BIDDENDEN VINEYARDS 2023 HARVEST REPORT- REFLECTING ON RECORD BREAKING YEAR
Summer 2022- the longest, hottest summer seen for many years, resulting in a harvest of exceptional quality, very good quality fruit with a high natural sugar level. Fast forward to 2023. A warm and sunny June was followed by a wet and not seasonally warm July and August and then a hot September and October… what would this mean for the English wine industry?
The 2023 harvest at Biddenden started on Monday 18th September with a small team picking Ortega, 19 days later than 2022 and closer to that of years gone by. This is earlier than many other vineyards but picking start date will always vary between estates and depends on the varieties grown as well as other locational and situational factors. Ortega, our flagship variety here at Biddenden, is early ripening and always our first variety picked.
After 6 weeks of hard work from our local pickers and winery team, harvest finished on Monday the 30th October with Riesling our last variety to be picked. First planted at Biddenden in 2018, Riesling is a variety we are particularly excited about at Biddenden and we planted additional vines of this variety as part of an exclusive event held at the vineyard in May 2023. With a good harvest in 2022 and 2023 we look forward to sharing the results of our work with this variety at Biddenden- good things come to those who wait!
In addition to Ortega and Riesling, 10 further varieties are grown across 25 acres at Biddenden and this has its advantages come harvest time, as each variety can be picked when it is perfectly ripe, in its own individual block, rather than having large areas which need to be picked all at once. All 12 varieties are picked by hand, by a team of local pickers and all fruit is pressed within hours, or even minutes, of being picked. After starting with Ortega, harvest has continued through the white varieties including Bacchus, Reichensteiner and Huxelrebe, before moving onto the Pinot Noir, Dornfelder and Schönburger.
The start date of harvest is one variable but the weather conditions throughout the year, alongside how the vines are cared for and managed, has a huge impact on the crop. Spring frosts after bud burst can spell disaster but, in 2023, the mild spring put off this potential damage. 2023 saw harvest records broken across the UK with vineyards bringing in huge crops and recording their biggest ever harvest. At the halfway point at Biddenden we had picked more tonnes of fruit than the 2022 harvest all together. But why the bumper crop?
Water in the ground in April led to good bud break and canopy growth and a dry, warm June resulted in a strong, early, fruit set. July then saw one of the highest rainfall levels since records began, perfect for the vines, and then the warmth of September came along, just enough to bring on final ripening and reduce rain damage. Too much rain can cause the grapes to swell and split, however the September heat slowed this down, protecting the crop. A lot of what happens in a vineyard is also down to the year before and, with an exceptional 2022, the vines have been able to build up strong reserves to support the fruit growth in 2023.
Affectionately dubbed ‘the monster of 2023’, this harvest we picked approximately 121 tonnes of grapes, in contrast to the 52 tonnes of 2022. The last time Biddenden picked a crop of this size all three Barnes boys were off at college and Mum, Sally, was the driver of the 3910 tractor, built in July 1983- one of the earliest on record in this county according to Haynes. Prior to this, 2003 was the next largest crop with dolavs of grapes stretching on and on down the rows and it was all hands on deck to bring in the fruit for pressing.
“A huge effort from all members of the team, 2023 is certainly the largest harvest I can remember for many years, perhaps back to 2004. Coming back from school I clearly remember walking out into the yard and it being full of grapes waiting for the press. Fast forward a few years to the largest crop Biddenden has seen, it certainly becomes fairly focusing and a logistical challenge juggling tanks and space into the early hours. I’m looking forward to the 2023 wines hitting the shelf, a good balance across all wines with the task of bottling now on the horizon as we move into early 2024 and a new season begins. No season is the same which is what makes it fun and a life style, not a job.” Tom Barnes, third generation and winemaker.
With three generations of winemaking expertise, and the same tractor still going strong, all be it with some minor unplanned adjustments, it is Biddenden’s experience, unique growing methods and strong focus on vine health year round which has once again paid dividends.
With the vines now dormant, the grape press stored away for another year and the wines safely in their tanks, the journey of our 2023 vintages carries on in the winery and we can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store. A huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in our 2023 harvest. With such a large crop it really was a real team effort. Although it seems a long way off yet, if you are interested in joining us for harvest 2024 we’d love to hear from you!
To keep up to date with all out latest news and vineyard updates, and to be the first to know when our 2023 vintages are available, subscribe to our newsletter.