With another temperamental British summer meeting its end, the nation’s winemakers are now entering the most exciting portion of their year: harvest. And with fall well on its way, esteemed English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber last week announced the start of its annual grape harvest.
In recent years, the British winemaking industry, particularly that of the sparkling variety, has been on the up with governing body WineGB reporting that sales of English and Welsh wines grew by over 70% from 2018 to 2019. However, thanks to the let’s say unpredictable climate, Britain’s wine isn’t yet in plentiful supply, meaning each bottle is remarkably precious – although the increase in both vineyards and average temperatures means numbers are set to grow.
Nyetimber, which sits across the three southern counties of West Sussex, Hampshire and Kent, is one producer that has significantly upped its growing efforts, with 2021 marking its largest harvest area to date.
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With vineyards spanning 692 acres, all of which are managed using an innovative and environmentally friendly low-input approach, Nyetimber is set to produce one million bottles of English sparkling wine this year.
Each of the vineyards has been carefully selected for their gentle south-facing slopes and either greensand or chalk soils similar to those found in Champagne, and proudly only uses estate-owned grapes.
Led by winemaking couple Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix, and viticulturist Ben Kantsler, the Nyetimber team’s harvest efforts began at the Tillington vineyard in West Sussex, which is home to Pinot Noir grapes, before moving on to the Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier vineyards later in October.
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The grapes are picked by hand and collected in shallow 33-pound capacity baskets to ensure minimal damage to each bunch as they travel to the state-of-the-art Nyetimber pressing center in West Sussex. Thanks to its ideal location in the heart of the estate, the grapes can be pressed within a matter of hours of being harvested, ensuring the highest quality juices.
Naturally, the cooler climate and increased rainfall experienced in Britain this summer has impacted the harvest, but thanks to their expert know-how, Spriggs, Greatrix and Kantsler have ensured the vines have thrived regardless.
“The cooler summer has delayed our harvest compared to the previous few years; however, we have been making wine in England for 30 years, so we have developed ways to make the most of the climate in which we grow our grapes,” says Kantsler, who specializes in the cultivation of grapes for winemaking.
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“Having estate-owned vineyards really plays to our advantage in years like this as it allows us to realign what we do in the vineyard to assist in mitigating the cooler year,” he continues. For us, it’s about adapting to each and every season and adjusting what we do in both the vineyard and winery to suit the year and always ensure the best possible result.”
Made using the same traditional methods as champagne, Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée is highly regarded for its pale gold hue and delicate bubble stream. The blend is primarily Chardonnay, with smaller amounts of both Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, and enjoys an extensive aging period to achieve its signature toasty aromas.
The result of the Nyetimber team’s impeccable attention to detail and dedicated grape-growing technique is a sparkling wine that is considered to be among one of the finest produced on English soil. So excellent is its produce, in fact, that Cherie Spriggs was crowned ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ at the International Wine Challenge 2018, making her not only the first woman to win the accolade, but also the first person outside of Champagne.