grape expectations

For English Winemakers, The Pandemic Isn’t As Great A Challenge As The Weather Is

Cherie Spriggs, head of English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber, tells us that their wineries have social distancing well in the proverbial hand — the weather? Not so much.

For English Winemakers, The Pandemic Isn’t As Great A Challenge As The Weather Is

The United Kingdom is infamous for its poor weather — that’s if the legions of jokes are anything to go by. (As one saying goes: ‘If you can see the hills, it’s going to rain. If you can’t, it’s raining’).

Not that it’s stopped winemakers like Nyetimber from heading out into the fields since 1988. The English brand has been in the business since their first vineyards were established in West Sussex over three decades ago — and they haven’t looked back since, despite challenging and often temperamental weather conditions; in 2012, the brand had to abandon the entirety of that year’s harvest due to torrential rains.

So it’s safe to say that Nyetimber is familiar with catastrophic conditions beyond their control. When the pandemic reared its head earlier in the year, the brand’s head winemaker, Cherie Spriggs, managed to shepherd everyone into the appropriate (socially-distanced) places. 

She quips: “Thankfully, this year’s harvest is coming from 260 Nyetimber-owned hectares,” the equivalent of just over 100 football fields — “so we have plenty of room to spread out.” 

Cherie Spriggs, head winemaker at Nyetimber

Pickers have also had to accustomise themselves with vital masks and gloves, something that Spriggs says is not that great a chore, given Nyetimber’s high sanitation standards.

Ironically, the brand’s greatest challenges this year “had nothing to do with Covid-19”, but rather, their old enemy: the weather.

“A late spring frost caused mixed ripeness in certain blocks of grapes,” says Spriggs. “This had to be carefully triaged by our skilled pickers, ensuring only the best bunches were selected.” 

But it seemed as though the inclement English weather decided to take pity on cooped-up citizens and panicked winemakers alike. In September, the weather became warm and balmy, providing a bit of rare cheer for the area’s denizens — and allowing Nyetimber’s grapes to reach the optimal ripeness. “For a year where most people have spent a lot of time at home, we’re fortunate that the weather in England has been so favourable to be outside,” laughs Spriggs. 

That good weather has also put Nyetimber on track to produce around 1 million bottles of sparkling wine for the year — fortuitous, given that the brand says it has seen a sharp spike in online sales across all their markets.

In all, Spriggs says she’s satisfied with the results of Nyetimber’s first socially-distanced harvest, a trend that portends well for the brand as well as the English sparkling wine industry as a whole — temperamental weather or not.

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