Here we are, this year’s harvest rapidly approaching. Hopefully, I don’t sound too old if I say this time comes around faster every year! This is my fifth Rathfinny harvest and the third that I will be sampling our grapes in the lab, monitoring ripeness and enabling us to pick bunches at the opportune moment. But to pick grapes, we need to employ pickers, a role I’ve also taken on.

Harvest is a great time to be a part of agriculture in Sussex. For those who spend most of their time in urban environments, it’s a chance to give yourself time to further appreciate seasonal change. The intricate nature of grape harvesting means we need plenty of hands, contradictory to most other agriculture in the UK, in which bringing in the crop is heavily mechanised.

It has been great talking to locals interested in harvesting. We normally have applicants from all walks of life, but perhaps more this year, as many found themselves furloughed, or simply exploring a career change. My personal highlight was receiving a job application from my own father, who I had convinced to give picking grapes a go after his recent retirement. How the tables have turned! Perhaps now I can be the boss? I doubt it.

For the Vineyard team, this is a particularly intense and rewarding time as we see the culmination of our work this year. Many of us have been preparing this crop since pruning last December, so for all the team, the pressure is on until we hand over the fruit to the Winery. Everyone will be working two-fold. There will be aching muscles and tired eyes. The fruit is, however, looking fantastic this year, so hopefully that will keep us all going.

Man walking through vines
2019 Harvest Pickers

Before picking though, berries are collected to sample for Brix, Total Acidity and pH in order to monitor ripeness. Brix tells us the total dissolved sugar, showing the alcoholic potential prior to fermentation. Total acidity and pH tell us the acid content of the grapes, made up of mostly malic and tartaric acid. Balancing sugar and acid is vital to producing great wine, so I will be sampling as much as I can so we can make an informed decision on when to pick each area in the Vineyard.

We have 82 different areas on the Estate to sample, comprising of different vine varieties and within those, different clones. It’s best to collect three or more samples of each of the 82 areas before choosing to pick, so we can plot a ripening curve, by date, on a graph. Let us just say I am going to be setting up camp and living in the lab. Sampling Assistant, Mickey will also be making meticulously sure that there are no slip ups.

View of Rathfinny Blue Skies October 2020
Rathfinny comprises of 230 acres and we've planted 385,000 vines

Thinking ahead, with some of our newer vine plantings becoming established in years to come, there will be over 100 areas to sample! Thankfully, I do enjoy the process, especially given how well ripening has gone. All that sunshine in August and early September, as well as a slightly lighter crop load, have given us some of the best figures we have seen at Rathfinny. Between you and me, 2020 is going to be a pretty good year. Vintage wise that is.