Quite a number of vineyards rely on volunteers to help with their harvest by picking grapes. No-one would deny that some serious work is involved as there is usually quite a tight deadline to get the grapes in. However, it’s combined with a great team spirit, a huge sense of satisfaction and usually a meal afterwards. Some time later, there’s nothing to compare with drinking a glass from a bottle of wine that you have helped to create, albeit in a tiny way.
Each grape variety has to be picked individually and different ripening times might mean several days of harvest at each vineyard. Weather can play a huge part and may mean a last minute call for volunteers, so flexibility helps. Picking dates are usually between mid-September and late-October. For an overview of what to expect, BBC Radio 4 recently did a programme on harvest at Chapel Down winery.
The following vineyards all welcome help with harvest. We suggest you sign up to the email newsletters, follow on Facebook or Twitter and / or keep an eye on the website of those you are local to.
If you haven’t tried a harvest before, take a look at this blog post from Jenny Chandler who talks about her first time.
Oaken Grove Vineyard on the Oxfordshire / Buckinghamshire / Berkshire border are generally not open to visitors, but welcome harvest volunteers.
Most harvests are free of charge to participate, and rightly so, but a couple of exceptions we will mention are that at Tinwood Estate in Sussex; tastings and a tour make this an event that looks worth considering. Bluebell Vineyards, also in Sussex, usually offer a harvest experience with lunch and tutored tasting, as do Furleigh Estate and Jenkyn Place.
Once you have a harvest or two under your belt, you may find that your local vineyard doesn’t advertise for volunteers, but has a “friends and family” picking day that you may be welcome to join in.
Whatever you try, we’re sure you’ll enjoy it, just be sure to wear warm boots or wellies and layers of clothing, including a waterproof one. It can be hot work, but won’t stop if it rains, so you need to be prepared for either!