Yes, you read that right, folks. London has a vineyard and (thankfully*) it makes some delicious wines.
Sussex, Kent and Cornwall have made the drinks news quite a bit over recent years for winning industry awards for their still and sparkling wines and the growing number of vineyards popping up on their perfectly balanced soils; even more so of late, by the announcement that French champagne house Taittinger planted their first batch of vines over here earlier in the year. Yet, unbeknown to many, London’s producing some pretty newsworthy wine too.
North of the capital, in Enfield, there’s Forty Hall Vineyard, London’s only commercial-scale vineyard. This not-for-profit, social enterprise is set in a lovely 10 acres, surrounded by trees and inhabited by pigs, sheep, woodpeckers, bees – from the hives in the field next door – and (much to the detriment of some of the grapes), some chirpy little parakeets.
This 2016 Urban Food Award-winner is run and maintained by a group of around 40 local volunteers of various ages (including me), who give up their Wednesdays and/or Sundays to keep this project going. Come rain or shine, through the year, they weed, prune, tie-down the vines, ‘bud rub’, thin out the leaves, and, when the fruit is ripe and ready around September/October time, they hand pick them. After that, the grapes are driven to Davenport Wines in Kent, where award-winning wine-maker, Will Davenport, makes them into wine: a punchy, Sauvignon Blanc-like Bacchus (my favourite); a lighter, more tart, Ortega, and a Brut – which is as good as a prime champagne, and all the more delicious for the knowledge that only a small amount of bottles are made each year and the fact that it came from London grapes, not some massive commercial set-up (though, bring me a coupe of Laurent Perrier or the like anytime, sunshine).
The wines are only available to buy from the farm shop at Forty Hall, through which, you can access the farm – chickens, and goats, and sheep, oh my! – see the orchards and market garden (another project run by volunteers), and carry on until you reach Long Field and Warren Field, where the vines stand, in perfect rows, wildflowers growing in between.
Last week I came back from a volunteer session with a lovely bunch of chamomile I’d picked from between the vines, and there’s often little frogs and poppy red ladybirds popping out to say hello as we work. One of the benefits of being completely Soil Association-certified organic; you wouldn’t get that otherwise.
Most importantly of all, the wines are really very good. Even if I am a little biased. Go visit and try some for yourself – I’d love to hear what you think.
You can find out more about Forty Hall Vineyard, keep an eye out for events and tastings, and even enquire about volunteering, here: www.fortyhallvineyard.com
They’re also on Instagram and Twitter: @fhvlondon
*I say this because, until six months into being a volunteer, I hadn’t tried the wine. I was genuinely a little worried it was going to be… well, not to my taste. Let’s just say this little social enterprise is benefiting more from my free time to help keep it running. Friends and family too, from Wales, to Provence and as far as Portugal, have all been introduced to this delicious London wine.
**oh, and because it’s something I always get asked, no, I don’t get free wine in exchange for volunteering 🙂