Fancy helping to make your own glass of bubbly?
In the UK, as in Champagne, grapes for sparkling wine need to be picked by hand. This is a labour intensive process, which can go on over several weeks as different varieties, and even different clone / rootstock combinations of the same variety, all ripen at different rates.
Careful analysis of sugar levels rising and acids falling in the grapes is undertaken, combined with watching the weather and wondering whether a few days’ extra ripening in the sun is a worthwhile trade-off against the risk of mildew or rot, or of birds or wasps. Charts will be compared with figures from previous vintages in an attempt to match, or even exceed, the best of the past. Having selected a harvest date, it will normally go ahead, come rain or shine, with the most experienced pickers bringing in a tonne of grapes each.
While few of us are lucky (or fit!) enough to manage a whole season’s picking, the satisfaction of joining in a day’s harvest is a pleasure that really should be experienced. You don’t have to venture abroad, either, as more than 50 UK vineyards welcome help with harvest. Just take a look at our directory, pick a likely candidate or two and then follow them on Facebook or Twitter and sign up to their mailing list if they have one. Alternatively, just give them a call and they will put you on their list.
With a reasonably early start required, we would advise choosing somewhere fairly local to you. The work is serious, but not overly arduous for someone reasonably active. After a welcome coffee and even a bacon sandwich if you are lucky, a day’s picking needs focus, but is sociable too. Often you’ll be picking opposite someone who you may not even be able to see through the vines, but with whom you can enjoy an interesting conversation. There will be a short break for lunch or maybe you’ll work right through with just coffee and cake, with a harvest supper at the end of the day.
If fizz is your passion, then Chafor Wine Estate in Buckinghamshire, Lily Farm in Devon or Maud Heath in Wiltshire are all good options. Ancre Hill in Wales has a good reputation for sparkling wine and up and coming producers Oxney Organic Estate on the Sussex / Kent border and Kingscote in Sussex are definitely ones to watch. If you’re looking for something to do with the whole family, then Devon’s Pebblebed and Dedham Vale in Essex are the most child-friendly we’ve come across, and all definitely worth considering. If you are near Dropmore in Buckinghamshire or High Clandon in Surrey, these tiny vineyards are well worth making friends with.
There’s no room to list them all here, but do take a look at our directory for the full list, and don’t forget the fabulous charities that need help all year round – Bridewell Organic in Oxfordshire, Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire and North London’s Forty Hall are the biggest of these. We’ve helped out at all three and they do very worthwhile work, as well as being great fun.
If you have never harvested before and fancy a gentler introduction, with a more leisurely lunch and a wine tasting too, then there are a couple of harvest experience days where you will have to pay to join in but are still very worthwhile. Highly respected estates Tinwood and Bluebell, in east and west Sussex respectively, are both worth trying out, as in Jenkyn Place in Hampshire. These events make great gifts for a wine lover too.
Wherever you choose, a fun day out is guaranteed, even if it pours with rain – just make sure to take your wellies and a good waterproof. All the hard work will be worth it when you finally get to taste a glass of fizz that you’ve helped to pick with your own fair hands – there really is nothing like it!
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