Guest Blog: The Flowers Have Come Early!

We always talk about flowering and fruit set occurring during Wimbledon fortnight, and this year it seems that we and other English vineyard are ahead of the game! In this guest blog from Wine Cellar Door, Elisabeth Else explains what this all means for UK producers. 


The Flowers Have Come Early!

Not quite as visually exciting as a big bunch of lilies or tulips, perhaps, but the flowers on the grapevines of England & Wales are safely out and basking in the sunshine. The pleasure among growers (or was that just relief?) is also at least as high as the recipient of a big bunch of conventional blooms.

That Sounds Early

But hold on, I hear you say, I’ve learned that flowering happens at the same time as Wimbledon and it’s still the World Cup. You’re absolutely right, the talk this year is of flowering 2 weeks early. Stephen Skelton, expert in local wines recently said “With fantastic flowering weather & vines two weeks early, the outlook for harvest 2018 is very good.”

So Why is it so Good?

There are two aspects to this positivity, successful flowering and it being early.

Successful flowering is all about the weather being dry. You can imagine what happens to a tiny pollen grain in torrential rain – it would simply be washed off the vine. Although vines are self-pollinating, the pollen still needs to be transferred to the right place (via wind or insects) in order for the vine to go onto the next stage and produce grapes. So we have potential now for a good crop; going back to Stephen Skelton again “If the UK crops at 35 hectolitres per hectare (’06 was 33.5) then we are looking at 8.5 million 75 cl bottles off the 1,800-ha cropping. It might even be higher and 9.5 m bottles is not impossible.”

The fact that flowering (and therefore pollination) has occurred early means that there is also a potentially longer season for grapes to ripen.

Is it Equally Good for Still & Sparkling Wines?

One of the reasons this country, with its marginal wine-growing climate, is so good for producing sparkling wines is that sparkling wines don’t need grapes to be so ripe, as high acidity is good for the base wines that go into fizz. So as long as we have good flowering (tick!) and the weather is reasonable for the rest of the summer (fingers crossed!) we’re sorted.

For still wines, however, the harvest is timed on a careful balance of reducing acidity to increasing sugar. This isn’t an infinite scale however, as harvest has to be called before the temperatures drop and the risk of mildew rises. If we have early flowering, early pollination and earlier fruit set, but harvest dates stay around the same, the grapes would have more time to ripen.

If we assume that the cycle is currently 2 weeks early, but harvest stays about the same as usual, that would give the possibility of 2 more weeks for the grapes to ripen. For some grapes destined for still wines, that would give a greater crop, for others that the grapes could be picked at a greater level of ripeness, giving deeper rounder flavours and higher alcohol.

Any Downside to a Big Crop?

If an individual vine fruits too heavily, then there is a risk of grapes not ripening, so some Vineyard Managers are already talking about “green harvest” or removal of some of the early grapes. So yet again, more hard work in the vineyard.

So What is Next?

The next key thing we’ll be looking out for is “fruit set” when the grapes start to form. We’ll talk about that some more in due course.

Any Predictions?

Well, as we always say, despite the forecasts of a huge harvest, “it’s only potential until the grapes are safely in the winery.” However, at the risk of things all going wrong later, right here, right now, I’m thinking it could be looking like a good year for red wine. You heard it here first!

Image of grape vine flowers from Laurel Vineyard in Yorkshire.

This article first appeared on Wine Cellar Door, the independent guide to visiting UK vineyards. Wine Cellar Door is run by Elisabeth and Ian, friends who met wile working at Visit Britain. They both love English wine, of course!