A short guide to your UK vines
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
"In order to survive, the vine must be able to take all it needs from its surroundings"
As all you brainiacs out there have guessed, a vine is a plant. This means in order for it to survive, thrive and give us our wine, it needs - heat, sunlight, nutrients, water and Co2. All of these 5 forces play a vital role in how much your vine will love you and the quality of the grapes it will gift you.
Just like me, they're sleepy in the winter and you'll see them looking pretty bare and disheveled but boy oh boy come spring they are ready, set, go and the life of viney begins. (note - winter is the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern hemisphere).
Once they've shaken the last of the chilly season, and summers on its way, flowers and small, hard, green grapes begin to form. This is know as 'Fruit set'.
Late summer to early autumn we begin to see the grapes ripen. They swell with water and as their bitter acidic flavours begin to drop, the sugar levels rise and the grapes beautiful characteristic start to develop. You'll know when this begins to happen as the grapes begin to change from bright green to blue/black (reds) or pink/golden (whites). This is known as 'Vérasion'.
...Here’s the sciencey bit!!!
The vineyard manager will now spend their time collecting samples from the vines and testing the sugar and acid levels to indicate when the optimum harvest time should be. One way to gauge this is to read the 'Brix' in the wine. This is done by using a refractometer to measure to sugar levels found in a sample of grape juice from the vineyard to determine the potential alcohol content. In the UK we can only legally add an extra 3% sugar to our grape juices to bump up our ABV in our wines so picking them too early with a sugar reading too low could be pretty disastrous. Ideally for the UK we want to see a final ABV of around 11%... (See chart below)
After the grapes are harvested, the vines will drop their leaves and as winter closes in, the vines are dormant until the following spring.
There are lots of ways you can help your vines along and the BIGGEST and most important is plant your vines in the right area!!!
Most Vineyards are planted between the latitudes of 30-50 degrees North and South of the equator (too close to the equator its too hot, too far its too cold - you get the jist. Don't go planting your vines in Alaska... you'll be very disappointed and worst of all, very sober).
For the UK and other cooler regions, good soil can be a vine saver. Darker coloured soils that have high stone and rock content are fab at absorbing and re-radiating the suns warmth.
Pairing a good soil with a Southern facing vineyard on a slope is vital in order to get your crop nice and ripe in time.
- Also keep in mind your vineyard design, cold air sinks guys so planting your vineyard on the middle of a slope will hopefully give you a good head start on potential frost damage than those planted in lower lying areas - This also stops vines becoming water logged in particularly wet years (water logging can create diluted sugars and characteristics in the grapes which we do NOT want!).
As we touched on earlier, spring in the UK can still be a tad nippy and we do experience spring frost (more than we'd like). Vineyards managers over the years have come up with some pretty nifty ways to fight back and encourage those vines to blossom; heaters, wind machines and sprinklers are all ways in which we can deter that frost from getting to our little babies.
- Here's an example of a vineyard using heaters to help keep the fellas warm and frost free. And by fellas, I mean baby grapes.
Stay Tipsy x