Nestling in Green Belt land just inside the M25 to the north of Enfield, you can hardly describe this as urban, but Forty Hall Vineyard is London’s only commercial-scale vineyard – the first since the Middle Ages. Last week we were invited to join the harvest in glorious sunshine.
The vineyard is part of Forty Hall Farm, historically part of the Forty Hall estate and leased from Enfield Council. The 170-acre farm is run in partnership with Capel Manor College and encompasses a community orchard, forest garden, market garden and rears a variety of animals, including rare breeds. The farm’s meat, vegetables and fruit are sold locally and seasonally in the farm shop and through a box scheme with neighbourhood collection points.
Led by Sarah Vaughan-Roberts who studied viticulture at Plumpton College in Sussex, the not-for-profit project involves a large team of volunteers. It is one of a rapidly growing number of ecotherapy projects (also known as ‘green care’ or ‘green exercise’ projects) around the UK that aim to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Recent scientific research clearly demonstrates how gardening and other simple outdoor activities can improve mental health and contact with others reduces isolation and loneliness, provides a source of support and helps improve social skills.
The vineyard dates from 2009 when the first acre was planted and now extends to 10 acres with over 14,500 vines cultivated organically with an ideal sloping southerly exposure on gravelly free-draining soil. There are tantalising glimpses of Canary Wharf and the City of London and Shard in the distance. Now in its third year of production, the vineyard is gradually converting to biodynamics which FHV describe as a ‘supercharged system of organic farming’. They go on to explain ‘where biodynamics differs significantly in practice from organics is in the use of special compost and herb-based sprays and preparations and the timing of their application – in most other ways the techniques employed are quite similar. Both work with nature’s cycle and take into account the variations of our seasons and weather, the natural conditions of our soil and nature’s optimum timing for planting, pruning and harvesting.’
The vineyard is planted with five grape varieties in two large plots, Warren Field and neighbouring Long Field. Bacchus and Ortega for table (ie still) wines and the classic Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wines. Harvesting took place over three days with a team of about 40 pickers. The winemaking takes place on the Kent/Sussex borders by Will Davenport of award-winning Davenport Vineyards, following strict organic principles and the aim is to produce 13,000 bottles per year, half still wine, half sparkling.
So far the results are extremely encouraging. The Bacchus stands out as a deliciously fresh, aromatic wine with citrus and gooseberry fruit with a whiff of elderflower – like a restrained English version of Sauvignon Blanc. The Ortega is light with crisp apple fruit, delicate and tasty. There has only been one release so far of the fizz and the best way to try this limited edition wine is by joining their vine sponsorship scheme (I’ve just signed up, so I’m really looking forward to my bottle). The wines are also very elegantly packaged.
Forty Hall Farm and Vineyard are open to the public on Wednesday mornings and the project always welcomes new volunteers. The farm shop which stocks the Bacchus and Ortega is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 4pm.
Please note: The annual Forty Hall Apple Fair takes place on Sunday 2nd October which is another good excuse to visit the estate and beautiful, historic Forty Hill.