2023 Vintage in the Winery


As our wines are happily resting in their tanks and barrels, we reflect on a bumper harvest at Wiston. Before Christmas we spoke to our winemaker, Marcus Rayner-Ward for his report of the harvest from the winery. ‘And breathe! What a harvest we have just been through. The largest haul ever taken off the vines at Wiston Estate. Admittedly, two vineyards (approx. 13,000 vines) have come online since 2018, but the yields were overwhelming at times! An extraordinary year for many reasons. Firstly, it was Meg and my second year at the helm, and our first full year of marriage. Interesting to perform a 360-degree performance review! Other exceptional events include variety ripeness timings and elevated crop yields. With the exception of the last two years, we usually harvest the red fruit, then have a little gap before the white berries come in. 2022 & 2023 saw a big variability of ripening times, some chardonnay sites coming in well before pinots.

Wiston Estate Grape Harvest near the South Downs National Park
Harvest at Wiston Estate, Rex in tank with grapes.

A big thank you to our brilliant team in the winery. We hire newcomers to the harvest team each year. The idea is to give experience to those looking to get into the wine trade and get a full taste of what this wonderful world of winemaking has to offer. As well as helping to process all the Wiston fruit, they help to process fruit for our contract clients. The team processed an extraordinary 488T in 3.5 weeks. The largest harvest previously at Wiston was 2018, where we popped 550T into the presses in 5 weeks. An incredible amount of fruit lovingly processed in 3.5 weeks.

It’s safe to say that yields took everyone in the industry by surprise this year, with the early dismissed high predictions being realized on day two! Our harvest usually lasts for 3-5 weeks and builds up to a crescendo in the middle, then eases out towards the end. This year, grapes arrived at pace on the 2nd of October and didn’t stop until 25th October. At times it felt like we were drowning in grapes.

All tanks and barrels in the winery are now brimming. We had to order two mobile 30,000L tanks to make up the difference. This abundance of fruit means we have an opportunity to boost our reserve wines, as we look to increase our yearly production to meet demand for our delicious non-vintage wines. The abundance of fruit also allows us to have a little play in the winery and do some valuable experimentation. A chance to learn more and hopefully concoct some exciting future projects for you to try. The sugars in 2023 were a little lower than usual, as were the acids. This meant the importance of bringing in healthy fruit in was paramount.

Barrels at Wiston Estate, South Downs in West Sussex for English Sparkling Wine. Wine making
Grapes in Coqaurd Press at Wiston Estate, West Sussex

Like many other wineries, we have our own heroic stories of harvest 2023. One that deserves a mention: On the 9th October, at 10:30am, an alarm sounded from our 6T press. It had arrested 30 mins into its cycle. Upon inspection, we discovered that the plastic plate under the door that holds the seal in place, had splintered, rupturing said seal. After talking to our press engineer, the diagnosis in technical terms was, “you’re f&$ked mate”. The only fix was a replacement door plate. This part is only available from the factory in the Loire. Considering the last part ordered from France was caught up in customs for five weeks, ordering this part by post was not an option. During various discussions, there were serval murmurs and the words ‘car, ‘drive’, ‘France’ and ‘overnight’ were heard. Luckily Rick Goring was up for the challenge! He departed the winery at 5pm, with the solitary purpose of driving as fast (and safe) as possible, to reach the factory in the Loire for the opening bell at 8am the next morning.

Meanwhile, back in the UK the grapes kept on arriving. We had to navigate decanting of the grapes in the press (now 5T) and reloading into our 4T press. A very sticky, messy process indeed. The team didn’t dip their heads at all and doubled down on their effort. Our 50 year old coquard press came to the rescue (being used a fair amount more than a normal harvest) and saved our bacon I can tell you.

The next morning, news came from France that a successful post Brexit trade deal had been struck. Our foreign trade ambassador’s trip was a success. Now just a quick boarder dash and charm customs with the part. Rick returned triumphant to the winey at 6pm on the 10th October, 25hrs after he’d set off.  Most foreign trade ambassadors would clock out there, but not Rick G. He joined myself, Tom Walker and Oliver Marsh to rebuild the door, and get the press back up and running by 10pm. No engineers onsite, just the winery brain trust. When all was said and done, that press was down for just 36 hrs. In that time, we managed to press 68T of fruit through our remaining 2 x 4T presses.  The team never complained and carried on with moving crates, emptying crates, washing, then stacking crates.

Grape harvest at Wiston Estate, West Sussex. Marcus and Tom holding tank door
Vineyard Team bringing in the grapes at Wiston Estate.

A huge thank you to Travis, Tom, Jim and Hugo for bringing in such healthy fruit for us to work with. We will pick up the baton from here and do our best to honor your love and time spent last year. Fantastic effort from all of our volunteer pickers this year and a big thank you to the estate team who gave up a day to pick a whopping 18T. So energizing to see all those smiling faces bring in such healthy fruit.

Last, but not least is to thanks everyone who provided food and fuel for us in those weeks. Oliver Marsh for the endless deliveries of cook meals, snacks and fizzy pop.  And to Pip Goring for the massive hams, stews and sublime Bobotie. It’s not harvest at Wiston without Pip’s Bobotie. Special mention for Kirsty’s Rhubarb and Strawberry crumble too. Perfect ratio of crumble to compote.

The airlocks have now stopped bubbling, the wines are tasting great. The presses and the floors are now clean and the winery has returned to some form of calm. We are so excited to see what 2024 brings for these wines and look forward to blending and bottling. It’s times like these I’m so very grateful to work with this very special team and in this very special industry. Cheers one and all.

Harvest for English Sparkling Wine at Wiston Estate, West Sussex. Wine straight from the tank

Meet our Winemakers, Marcus and Megan Rayner-Ward