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November 03, 2020
This time 6 months ago we weren’t sure we’d even get to a harvest and it’s fair to say that this year has challenged FHV in every way. So, to be reporting that we have harvested a 2020 crop at all is a small triumph!
The year began well, with volunteers and staff getting to grips with the Simonit and Sirch pruning method over the winter, shaping the vines to optimise the health and encourage good sap flow of each vine. We were excited to see how this would impact on this year’s crop and with a new intake of volunteers into our community as well. We’d finished pruning just in time, ready for tying down at the end of March and we were excited for the year ahead. Then came lockdown.
As any crop, vineyards were categorised by the government as part of the essential food and drink supply chain. This meant we were able to keep the project going, but our group of an average 30 regular volunteers a week became a named keyworking team of 4, along with 3 part time staff. At that time of year, the tasks of tying down and bud rubbing are crucial to the outcome of the crop and with 14,000 vines and 10 acres to cover, fingers and backs were feeling it, but the vineyard was looking extremely neat. By the beginning of May we had expanded to another bubble of 4 volunteers and our ‘Guardians of the Vineyard’ plus staff, continued with dedication, whilst also feeling lucky to be working outdoors during that time. With a burst of beautiful spring weather the vines were verdant and strong and despite everything there was an air of optimism for the 2020 crop. Then came the frost.
Well, not so much a frost, rather a bitterly cold wind that swept through both Warren and Long Field on May 11th. In one night we lost roughly 60% of our 2020 crop. A huge disappointment for everyone who’d worked so hard to keep the vineyard going.
We kept our chins up and with a couple of weeks of glorious sunshine at the end of May, by the beginning of June, the vines showed signs of recovery and the remaining bunches were flowering. And then came the rain.
Relentless rainfall and another drop in temperature hampered pollination and the result, fewer grapes per bunch. With the rain, the weeds also shot up at a pace, taking up nutrients and water and increasing the risk of disease. Being certified organic we only have people power rather than chemicals to keep the weeds clear, and even with our usual quota of volunteers this is an upward battle. So, at the beginning of the year we’d taken the financial plunge and ordered a Rollerhacker machine to help us control the unwanted growth by turning the ground underneath the vines. However, our eagerly anticipated machine had been held up in Germany due to COVID restrictions and didn’t arrive until the weeds were already established. With less hands available to weed, mildew was beginning to take hold.
Finally some good news in July when, with an easing of restrictions, we were able to welcome back many of our volunteers to work in smaller group bubbles on separate sessions. It was a different way of working, but it was wonderful to have our community back, and the value of our ecotherapy project was even more apparent. We needed as many hands as we could get to the vines too, as post frost, they had gone into survival mode and had sent out lots of secondary shoots and leaves. It’s essential for healthy vines to keep a good airflow around the grapes, so thinning the shoots was a priority.
Sadly though, the conditions were perfect for mildew. We did what we could to control the spread by discarding the bad grapes. And finally, then came the birds (and wasps!).
We’re used to birds (particularly parakeets) eating some of our grapes but they also like the hedgerow blackberries. This year however, conditions had resulted in early ripening of the fruits and the blackberries had already died back. As our grapes ripened, the birds and wasps had a feast.
Harvest began 16th September and took just 4 picking days to collect 3 ½ tonnes of grapes. This compares to last year’s 12 tonnes and 20 tonnes in 2018. Despite the low yield we took great care to collect only the good grapes to ensure that this year’s wine is great quality. We will have around 3000 bottles of wine in our 2020 vintage with the pinot Meunier, Noir and Chardonnay that blend our sparkling London Brut being the most productive. All varieties had ideal sugar and acidity readings at press and our winemaker Will Davenport was happy with the quality.
This harvest, we were also joined by photographer Pablo Antoli who will be documenting a year in the life of Forty Hall Vineyard.
So, while it’s been a heck of a year we’re glad to have got through it. I want to say a big thank you to our wonderful volunteers, with a special mention for the ‘Guardians of the Vineyard’ who gave so much of their time to keep the vineyard going along with our team of dedicated staff. We are also grateful to GP Garden Services who assist us every year at harvest and transport the grapes to our wine maker Will Davenport.
While there won’t be a large quantity of wine next year, we’re optimistic that the quality will be good. Also, we have just released the 2018 London Brut, so we are still enjoying the results of that memorable bumper year, which incidentally followed a terrible frost in 2017. Gives us hope for 2021!
Photos: Pablo Antoli - https://www.antolistudio.com/stories/fhv
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