WHILE we were enjoying an unprecedented summer of sun, the effects of the hot and dry weather were plain to see in the yellowing grass and parched flower beds of our parks and gardens.

With no significant rainfall for several weeks, rivers and reservoirs were running low and hosepipe bans were being implemented nationwide.

The heatwave has also been felt severely by the agricultural sector with farmers across the UK reporting arable crop failures, shortened growing seasons for soft fruit and difficulty feeding livestock.

It’s not all bad news for our agricultural sector however, as one locally grown crop has been flourishing in the hot weather. Sussex vineyards are expecting a bumper crop of grapes this year.

“That was the hottest, driest start to a season that I can remember,” said Kevin Sutherland, head winemaker at Bluebell Vineyard Estates near Uckfield.

“At Bluebell we hadn’t had any significant rain since mid April and that is unheard of for grape growing in England. In terms of growth and ripening we are easily two weeks ahead of where we would normally be.

“Vines love hot weather and while it is hot for England, most vines are used to growing in hotter temperatures than we’ve currently got. The vines have been absolutely thriving and this is excellent news for both yield and quality.”

Although the run of hot weather was beneficial for the ripening of the grapes themselves, a relatively dry spring also meant better conditions for flowering and pollination.

“Rain at flowering can block pollen tubes and reduce yields,” says Simon Woodhead of Stopham Estate near Pulborough. “This occurs around the time of Wimbledon. This year there was no rain at flowering so our vines all have a full fruit set.”

Mardi Roberts of the family-owned Ridgeview Wine Estate near Ditchling agreed. She said: “It’s the dry weather that has assisted in good conditions for flowering which determines yield, and dry conditions aid quality as it helps prevent diseases such as mildew.”

The English wine industry is relatively young with most vineyards under 20 years old.

The UK is termed a marginal area for viticulture, and the inconsistencies and extremities of the English weather pose an ongoing risk to the commercial viability of wine production.

“We need no frost in springtime, dry and warm weather in June for flowering, no rain and low humidity throughout the summer and lots of sunshine in September for ripening – so not too much to ask for,” said Bluebell’s Kevin Sutherland.

“Temperatures are on the increase, however we are generally seeing higher levels of rainfall – except this year. There has been higher levels of humidity and changing weather patterns, all of which bring their own challenges.

“This year’s weather also bodes well for next year’s crop too.”

After flowering, the next most important period is pre-harvest ripening when the sugars start to rise in the grapes, according to Ridgeview’s Mardi Roberts.

She said: “We like good, dry weather to increase full fruit flavours. Lastly, when we are actually harvesting in September or early October, to get the balance of sugar and acidity perfectly we require dry weather so we do not dilute the juice.”

Overall, the trend of recent years has been to see warmer summers, which may be related to global warming.

“When I arrived in the UK from Bordeaux 30 years ago, it was impossible to get chardonnay and pinot noir to ripen sufficiently to produce commercial wine,” said Chris Foss of Plumpton College’s wine department.

“Hot weather in late June and early July optimises flowering and fruit set. It also encourages the buds that will open next year to have more bunches of flowers, so the 2019 harvest is also maximised.”

Mardi is optimistic about this year’s crop but said the Ridgeview team will not relax until after the harvest in September: “We are currently experiencing one of the best years we have seen since our establishment in 1995, in terms of quality and quantity of our potential harvest. However we must be cautious as it is not until the grapes are safely in the press that we will be able to access and celebrate”.


The 2017 harvest produced 5.9 million bottles of wine. By 2040 it is predicted production will have reached 40 million bottles annually.

In 2017 alone, over one million new vines were planted in the UK with over 2,500 hectares now under vine.

Sparkling varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier account for 70% of all grapevines planted.

UK wineries produce significantly more sparkling wine than still.

75% of all wine produced in the Uk is from the south east region.

UK-produced wines are exported to 27 countries with the USA being the largest market.