Fox & Fox Harvest 2020 Sunshine & Storms

15th October 2020

Fox & Fox Inspiration 2013

Jonica Fox from Fox & Fox which is a boutique grower producer of award-winning English Sparkling wines with vineyards in Mayfield, Sussex gives us the full details of what harvest 2020 has been like for them.

Wet, wild, windy, the wettest winter for one hundred years knocking 2014 off its wettest-ever perch and kicked off a growing year that has been far from typical. This has been a year for experienced growers to navigate thoughtfully.

From wet to dry in the blink of an eye: March brought sunny days, very little cloud cover and slightly above average warm day-time temperatures but with some quite cold nights that continued into April. By the end of the month, when we started planting new vines, we were in drought territory as temperatures reached above seasonal norms into what became a very dry and warm May. No problem for the established vines, they responded with an early bud-break, but fears lingered over nature’s fickle capacity for deadly May frosts.

The last late frost date I can remember here was May 13th, 1995, a true blossom-frost that did huge damage to apple blossom and killed that year’s fruit crop. This year saw its return with a run of ice-cold nights from May 12th to 15th where we danced with disaster. The last night did for the buds along the lower edge of the vineyard where the cold air collects and hit the Chardonnay, which buds before the Pinot noir, hardest.

We hand-planted the new vines, a week’s work starting 27th April, with a passing shower to bed them in. Thankfully, snug in their vine-guards, they were untroubled by the brief mid-May freeze. A long, dry luxurious, endlessly sunny summer, with broadly average temperatures, interspersed by very light showers, unfolded through June and July into August; periodic spikes in heat perhaps hinted at the heatwave to come. Fruit set passed through in July unremarked.

The drought was broken as we flounced between tantrum-y heavy rain showers and blisteringly hot August sunshine. Veraison kicked into action once the quenching showers and heatwave had passed. Seasonal temperatures returned through the end of the month, but September still surprised with a last gasp of summer as the heat climbed substantially for 10 days mid-month. The rain held off until the predicted harvest date (October 1st), so we shifted back a week to start on 6th October. Not quite our ten-year average, but later than last year’s 30th September start.

“Normal” is not a word easily associated with this vintage. May saw virtually no rain and very late frosts. July and September threw curveballs with unusually cold nights with the lows at fruiting wire level hitting just 5 c, several times. The August heatwave established a number of records. This was also the driest and sunniest growing season of the last 12 years while growing degree days were modestly above average.

Established vines did well with our moisture-retaining soils, but the dry spell had us watering the new vines – the most tedious and hated job ever. Despite the cycles of watering they struggled to get their feet in, but by season’s end had mostly established themselves. We had about 1% failure.

And what of the fruit? The long dry periods and intermittent cold nights kept the vines in a start-stop-start pattern of confusion, but by late August (the start of ripening /veraison) we could see smaller bunches than the previous two vintages begin to ripen, slowly revealing their character. And what character!

It has been a smaller crop than usual, but the flavours are rich, immense, layered, intense. Exciting. Sugars were optimal. Acids were spot on too. It is once-in-a-decade fruit, rewarding a growing-year that stands out in so many ways.

Glass of Bubbly

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