The spring of 2011 was amazing in Hambledon. We had not one drop of rain for 12 weeks. A warm and sunny March and April really advanced the vines and flowering was set to start in 2nd/3rd weeks of June. No frost damage had occurred and all looked well for a good flowering. It had not been so auspicious for our new vineyard planting of 55,000 vines, which all had to be hand watered with 3L deposits once planted, due to lack of rainfall. No sooner had we got round all the plants once watering each by hand, than the heavens opened and it rained for 2 weeks, just as the first flowers opened in the more developed Home Vineyard.
The weather in early June (after 12 weeks of glorious sunshine without a drop of rain) was awful for flowering, which is in reality one of the 2 key periods of the year wrt harvest yields. As a result of constant rain during the first 2 weeks of June, which helped the newly planted vineyard substantially by watering the vines for us, the flower set on the existing vineyard was rather mixed, even quite poor on Pinot Noir. As a result harvest yields were significantly down across the English wine industry. We understand that the largest producer picked around 250 tonnes of grape this year, having picked and pressed nearly 1,000 tonnes last year. Hambledon did not fare as badly as that, but nonetheless, yields were well down.
On the positive side the vines had much less fruit to ripen. This resulted in much higher levels of sugar than normal. We even picked Chardonnay with 11.4% potential alcohol on one section of the vineyard, which is very high indeed by normal UK standards. The base wines made from 2011 were of a really good quality.
Our winery had been just finished (just enough) to be able to press our first harvest on site at Hambledon for 15 years. We have been planning to build the UKs first all gravity fed winery, so the presses were on the top floor of a 4 storey building, but as yet we had not installed the lift to tthe grapes, and so a local farmer (Mick Sylvester) arrived with his big green Manitou and lifted the pallets of grapes to the press floor (thanks Mick).
When the new Coquard PAI press was loaded with Pinot Noir, and the first free run juice came out of the bottom of the press just under the weight of grapes pressing themselves, it was the culmination of 7 years work and quite a moment. One the press was loaded Anna pressed the button on our first pressing and away we went.