As autumn hues grace the hills of THE PIG-in the South Downs, a significant milestone has also arrived at our picturesque spot in the countryside. This October, for the first time ever, our team took to the vines to pick our homegrown grapes – marking a momentous beginning in our winemaking journey.
Where We Started
Our first PIG planted vineyard was a passion project of our Chairman Robin Hutson – a serious wine enthusiast at heart who had a long hankering to make wine in the UK. The two-acre field, positioned directly in front of the restaurant at THE PIG-in the South Downs, was the perfect land for vines to grow. So, in 2020, 4,000 vines were planted, ready for harvest in autumn 2023.
The Harvesting Process
Harvesting the grapes requires an intricate balance of timing and precision – and one of the key decisions in the process is determining the perfect moment to pick.
The delicate balance between acidity and sugar ripeness gives us the green light (or not!) about whether the grapes are ready. Testing the acidity and sugar ripeness depends on scientific analysis and tasting. We measure the acidity and sugar levels through grape berry sampling, while the taste and flavour can be evaluated by the palate.
Given our commitment to produce the best wine we possibly can from our vineyard, the harvest was always going to be completed by hand to ensure a careful selection of perfect bunches. Ripe, healthy grapes would be chosen from the vine, while any underripe or compromised bunches would be removed.
The Acidity Conundrum
Grapes in the UK naturally have high acidity – which are perfect for sparkling wines and preservation. But to produce still wines (what we aspire to make at THE PIG), the acidity must be balanced by more sugar as the season progresses. The challenge is, the longer the bunches remain on the vine, the greater the risk of autumn weather affecting the fruit.
The sweet spot, quite literally, is the precise mark where acidity and sugar are achieved – which will pave the way, we hope, for a terrific bottle of plonk!
Our Debut Harvest
Our first harvest became a beacon of enthusiasm and excitement for all of us across THE PIGs – carefully wrapped in quiet optimism. Given the unseasonably warm start to autumn (and the colder, wetter end to summer) this year, the exact date of harvest was a patient waiting game.
But, on Monday 16th October 2023 we finally got confirmation that our expert team of pickers would be arriving the next day to complete the vineyard’s debut harvest.
The team headed outside at 7.30am on Tuesday morning into the crisp autumn sun to start picking our grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Gamay. By 11am, all the harvested grapes were stacked in their crates and loaded up onto the van for the next part of the journey.
There was only one variety left on the vines to pick – Chardonnay – which was harvested separately a few days later on Saturday 21st October. This day was a much more classic British autumn day (wet and windy!) but the team carried on, with bacon sandwiches as their fuel, and finished within two hours.
Beyond The Harvest: Over to Ana and Dermot
The grapes - a whopping 3.1 tonnes - are now embarking on their journey at Bee Tree Winery, local to us in Sussex. Here, Dermot and Ana (the rockstar winemaking duo!) will take over, helming the process from grapes to wine through the magic of alcoholic fermentation.
The true style and essence of the PIG wine we’ll be able to make remains unknown until we can properly examine and test the picked grapes – although our aspiration is to make still wines.
We can’t wait to taste our first, finished bottle!
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