At times this summer you could have been forgiven for thinking you were strolling through the Bordeaux countryside while visiting Kent’s Biddenden Vineyards.
It’s proven to be an exceptional year for England’s vineyards so far, with glorious sunshine encouraging our nation’s vines to fulfil their potential.
Kent’s original commercial vineyard, Biddenden Vineyards was founded in 1969 – and yet the start to this year’s harvest is already proving to be record breaking.
“The crop out on the vines is looking great - very clean fruit and lots of it,” says managing director, Julian Barnes. “We started picking a month earlier than usual and for the first time ever, in August. We would usually start around September 27, so this really is an exceptional year.”
“Growing grapes is never without its challenges, but we couldn’t have asked for a much better summer from a growing point of view.”
Year of celebration
It’s already been a year of celebration for the vineyard too, as they picked up three medals at this year’s WineGB Awards in July – a silver for Gribble Bridge Pinot Reserve 2014 and bronzes for Biddenden Pinot Noir 2016 and Gribble Bridge Sparkling Rosé 2014.
If this year’s harvest does meet expectations, there seems little doubt that they will be harvesting a few more awards in the future.
“Winemaking starts in the vineyard and so every year there will be variations in the wines which we can produce, how they will taste and what we can do with the juice, based on many factors including weather,” says Julian.
“We have a bumper crop of Ortega, which we are picking now and so will be producing this as our signature wine, hopefully without any worry of keeping up with demand.”
As well as Ortega, they have a further 10 grape varieties grown at Biddenden and these will be used to expertly craft the still and sparkling wines in their range.
“We will decide which varieties to use for which purpose as they are picked and we can see the quality, sugar levels and other characteristics that lend themselves to each type of wine.”
A special vintage
There’s a chance that Biddenden may even be able to make an extra special wine from this vintage too, if the elements continue to be favourable.
“Our Gamay in particular is looking promising,” says Julian. “This is used to produce our rosé sparkling wine, but in an exceptional year (such as 2003 and 2009) we are able to produce a single varietal still red.
“We still have a little time before the Gamay is ready to be picked, so in the meantime we will be hoping for continued warm, dry weather to give us the best opportunity to be able to produce a still Gamay.”
Well, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a taste of that particular glass of deliciousness then.
If you'd like to see the progress of harvest for yourself, Biddenden Vineyards is open to the public daily throughout the year, with free admission and tastings. Their vineyard shop is also stocked with a vast selection of local artisan foods, including local cheeses, locally brewed beer, local spirits, a wide range of preserves and chutneys, plus Biddenden’s own honey.