In the North London suburb of Enfield, the last thing you would expect to find would be a vineyard. But we are here, and we have 10 acres of vines planted in this south-facing, gravelly plot, from which we aim to make quality still and sparkling wines.
We have enlisted the best of the quality English wine community to be our guides and, with their help, we are upholding high viticultural standards in a way that is most sympathetic to the environment and the local wildlife, and supports our community-focused ecotherapy program.
Our first acre of vines was planted by hand in 2009. We now have over 14,500 vines planted over 10 acres of vineyard.
We grow grapes naturally, with as little intervention as possible, so that the wine produced from these grapes best reflects the terroir, the unique characteristics of the place, the soil and its microclimate.
In our vineyard, we do not use synthetic fungicides, herbicides or fertilisers. This encourages sustainability, biodiversity and natural balance. The vines grow in a living soil, free of chemical residues, drawing optimum levels of minerals from the soil, becoming stronger with better natural resistance to disease. These vines will produce fruit for years to come.
Pests are controlled by biological methods and mildew problems are also managed by salts such as elemental (not man-made) sulphur. The use of these methods is carefully controlled and limited.
Our winemaker, Will Davenport, from Davenport Vineyards in Kent, follows strict organic principles in his winemaking.
We are moving towards converting the vineyard to biodynamic production. Biodynamics is in effect a supercharged system of organic farming – a kind of organics plus.
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.
At FHV we use a number of biodynamic preparations and sprays. Visit wineanorak.com for more information.
There is a rapidly growing interest in so-called real or natural wines and a number of new wine fairs now specialise in showing these wines including the Real Wine Fair and RAW. The emphasis for natural wine makers is on creating a healthy ecosystem in the vineyard where soil micro fauna and flora are respected and where chemical input in minimised.
In the winery the focus is again on minimising chemical additions, particularly sulphur dioxide, and, when possible, using naturally occurring yeasts for fermentation. Natural wine makers also minimise filtering their wine. This kind of wine making relies on healthy, clean, ideally organic, grapes and excellent wine-making skills. Natural wines are complex and interesting and are known for their clear, fresh expression of the fruit and their reflection of the soil or “terroir”.
Vines take up to five years to fully establish, especially in marginal climates, and our vines are still maturing so our yields are still quite low. By 2017 we hope to be cropping off all 10 acres of vineyard and would expect an average yield of about 1.5 tonnes per acre.
We expect to produce around 15,000 bottles of wine a year (50 % still, 50% sparkling) when we are at full production levels.
We use the Guyot system commonly used in high quality vineyards. We currently use the single Guyot system, laying down only one cane as opposed to two canes in the double Guyot system. This is because we are trying not to over-stress our young vines by over-cropping them. We prune all our vines by hand and we prune late (usually in February) to mitigate against the risk of late spring frosts.
Bacchus is a heavily scented green grape of German origin with early ripening ability and high levels of sugars. It’s a tricky grape to grow yet it does incredibly well in this country’s cool climate so is widely planted to produce an aromatic white wine that has been hailed as England’s answer to sauvignon blanc. Here, it produces a fresh, floral wine often with flavours ranging from green herbs and nettles to elderflower and gooseberries.
Chardonnay is one of the most planted grapes in the world, thanks to its versatility and ability to take on a range of flavours and characteristics, depending on where it is grown and the wine is made. Its response to this country’s cool climate is citrussy, green-appley flavours. It is an important component of sparkling wine yet shows great promise in this country as an elegant still wine.
Wines made from ortega grown in England are often the very best manifestations of this early ripening grape. The cool climate here produces good levels of grapefruity acidity to counterbalance the high levels of sugar it achieves to make full-flavoured white wines; it often does very well as a late-harvest wine.
Pinot meunier (also quaintly known as Dusty Miller in England due to its floury appearance) is best known as a blending partner for pinot noir and chardonnay in the making of sparkling wine. It is popular because it buds late and ripens early, and contributes soft, berry fruit flavours to the blend.
Pinot noir has a long, noble history and eager following as it produces some of the world’s greatest wines. Jancis Robinson calls it a finicky grape, but it seems to work well in this country when conditions are favourable. Due to its thin skin, the wines it produces here are often light coloured with soft cherry, berry fruit flavours. It is a part of sparkling wine’s classic holy trinity along with chardonnay and pinot meunier.
“Forty Hall Vineyard is a wonderful project. It is run with minimal funding, involves a lot of excluded and vulnerable people and – best of all – the whole idea of a vineyard on the outskirts of London shows genuine flair and originality”Gerard Lemos CMG, Founding Partner of Lemos and Crane Idea for Action