Extract from Stephen Skeltons UK Harvest report :
UK harvest 2016
Vintage 2016 in English and Welsh vineyards has turned out to be one of two halves: one half was good – excellent sugar levels and very ripe grapes – whilst the other half was not so good – yields in many vineyards were way below those required to pay the bills. It has also turned about to be one of two halves in respect of geography: the east of England – East Anglia, Kent and East Sussex – had much drier conditions and higher sunshine levels and fared much better than counties to the west of East Sussex.
The year started off with fairly good weather and bud-burst occurred at the normal time. Some vineyards, especially those in West Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, suffered from a few late spring frosts which set their vines back (especially Chardonnay) and led to low yields in those vineyards affected. Weather during the planting season was fair with little rain, but from around mid-May to the end of June, conditions were wet and temperatures below average which led to Downy Mildew starting in some vineyards. Some varieties – Bacchus, Pinot noir and Pinot noir Précoce – suffered from EBSN (Early Bunch Stem Necrosis) and in part accounted for the low average yields. Because of the cool run-up to flowering, it took place a little later than average, and was split into two halves. Early varieties and early sites got a poor first week for flowering, but a better second week; later varieties and later sites got two good weeks and consequently fared better. Poor flowering conditions in many vineyards resulted in considerable run-off and coulure and millerandage were very evident.
After flowering the weather deteriorated and for the second half of July and the first half of August, sunshine levels were lower than average and bunches were very slow to grow and expand. Véraison in many vineyards did not really get going until the end of August and extended well into September and it was looking like it was going to be another late harvest, similar to 2013 and 2015. However, the weather brightened up around mid-August with Gravesend in Kent recording 33.9°C (93°F) on 24 August. The warm and dry weather continued into September and October and saved the day in terms of sugars, but of course could do nothing about the small yields in many vineyards. Many growers reported low bunch weights and small berries, this probably being due to the fact that the stalks of the bunch did not have the weather they needed to grow, and then when the good weather did arrive, there was a lack of moisture to swell the grapes. Harvesting took place in almost completely dry conditions – a rarity in the UK – and winemakers have been reporting excellent wines from all varieties.
2016 was undoubtedly a challenging year for UK winegrowers. Only a few will have covered their growing costs and even fewer will have full wineries. However, the high ripeness levels, dry harvest and clean grapes are some compensation and there should be some excellent wines, both still and sparkling, for drinking in the future. 2016 has also emphasised the part played by region, vineyard site and vineyard management in creating a truly sustainable grape growing and wine making enterprise.