The UK’s vintage conditions pose threats but also offer opportunities

Ridgeview Wine Estate.

Although Trumpists will disagree, most people think global warming is a threat to Earth. But even a threat presents opportunities. Matt Strugnell knows how those opportunities could affect sparkling wine.

Family business

Matt is the vineyard manager at Ridgeview Estate Winery in Ditchling in Southern England. Ridgeview was founded in 1995 by Mike and Chris Roberts. Mike’s dream was to change the perception of English wines by producing sparkling wines to rival the best international ones. He fulfilled that dream. Numerous prizes and awards bear witness to that.

Mike passed away in 2014 but Ridgeview is still a family business, led by the next generation.

Matt, who joined Ridgeview in 2002, had a horticultural education but also learned on the job . “I worked in this vineyard for fifteen years so I know every spot of it. The coldest spot and the most infectious one. But also the best spot in terms of production. Our vineyard measures 5.5 hectares and there are a number of vintners growing grapes on a long-term contract basis. Although we exchange knowledge, you still have to work with  them extensively .”

Climate change

“Climate change seems to help us but since our weather is unpredictable, growing grapes here remains difficult. Although this lacks scientific proof, our winters seem to be warmer and wetter. Summers, being a bit warmer, favour growth. The growing season starts a bit earlier which gives the grapes more time to mature and accumulate sugar. Thus, we can harvest earlier with less chance of rotting.

The flip side to this is that Spring frost can ruin your crop overnight and this is increasingly a problem. This year our vines budded two weeks earlier than usual, but in April we experienced some very cold night-time temperatures. We use special candles and electric wires to raise temperatures enough to keep the plants frost-free. All it takes is raising the ambient temperature 1.5°C, but this has to be done in an open field.

Good grapes have an optimal sugar/acidity level. Both are needed for good taste, but too much sugar means the wine will contain too much alcohol. Getting enough sugar in the grapes used to be a struggle, but nowadays we focus on getting the right mix of sugar and acidity.”

“Likely climate change is helping us, but so are our skills and experience. Even when it would rain for a long time in the summer, we would get a good crop.

Attention is the key to succesful growing

Attention is the key to successful growing. Of course you need theoretical knowledge, but you develop your intuition through experience. Sometimes you act on a hunch, that only later you can support with fact. Last weekend the weather was damp and warm. The first thing I did Monday morning was walk around the vineyard visiting probable weak spots.

The strength of the Ridgeview team is in its openness. All 25 employees are informed on a regular basis about the well-being of the company. People from all parts of the company meet at work or lunch. Everyone knows that it takes grapes to make wine. But it also takes winemakers, people to put the label on the bottle and someone to send the bill to the customer after delivery. It’s all about teamwork.”

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