Once a field in the South Downs where alpacas used to graze and fertilise the land beneath them, now it’s home to THE PIG’s first very first vineyard!
Even before we opened THE PIG-in the South Downs back in 2021, we knew this spot would be perfect to grow our own grapes. The chalky hills of the South Downs and the land being south facing, how could we not give it ago. You might call us superstitious, but it does help that the vineyard is overlooked by THE PIG-in the South Downs, so our PIG People and guests that visit us are always there to keep a watchful eye on our grapes!
We caught up with our team at THE PIG in the South Downs, Head Kitchen Gardener Alex and Head of Wine Luke, to give us the vineyard low down in celebration English Wine Week 2023 and our vineyard getting closer to the first harvest.
Alex, Head Kitchen Gardener of THE PIG-in the South Downs, started things off by taking us back to the beginning to May 2020…
We planted these little vines on 11th of May 2020 (the summer before opening) , and boy were they in it for the long hot summer of 2020… but they did manage to get their feet into the ground and start to grow. However, the work doesn’t stop there, this was the time when the fear set in. The heat continues and I wondered how I was going to give all these little ones a drink. With the future THE PIG-in the South Downs just a building site behind me and no real access to running water, the daunting thought of 4000+ watering can trips was creeping up on me.
All was okay in the end, and I did manage to save my legs and watering can, as I got the reassurance from Vineworks (our consultants) that they’ll be ok and eventually the rain will come. The vineyard has a gentle slope away from the hotel and where the available water was during this dry spell was obvious. These are the strongest vines of 2020, and that start is still apparent today.
Looking after the vineyard has been a learning curve for us all at THE PIG-in the South Downs. The to-do list in the vineyard is always changing and when you finish one job, you’re back down in there onto the next. Although our .8 ha site is quite small in comparison to other vineyards around us, the work to do is not to be taken lightly. By the end of the first year of shoot selection (bending down, lifting the rabbit guards and choosing the strongest shoot), some of us are on our hands and knees crawling to get the last few done.
Since then, we have become a little more accustomed to the strains of viticulture and with the hotel now open, this has given the gardeners and grounds team a few more staff to help carry out these tasks. We even had one member from every department come out for the 2022 winter prune – it’s great to see the whole team pitching in to help it come together. Also, it’s quite a nice change of pace from the normal day to day role for everyone and the thought that we’re edging closer to the first drop of wine from our own vineyard is very exciting.
After a particularly chilly, wet winter, THE PIG-in the South Downs vineyard is now shortly commencing life. It’s a great feeling being able to take this vineyard into the 4th year knowing we have such strong support around us, both from the teams and the local winemakers. Since 2020, we really have started to establish a name for this special vineyard in the middle of a small village in West Sussex.
The result of three years of hard work? Yet to be decided by so many factors, but fingers crossed, by the time autumn comes around this year, we would have hopefully picked our first crop of grapes and the winemakers will be taking over the story of the 2023 vintage!
Luke, Head of Wine at THE PIG-in the South Downs, explained to us what a year in THE PIG-in the South Downs vineyard looked like…
Winter 2022 - 2023
Over winter, the vines in their dormancy phase, have been quietly resting for what is going to be a real championship season for them, being the first year of fruit production! They will require every bit of energy to yield a crop of wine worthy grapes.
Our South Downs sheep have been left to their own devices during the winter months and have provided us with perfectly trimmed grass and left the soil enriched with more nutrients (if you get the gist).
During the winter, the team at the South Downs wrapped up warm in their woollies to prune the vines into shape. Pruning is a skilful art that requires a forward vision of how the vine will look in years to come. It sets the balance of vegetative vs fruit growth – the architecture if you like.
20th March 2023 marked the first day of Spring. Given the amount of rainfall and cold mornings, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s still Inverno! Fear not, in just a few days, we will start to see life emerge from the vines – a time known in the biz as ‘Bud Burst’. Tiny brown buds on the bare wooden canes burst open, forming tiny green shoots. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on morning woodland walks as this is a magical time to witness this phenomenon across the plant kingdom.
Picture Wimbledon around the corner – It’s warmed up. the vine has developed a leafy canopy and green shoots are growing. Around this time, you’ll notice minuscule white flowers and a delightful but subtle smell walking through the vineyard. Not quite the flowers you’d put in a vase but nevertheless vital for what will become the precursor to the holy beverage we will all cherish – grapes!
Don’t be tempted by the first sight of a grape, they have a long way to go before becoming delicious berries ready for fermentation. In fact, grapes begin life looking more like green peas and taste like you’ve picked up lemon juice instead of squash. As the season progresses, mother nature will (hopefully) continue to shine light and bring warmth to our vineyard which will result in the berries developing more sugar, swell in size and decrease in acid. Eventually, they will change colour and look far more familiar.
The autumn equinox time means it will nearly be time to lace up our boots, grab our secateurs and start picking delicious berries. During this time, we’ll be closely monitoring and tasting the grapes to ensure the optimum balance of flavour, acid, colour, tannin, and all importantly sugar.
After a hard day’s work of picking grapes, Kamil Oseka our head chef will be firing up the BBQ before tucking into a feast. This will be our first harvest, and we hope to be tasting our first glass of Alpaca Block Field Blend by the end of 2024.
With harvest passed, wine safely tucked away at day-care and nights drawing in, it will be time for the vines to start winding down for a peaceful winter.
Celebrate English Wine Week and WIN an ultimate wine prize!
You have the chance to get your hands on two different money can't buy wine experiences or a case of six show stopping English wines out there! To enter, click here.
Why not join us at THE PIG-in the South Downs for Kitchen Garden food and summer tipples overlooking the vineyard, book a table here.