The Buyer
Chris Wilson: we need to show caution about 2023 UK wines

Chris Wilson: we need to show caution about 2023 UK wines

The 2023 British harvest was enormous with 20-22 million bottles predicted, but are the celebrations premature? Indie winemaker Chris Wilson from Gutter&Stars thinks so as he believes the all-crucial benchmark of quality of wines has not been fully determined. In a fascinating insight into 2023 British wines, Wilson explores why there was a glut of fruit in 2023, why over-cropping became an issue and how he has had to deal with the 2023 fruit in order to make the wines he wants to.

Chris Wilson
12th January 2024by Chris Wilson
posted in Opinion,

“Every day from mid-September till mid-October there was a phone call or email with an offer of fruit, such was the issue with overcropping. I’d be interested to know what happened to all those grapes,” writes Wilson.

Never mind the width, feel the quality – Wilson pressing off the Pinot in his Cambridge-based winery

The wine cellar is an unlikely place to find a reference to Snap, Crackle and Pop, the three sprightly mascots of Kellogg’s breakfast cereal Rice Krispies, but this time of year winemakers can be found ear to the barrel listening out for a faint sound of malolactic fermentation which is eerily similar to that of milk on Rice Krispies.

With a New Year upon us the dust has finally settled on the 2023 harvest and the barrels in the Gutter&Stars cellar are crackling no more. The completion of this final stage of fermentation for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines means that these barrels can now be put to bed for the winter, joining the others already tucked up until Spring.

We won’t really know until then how good these wines will be, or what the next steps will be in their journey from vine to glass. Predictably some producers and members of the trade have jumped the gun and are already hailing 2023 a brilliant year, thanks to its ‘bumper’ harvest. I feel that this back-slapping is rather premature and many are missing the point that quantity does not equal quality, especially where grapes are concerned.

It’s true that 2023 was a large harvest – Wine GB says it’s ‘celebrating’ Great Britain’s largest ever grape harvest with estimates of 20-22m bottles predicted to be produced from the year. We’ll see how this plays out, but as a winemaker I’d rather put the celebrations on hold until we can fully assess the quality of the wines from 2023.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad year, and a lot of wine was produced, but having been in the thick of it on the ground and having spoken to winemakers across the country, it certainly wasn’t a classic year like 2018, 2020 or 2022.

Trying to achieve balance in 2023

Missing Gate Pinot

The growing season was troublesome, a warm and dry spring with lots of sunshine was perfect for fruit-set and after budburst it was clear that this was going to be a big year in terms of quantity, but then it rained and rained and in many parts of the country – and especially for still wine production – the vines struggled to achieve the ripeness levels needed for quality wine.

The abundance of fruit on the vine in many places hindered further the vine’s attempt to ripen each bunch, and the acids never dropped out leaving at harvest time underripe grapes with high acids. Elsewhere the acids fell through the floor (diluted by all that rain), but the sugars never reached optimum levels. Not ideal in either case.

Some viticulturists were ahead of the game and foresaw the problems that overcropping would bring and began dropping fruit early in the season – especially on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines for still wine production. This ensured decent sugar and acid levels at harvest and a yield that wasn’t much different from previous years despite the abundant fruit-set in the spring.

It was this canny work in the vineyard that will separate the average wines from the good ones from the 2023 vintage, and I’m grateful to the growers I work with for going down this path. One of my growers was dropping Ortega and Bacchus in an attempt to get the grapes over the line, something that very rarely happens.

Harvest began in October for me and thankfully a dry and warm September helped to push the sugars, acids and – crucially – flavours into the right place and most of the fruit received was clean, ripe and easy to work with.

Testing the pH on the Pinot

It wasn’t as straightforward as the 2020 or 2022 vintages and there was some head-scratching required in the winery to get the best out of the fruit. A few things were done differently, such as fermenting exclusively in oak barrels, using different yeasts at times, and experimenting with malo on varieties that wouldn’t normally get the MLF treatment. All these steps were taken to make these wines the best we could, and in a few months we’ll know whether these moves paid off or not.

During the 2023 harvest we took in seven parcels of fruit from five different growers across three counties; most grapes came from Essex, but we also travelled to Oxfordshire and Kent. Of these most were Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there were also parcels of Bacchus, Ortega and – for the first time – Pinot Blanc.

We could have taken in much more; every day from mid-September till mid-October there was a phone call or email with an offer of fruit, such was the issue with overcropping. I’d be interested to know what happened to all those grapes.

The new Gutter&Stars wines

So, with what we harvested last year the plan is to release four white wines in the spring/early summer; three single variety wines from Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Blanc, and a white blend which comprises these three grapes plus Chardonnay.

Before then we will be releasing two new wines from the 2022 vintage, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, both from the Crouch Valley in Essex. These have both had 15 months in old French oak and we are very excited about how they are tasting.

The Pinot Noir is from Great Wheatley Vineyard (from the vineyard’s very first crop), and the Chardonnay comes from Missing Gate Vineyard, a grower we have worked with from the very start.

Both these wines need names and labels designed, so as well as getting them into bottle this January we’ll be working on that side of things. Watch this space for more details soon and further updates throughout the year as the Gutter&Stars journey continues.

To find out more about Gutter&Stars click here or contact Chris Wilson on