Get Involved at a Vineyard or in the Winery!
Our last blog post on harvest reminds me that I’ve been building up a mental list of places where people can get involved in vine growing or wine-making and it’s about time I recorded it for sharing.
Why would you want to get in involved? To me the two main reasons are a complete change of scene, doing something practical in the great outdoors as a complete change from daily life or the opportunity to learn, for fun or with a view to a career change. If any of those appeals to you, read on.
Out in the vines
There are a number of charity vineyards that welcome help throughout the year. These include Forty Hall near Enfield, Elham Valley between Canterbury and Folkestone and Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire. Each of those charities has a different focus, but all seem very worthwhile.
A surprising number of other vineyards also welcome volunteers – so many in fact that there is a good scattering all around the country. Use filters in the DIRECTORY to find them and then use the map. They span vineyards with a great reputation for quality like Dorset’s Bride Valley, Albourne Estate in Sussex and Winbirri in Norfolk, as well as new vineyards not yet in production like Beacon Down and Bartley Mill, both in Sussex.
Whether for a charity or not, apart from harvest, volunteers will normally be expected to maintain an ongoing relationship with the vineyard in question, so think about whether that is for you.
If you live in or near London and grow your own wine grapes, you really should check out The Urban Winery, home of Château Tooting (I kid you not!) where you can contribute your grapes in return for a share of the wine later on.
In the winery
I was lucky enough to spend a day in the winery at Plumpton College, Britain’s Centre of Excellence in Wine education, training and research, but that isn’t something that is generally available to the public. However, they do run courses in viticulture and winemaking, which both start in the autumn. Do keep an eye on their list of short courses.
Another important job in the wine-making process is blending. Each grape variety is normally vinified individually, sometimes even subsets of a particular variety by clone, rootstock or plot. These base wines are then blended to make still wines, or in preparation for the second fermentation in the case of sparkling wine. A couple of years ago, Bluebell Vineyard ran public blending workshops so it is worth checking with them if these are still available. Urban Winery London Cru near Earls Court run a Winemaker for a Day course which includes blending.
Having made the wine, it needs to be bottled. They do take volunteers for that at London Cru. Contact them directly to get on the list and my advice is to respond quickly when they announce a need for volunteers as places get filled very quickly.
Finishing off the wine
I’ve written before about the disgorging workshops at Hambledon Vineyard; this is an evening event where you disgorge your own bottle of sparkling wine, with the dosage (sweetness) of your choice, then cork and label the bottle yourself, before taking it home. It’s not cheap, but is great fun.
Membership Schemes and Rent-a-vine
There are quite a few producers who welcome members, and others where you can rent your own vine. The costs and features of these schemes vary wildly, so you will need to do some further investigation, but our DIRECTORY will certainly get you started. I can certainly recommend the very sociable scheme at Albury Organic, near Guildford and if I lived nearer to Herbert Hall, a vineyard in Kent not otherwise open to visitors, I would certainly join. Of course both membership and vineyards rental are great ideas for gifts, too.
We will keep a good look out for more opportunities to get involved, but if you do come across anything we’ve missed, be sure to let us know.
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Use our map to find your local vineyards, a great place to meet that friend you've been meaning to catch up with, somewhere to hold your next business meeting...