The 2022 heatwave produced a bumper harvest for English winemakers like Knightor
While climate change is a major cause for major concern resulting in global summits, there is one industry that has found a silver lining. English winemakers saw bumper yields in 2022 thanks to optimum vine-growing conditions, while warmer temperatures have enabled growers to produce a wide variety of still and sparkling wines from grape varieties that were previously much harder to cultivate, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
“The heatwave might not have been great for growing potatoes, but it was perfect for vines,” says David Brocklehurst, head winemaker at Knightor. “Flowering began around two weeks earlier than we usually expect, coinciding with good weather and resulting in a good fruit set.”
Having joined the team in 2012, one of the wettest summers on record – local attractions saw their income decimated as visitors stayed home to watch the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee on TV – David knows how extreme weather can make or break a harvest.
The winery was founded by Adrian Derx, whose Italian heritage ignited an interest in wine. Having sought out suitable sites, he planted his first vines near Looe in 2006, followed by Portscatho on the Roseland Peninsula in 2007.
Both sites are coastal and south-facing, meaning plenty of exposure to the sun. There’s another important factor: “The soil is free-draining,” David explains. “A lot of Cornwall is solid clay, and with quite a high rainfall you need something to offset that.” There are now 17,000 vines across the two sites, a mix of varieties: big hitters including Pinot Noir, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc and Riesling, alongside less familiar names such as Madeleine Angevine and Rondo.
Vines take three years to establish, so the first crop was harvested in 2010 and pressed at Sharpham in South Devon. Knightor subsequently opened its own winery site in a converted cattle shed at Trethurgy, next door to the Eden Project on land acquired from Imerys. It gave the wine its name – the settlement of Knightor is first recorded in 1305, and the 18th-century manor house is now available as wedding accommodation.
David studied oenology and viticulture, and was looking at jobs around the world. He chose Cornwall for its variety and willingness to experiment. “Wine-growing regions are restricted by law as to what they can grow. In comparison to more traditional regions, English wine is relatively new, and we can grow grapes to produce white, rose, red and sparkling wines … It’s not your typical winery, which is why I enjoy it.”
Pruning is about to begin – about 90% of the previous year’s growth will be snipped off, leaving two shoots which are tied down to the trellis. Cornwall’s mild climate ensures frost, which can damage the buds, is less of a problem here than for other UK vineyards. By June (“usually around Wimbledon time”) the vines have grown and are flowering. “That’s the critical time, as it determines what the yield will be like. Good weather will ensure good fruit; bad weather, poor yields.”
Vine care continues throughout the summer, with trellis work and canopy management aiming for neat rows rather than a jungle, and leaf removal in mid-August to ensure a good flow sunlight around the fruit for maximum ripeness.
In 2022, the harvest began in the first week of September, with the team picking a high-quality Pinot Noir Précoce grape at Portscatho; the final variety of Seyval Blanc was collected in the first week of October from Seaton vineyard. The wines are now ageing in a tank; still wines are aged before being bottled and some will be taken to retail within six months, while methode champenoise wines can be aged in the bottle for five years or more.
Yields are up on the previous two years, and David and his team are pleased the overall quality, anticipating that next year’s offerings will be some of the best yet. David predicts some good sparklings, very good still whites (including a “really promising” still unoaked Chardonnay) and rosés, plus the return of a few reds such as a Portscatho Pinot Noir Précoce red, which will need a year in the barrel to soften. “In general, everything from this year will be fuller bodied than typical – really fruity and characterful,” says David.
The urge to innovate extends to new products: last summer, canned rosé spritz Aprèz was launched onto the market in a bid to appeal to a younger audience. “It’s a single serve and you can take it down to the beach as part of a picnic.” In 2023, you’ll see the winery’s first “orange” wine, a one-off small batch of white Muscat fermented on skins. “We’re always looking for new and different things to do, which is great fun.”
The fun doesn’t stop at wine. You can tuck into Sunday lunch at the winery, while The Vine by Knightor at Portscatho serves small plates on long sharing tables with panoramic views over the Roseland coastline. Look out for special events including a Burns Night celebration, a Scandi feast night and a Valentine’s Day crab smash!
Knightor Winery, Trethurgy PL26 8YQ. Wine shop and tastings: Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, Sunday 1pm to 4pm (Sunday Lunch served noon to 3pm).
The Vine by Knightor, Portscatho TR2 5EH. www.knightor.com