September is always an exciting – and busy – time at Biddenden, and this year is no exception. We began our grape harvest on Tuesday 1st September, straight after the bank holiday, with Ortega being the first variety to be picked in the glorious sunshine.
We usually aim to begin harvest around the third week in September, but following the hot weather that stayed with us right through the summer, for the third year running the grapes have been ripe much earlier and so we’re now halfway through harvest at a time where we’d usually just be starting. This has also resulted in some incredibly good sugar and acidity levels and a beautifully clean crop, which makes for very good picking.
This is my 5th harvest here at Biddenden, (in an official ‘working’ capacity; growing up here has meant I’ve always got stuck in & helped from a young age) and I’ve worked alongside my Dad (Julian) and brother (Tom) over the last few years, listening & learning! We always say that winemaking begins in the vineyard, and one of our strengths that comes from having all our grapes grown here on one estate is that we truly look after the whole process from vine to grape to glass.
This year, Tom and I have largely run the harvest between us, with a great team of local pickers working with us to pick each variety. All of our grapes are picked by hand into buckets, before being placed into larger tubs placed within each row. This year’s harvest has been a little different, as we are obviously ensuring everyone can be well distanced, though the vineyard layout lends itself well to this, with everyone working in teams of two, one each side of the row (which naturally places them 2 metres apart), taking a bay at a time to work up – and of course out in the fresh air.
Once the tubs are filled, I’ll run them back to the winery on the tractor. This can be as little as 20 metres if we’re picking the Ortega by the shop, up to a maximum of 500m if we’re picking the earlier plantings of Scheurebe & Reichensteiner – food miles really are not a thing at Biddenden!
The grapes are loaded onto a conveyor which then fills the press, with each load taking 3 tonnes of grapes. One pressing will take around 2.5 hours and we’ll usually run the press 2-3 times per day.
Once the grapes have been pressed, the juice is pumped into the winery and stored in stainless steel tanks, where the winemaking process will begin. This is all within hours of the fruit coming off the vines, so a very fast process to maintain optimum quality.
We’ll usually then bottle these wines in January / February, and then release over the next 18 months, usually starting around July, so you should start to see our 2020 vintages towards the latter part of 2021. In the meantime, this month we’ve released some very special wines from the 2018 vintage, including Biddenden Sparkling Ortega Demi-Sec 2018 and Biddenden Special Ortega 2018, and we have still & sparkling wines from a range of vintages available in the shop and online for home delivery.
Photos: Saltwick Media