By James Matyear, Vineyard Manager at Black Chalk Wine
Harvest is a special time - the culmination of a long growing season, and excitement at the prospect of what the winemaking team will create with the grapes. Harvest in England will generally start any time between the end of September to the middle of October.
The majority of Black Chalk vineyards are planted with the Champagne varieties - Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with smaller amounts of Pinot gris and Pinot Precoce. There are various clones of all varieties, each offering slightly different characteristics.
Harvest involves close collaboration between the vineyard team and the winery team. There is constant dialogue throughout the season, forecasting the yield at harvest so the winery team can plan how many grapes they will receive, in what order they will pick them, and which varietal clones are looking like standout performers that year.
As harvest edges closer, grape samples are taken, so that levels of acidity, sugar and aromatic development can be monitored. These measurements inform the dates on which the grapes are picked.
Picking is a big logistical operation. The winery team have an ideal daily number of press runs (loading the Coquard press, squeezing the juice out, then emptying and cleaning the press). Different grapes will be ready to pick at different times - reaching the sugar and acid levels and aromatic development that the winery team are looking for. But there are only so many hands to help harvest. Planning which days they pick, how people are picking, and ensuring the grapes make their way to the winery as fast as possible is critical. At Black Chalk we use a combination of staff, volunteers, and professional picking teams to ensure an efficient harvest.
Loading the Coquard Press
Picking crates are laid out the night before in the blocks of grapes to be picked. As the pickers fill buckets with grapes, these buckets are emptied into larger picking crates, which are then loaded on to a trailer pulled by a tractor. The grapes are then driven to the winery, where the winery team are able to unload them into the press. The press takes a maximum volume of 4 tonnes, so careful planning is required to ensure up to 4 tonnes of grapes are delivered in a short window so the press can be loaded quickly.
If you’d like to see a real working vineyard then book a tour with us, and taste the wine for yourself. We also offer tours with lunch if you'd like to stay a little longer.