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June 30, 2020
Oz Clarke has long been a champion of English wines. In his new book English Wine, from still to sparkling to be released in September this year, he beautifully writes of his personal experiences and reflections from his years of visiting talented and passionate producers up and down the country. Last summer he visited Forty Hall Vineyard. We've printed the entry below and here's a snap we took on the day.
In the photo: Charlotte - FHV ecotherapist, Lee - FHV volunteer, Oz - Wine legend, Emma - FHV's Head of ops and Glen - FHV volunteer.
I can’t be in Enfield, I just can’t be. I’ve paused in a dusty country lane, silent except for the drone of bees, cooled by the overhanging boughs of the trees on this sunniest of summer’s day. I’ve stopped because the odour of the nettles that crowd in on both sides of the track is so powerful I could be back in childhood. And a vole scampers across in front of me.
And I can’t be in Enfield. I’ve walked a few paces more, and through a gap in the hedge ranges a vineyard, acres of it, sloping down toward the line of high old trees guarding it at the bottom. Tranquil, reassuring, calming. Two Red Admiral butterflies dance in the haze by the willow-woven sun shelter. A faint reminder of human activity wafts on the breeze – the whisper of happy chit chat, laughter, as the volunteers move between the vines, pulling off unwanted leaves, raising the trellis wires to help open up the fruit to this ripening sun.
And I am Enfield – I’m at Forty Hall Vineyard, with the North Circular Road to the south, and the M25 to the north. They say you can hear the drone of traffic if you listen hard, but I listen, and I can’t hear it. And I don’t want to. As far as I am concerned, I could be in the depths of the Kent or Sussex countryside, far from any main road or town. And that, I realise, is increasingly the point. Forty Hal is not just about growing vines and making wine – although they are the only commercial vineyard within the boundaries of London. Forty Hall is about soothing and healing the human spirit, about mending minds that have been bruised, about boosting and restoring lives that have been scarred.
The vineyard is merely one part of the Forty Hall project – a fully organic farm, which includes orchards, a forest garden, a market garden and rare breed livestock. Its tagline explains its purpose – ‘Cultivating a happier and healthier community’. This project isn’t here just to make delicious wine – which they do – a fabulous creamy, bright sparkler, and a hedgerow-scented Bacchus are my favourites – it’s a social enterprise. Enfield has the twelfth highest rate of depression of any London borough. It has more than 32,000 people living with mental illness. In Enfield the NHS spends £98 million a year on treating depression and anxiety alone.
And so in 2009, an inspirational lady from Hackney called Sarah Vaughan-Roberts decided she would like to establish a vineyard in London. Enfield was the only borough to respond to her request. Her initial 0.4 hectares (1 acre) has grown to 4.04 hectares (10 acres), and is a full-scale social enterprise, eagerly supported by the borough, but also by the community which provides the volunteers who do all the work among the vines. (There’s a waiting list of enthusiasts eager to join). The vineyard has been constituted a ‘not for profit’ limited company since 2010 and includes two eco-therapists on its small paid (but part-time) staff, who had just finished working in the vineyard with a group of refugees from Iran and Afghanistan when I visited. Some were in a women’s refuge. ‘We had so much fun. We can breathe at last here.’ I sipped the 2016 sparkler. The bunch of sweet peas arranged on the table before me was so heady and scented I couldn’t smell the wine. ‘It’s the happiest I’ve felt in my life,’ said another volunteer. When you drink Forty Hall wine, you’re not just drinking the wine.
Oz Clarke in ‘English Wine - From still to sparkling’ - released September 3rd 2020 Pavilion
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