The English Sparkling growing season typically runs from the beginning of April to the end of October, with harvest in the East Sussex High Weald generally in early to mid October. But 2017 proved to be a season of extremes.
We started with drought. March was unusually warm. Bud burst came forth 2-3 weeks early. As we moved into late April, the beautiful shoots were growing rapidly. But temperatures suddenly lurched lower. A succession of late month frosts did damage to many vineyards, wrecking their fruitful promise. April 28th saw one of the worst advection frosts in Kent, Sussex, Surrey & Hampshire for two decades. This laid waste to many vineyards, not just in Southern England but also in Champagne and Burgundy and as far south as Piedmont. The beautiful green and pink buds on the vines in our small 5 acre parcel below the house were completely destroyed. Even the secondaries were blitzed. No fruit would be forthcoming this year. Fortunately, our more open and breezy 25 acre plot 3 miles away was only modestly impacted; probably due to the openness of the site and the warming stream that runs along the bottom of the lower vineyard parcel.
Frigid nights gave way to exceptional warmth and sunshine through June into early July. It was a near perfect flowering and fruit set. But then the deluges began; initially in the form of intense overnight thunderstorms accompanied at times by hail. Hail damage was relatively light for us, a few short showers impeded by a strong canopy, but it still left its mark on some bunches right up to harvest.
Temperatures drifted lower through August into September as drought and intense sunshine gave way to wetter more mixed conditions. Nevertheless, Véraison came earlier than usual in the Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier; the Chardonnay progressing at a more sedate pace.
The Sugars in the grapes rose steadily, but acids remained quite elevated as we moved through September. The projected date window for harvest came forward from mid October to the first week, then back to mid October and then finally forward again; acids fell quite rapidly and rather unexpectedly from elevated to much more manageable levels, but more importantly the fruit flavours were good.
Early October rain threatened as the remnants of Gulf storms made their way in our direction. We found the stars aligning for an end of September harvest. Bunch weights were good; partly a function of the quenching rains that followed the early year drought. Growing Degree Days had been running well above decade averages, but began to drift back in the cooler wetter August/September conditions. They were similar to the excellent 2014 and 2016 vintages. Rainfall for the season was well above the prior decade average, similar to 2014. The clincher we think was sunshine hours. These were on a par with 2009, 2010 and 2011. The base wines showed exceptional promise as we blended pre second fermentation.