Veraison – the stage in grape phenology where the berries change colour and the skins soften – is occurring at last with my Pinot Noir vines. I’ve deliberately chosen this rather ragged looking bunch to illustrate some of the challenges of growing wine grapes in the UK.
First, you can see the ‘hen and chicken’ effect (millerandage), which is usually caused by cool or wet weather during flowering (but can also be caused by nutrient deficiencies). The hens are the normal-sized berries, the chickens the bullet-like small berries which won’t ripen properly.
Second, there’s quite a spread of development in the bunch, with some green berries and some purple ones. Uneven ripeness in the same bunch is a bad thing. It means that you can end up with wines showing underripe green flavours and overripe jammy flavours at the same time. I don’t like ‘sweet and sour’ Pinot Noir.
It’s now the end of August, and the days are getting shorter. Will these grapes ripen properly? Even in this warm, sheltered site (my back garden), there’s a likelihood that they’ll struggle to limp over the finishing line…