Cripes! That Was a Scary October

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Still reeling!

2019 turned into one of our scariest ever vintages.

The harvest date for our late-ripening, Riesling-cross Kernling grapes had been fixed three weeks in advance for Sunday 27th October. Nothing remarkable there, late for England but pretty average timing-wise for this grape at Oatley. All the way through the season, ripeness had been more varied than usual. A frosty spell mid-April knocked back (though thankfully didn’t kill) the new buds at the bottom of the slope, where the cold air pools, so the lower-lying vines were always behind.  But a good summer and dry, sunny September brought the earlier Madeleine Angevine grapes in with few headaches.

Woohoo! Didn’t have to spray all summer. 

But on the Madeleine harvest day, 22 September, the rain started. It cleared by coffee break and didn’t much dampen the day, or the grapes. But then it rained. And rained more. Every day right through October. Warm too. We had a big crop on the Kernling, which, as the later grape, is on the higher, warmer ground. Enough of a crop to be on tenterhooks about. 

The grapes got riper along the predicted line, but as they softened they were more and more vulnerable in the unremitting dull wetness. A patch of downy mildew started in the bottom block, the cost of our no-spray regime, luckily too late to harm the grapes. But our main worry was botrytis, grey mould, which can take hold very quickly in warm, wet weather and ruin a crop. We watched and watched. And fretted. Four weeks have never seemed so long.

But the open bunches and tough skins of the dusky red Kernling grapes (they ripen this colour 🍇 though the wine is white) proved resilient. Two days before harvest we saw the first dreaded grey, furry stuff. By then we were too full-on with harvest prep to panic much, so we just cut them off and hoped. In the end, phew! It hardly spread. 

Harvest day dawned miraculously clear and we had a wonderful, golden, perfect day. Our trusty band of 20 pickers were mostly old hands, reliably discarding over-the-top or under-ripe grapes. We didn’t pick the lowest bays, so the blackbirds have had a good November. But we did add in a couple of tubs of Madeleine grapes, the lowest, left unpicked in September, selecting just the best, to add a small extra dimension. 

Despite the selective picking, it was a big Kernling harvest, over 3000 bottles-worth. And the big news is, it’s going to be SPARKLING! Available maybe late 2021.

Bit of a blast with the silverware this year. In January TWO Gold Medals for the two wines that we entered in the Independent English Wine Awards,, now sadly sold out. In May international Silver for Jane’s 17 and Bronze for Leonora’s 17. Then September brought the Wine GB West Awards and a Silver for newly-released Jane’s 18 and a Gold AND the South West Challenge Cup, for the second year running, for our single-barrel Fraîcheur Barrel Matured, this time the new ‘17. That’s quite a haul for a tiny vineyard that makes two or three wines a year. We were really chuffed with our clever old vines. They’re 33 years old this year.

Current releases are available online.  And of course from the vineyard, if you fancy a breath of fresh air. We’re open every Saturday till Christmas 10.30-5.30. Other times too if we’re here, and we mostly are.

Our family has grown with the happy arrival of twins Albert and Edith to elder son Ned, and Paula last January. Ned and Paula have been helping in the vineyard all year, on family visits from Hampshire, and the twins sat in their high chairs at the end of both of our harvest lunch tables. Such a joy to look down the long table and see them chuckling together at the other end. They’re  here again for Christmas with 2 year old cousin Liv and all the family.

All our best wishes to you and yours for the festive season, from a still autumnal Oatley in Somerset. Have a great time!