The wettest winter for one hundred years knocking 2014 off its wettest-ever perch kicked off a growing season that has been far from typical. This has been a year for experienced growers to navigate thoughtfully.
From wet to dry in the blink of an eye
March brought sunny days, very little cloud cover and slightly above average warm day-time temperatures but with some quite cold nights that continued into April. By the end of the month, when we started planting new vines, we were in drought territory as temperatures reached above seasonal norms into what became a very dry and warm May. No problem for the established vines, they responded with an early bud-break, but fears lingered over nature’s fickle capacity for deadly May frosts.
The last late frost date I can remember here was May 13th, 1995, a true blossom-frost that did huge damage to apple blossom and killed that year’s fruit crop. This year saw its return with a run of ice-cold nights from May12th to 15th where we danced with disaster. The last night did for the buds along the lower edge of the vineyard where the cold air collects and hit the Chardonnay, which buds before the Pinot noir, hardest.
We hand-planted the new vines, a week’s work starting 27th April, with a passing shower to bed them in. Thankfully, snug in their vine-guards, they were untroubled by the brief mid-May freeze. A long, dry luxurious, endlessly sunny summer, with broadly average temperatures, interspersed by very light showers, unfolded through June and July into August; periodic spikes in heat perhaps hinted at the heat wave to come. Fruit set passed through in July unremarked.
The drought was broken as we flounced between tantrum-y heavy rain showers and blisteringly hot August sunshine. Veraison kicked into action once the quenching showers and heatwave had passed. Seasonal temperatures returned through the end of the month, but September still surprised with a last gasp of summer as the heat climbed substantially for 10 days mid-month. Rain held off until the predicted harvest date (October 1st), so we shifted back a week to start on 6th October. Not quite our ten-year average, but later than last year’s 30th September start.
No NORMAL VINTAGE
“Normal” is not a word easily associated with this vintage. May saw virtually no rain and very late frosts. July and September threw curve balls with unusually cold nights with the lows at fruiting wire level hitting just 5 c, several times. The August heatwave established a number of records. This was also the driest and sunniest growing season of the last 12 years, while growing degree days were modestly above average.
Established vines did well with our moisture-retaining soils, but the dry spell had us watering the new vines – the most tedious and hated job ever. Despite the cycles of watering they struggled to get their feet in, but by season’s end had mostly established themselves. We had about 1% failure.
And what of FOX & FOX fruit from 2020?
The long dry periods and intermittent cold nights kept the vines in a start-stop-start pattern of confusion, but by late August (the start of ripening / veraison) we could see smaller bunches than the previous two vintages begin to ripen, slowly revealing their character. And what character!
It has been a smaller crop than usual, but the flavours are rich, immense, layered, intense. Exciting. Sugars were optimal. Acids were spot on too. It is once-in-a-decade fruit, rewarding a growing-year that stands out in so many ways.
The grapes are pressed and gently fermenting, slowly releasing their exhilarating flavours and creating new flavours as the yeasts work. We’ll taste them again in late November to check on progress. We make our wines slowly, we take our time. It takes patience, ours and yours. This is vintage 2020 which we hope to have ready for you by 2026… or 2027. After all… good things come to those that wait.
STATISTICS of the 2020 Grape Growing Season
Following the key stats each year, and seeing how these translate into the quality and quantity of grapes and wine helps us to keep learning and improving your drinking experience. If you’d like to know a bit more about the numbers that made up the 2020 season at Fox & Fox, read on.
Eastbourne Weather Station (The Met Office) shows 2020 as a record Sunshine growing season (April: September) with 1,527 hours of sunshine recorded against the previous record year of 2014 (1,488 Sunshine hours). Our own weather station supports these figures.
Eastbourne also shows 2020 to be slightly drier than 2015, and thus the driest growing season of the last 12 years (April: September) at 186.6 mm, which excludes the very wet start to the year. Again, our weather station supports this.
Eastbourne is the nearest data point for Met Office data.
Growing Degree Days
Our local data suggests that GDD’s nudged above 1000 between April 1st and October 6th harvest. This is a measure that’s used to describe the period of time the weather is warm enough for the grapes to develop and ripen.