism for a good vintage.

This week Flint Vineyard, near the Norfolk-Suffolk border at Earsham, near Bungay, began picking its first Bacchus grapes of the year - one of the main varieties among its 26,000 vines.

Ben Witchell, director, hand picking grapes at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Ben Witchell, director, hand picking grapes at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Winemaker Ben Witchell, who runs the vineyard with his wife Hannah, said: "The positive message for East Anglia is a really dry and warm September has accelerated the ripeness and we are picking some really good grapes.

"We had quite a slow start, with a lot of cold weather and rain at the beginning of the season, but actually the rain was quite good for getting the plants healthy and fertile.

"We are still two or three weeks behind where we would normally be, but we had a really dry and warm September and we are picking some really ripe Bacchus."

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The vineyard also grows pinot noir and pinot blanc grapes, and yield predictions carried out by weighing bunches over the last month suggest the firm will produce about 35,000 bottles of wine this year.

When asked if 2021 will be a vintage year, Mr Witchell said: "Who knows? All I know is that we had a very cold start to the season, so on paper it is not a stand-out year.

"But we have fared really well in East Anglia because we are very dry here so we have got some really clean ripe fruit, which looks fantastic. So I think 2021 is going to be a good year.

Grapes being hand picked at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Grapes being hand picked at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

"I think East Anglia is the most promising region in the whole of the UK. We are certainly the driest and we are producing the ripest grapes consistently.

"When you project forward with climate change, the East of England will warm up and that will be good for grapes - even if it is bad for everything else. Anywhere from South Norfolk down to Essex is the hotspot." 

James Scarff and his sister Catherine with their Pinot noir grapes at their vineyard in Combs.

James Scarff and his sister Catherine with Pinot noir grapes at their vineyard in Combs, near Stowmarket - Credit: Denise Bradley

James Scarff has also made a later-than-usual start to harvesting grapes from the vineyard at Scarff's Farms in Combs, near Stowmarket.

Of the 46,000 vines, 50pc are Chardonnay, 35pc are Pinot Noir and 15pc are Pinot Meunier - all sent to be made into wine at the Ridgeview estate in East Sussex.

"Our early Pinot Noir varieties were picked on Monday and Tuesday," he said. "They were fine, the quality was good, they were nice and clean and they yielded really well.

Pinot noir grapes at the Scarff's Farm Vineyard in Combs.

Pinot noir grapes at the Scarff's Farm Vineyard in Combs. - Credit: Denise Bradley

"We picked 20 tonnes of grapes at 6-6.5 tonnes per hectare. After the difficult year that we have had, that is where we want to be. We are very happy with that.

"Now we have got the main Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier varieties which we are looking to get some analysis back from the winery, but we are hoping we can pick those on Monday and Tuesday next week. That will be half the vineyard picked.

"The other half is Chardonnay, which is still two weeks away, but they look good. I am very happy at the moment, but I will be even happier if we can get them in quickly."

Imogen Gibbs, crop technician at work at the Scarff's Farm Vineyard in Combs

Imogen Gibbs, crop technician at work at the Scarff's Farm Vineyard in Combs - Credit: Denise Bradley

Mr Scarff said the farm uses data modelling to predict the vineyard's likely yield for production, with measurements taken from 50 sample bays of six vines, randomly selected by a computer.

As the business is part of an arable farm, the late grape harvest has presented other challenges.

"We have got 6-700 acres of cereals to drill," said Mr Scarff. "The knock-on effect of the late picking campaign means when the weather is good I really want to be out drilling cereals rather than picking grapes."

Hannah Witchell, director, hand picking grapes at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Boode

Hannah Witchell, director, hand picking grapes at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Grapes still on the vine at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Grapes still on the vine at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Grapes being hand picked at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Grapes being hand picked at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Grapes from the vineyard being put onto some scales to be weighed at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Pict

Grapes from the vineyard being put onto some scales to be weighed at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Grapes being poured onto the sorting table at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Grapes being poured onto the sorting table at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

Bunches of grapes on the sorting table at Flint Vineyard in Earsham. Picture: Danielle Booden

Bunches of grapes on the sorting table at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden

A tractor backing up onto the vineyard to collect the hand picked grapes ready to go off to be press

A tractor collecting hand picked grapes ready to go off to be pressed at Flint Vineyard in Earsham - Credit: Danielle Booden


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