Harvest Report 2023

February 15, 2024

Harvest Report 2023

First, to put this year’s harvest report into perspective. Quite simply, 2023 was make or break for Forty Hall Vineyard. We’d had three years of poor harvests due to a combination of adverse weather conditions, devastating powdery mildew and a lack of equipment and resources to contain the disease.  The yield in 2022 was just two tonnes. An all-time low.

Over one hundred local people attend volunteering sessions, and many depend on coming to the vineyard for their health and wellbeing. The benefits include being socially connected, working outdoors through the seasons, gaining skills, as well as being a part of creating our acclaimed wines and a unique London-based project.

Coming into this year, we knew we had one last chance to turn our fortunes around with a fundraising and vineyard management plan that would give us the best chance of success while remaining true to our minimal intervention, ‘gentle’ approach to farming and Soil Association Certified Organic status. We also hoped the weather would be kind to us.  A yield of twelve tonnes was needed if we were to have a fighting chance of survival.

After a fairly mild winter, the vines showed their first signs of life in March. This was relatively early and there was a risk that the vineyard would be exposed to damage from any late frosts.  So, we were pleased when the colder and damp weather returned and growth of the vines slowed.

On 13th April the first bud burst appeared in Chardonnay, historically one of the last varieties to develop. A nod to climate change perhaps?  Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot varieties followed quickly.

Around this time, we launched a ‘Save London’s Vineyard’ crowdfunding campaign to buy some of the essential equipment we so desperately needed. A tractor and sprayer being the most urgent. Thanks to our supporters, in late April we were able to invest in a sprayer. The previous incarnation had been an orchard sprayer that was no longer fit for purpose. Now we had a sprayer that would really do its job covering the vines completely with the (organic) sprays we use to protect the vines from disease and feed them with nutrients.

There was slow growth until the end of May but having passed the danger period for a late frost there was a feeling of cautious optimism. We took this time to dig two drainage channels in Warren Field, which often gets water-logged at the bottom, posing an additional risk of rot for the vines and difficulty for a tractor to pass.

We also pulled together a small team of our more experienced volunteers to help monitor and tackle disease in each of our variety ‘blocks’.  With guidance from our vineyard manager the Blockheads carried out weekly inspections and reported back on growth stages and any signs of disease. They also removed and disposed of any flag-shoots. As growth progressed, this became fundamental to the success of our vineyard management.

The weather was glorious in June and flowering was ten days earlier than usual. And abundant. With all eyes on the vines and an increased spray plan to contain any signs of disease, we were daring to believe that we may just have a chance of securing a good enough harvest.

We were hoping for a hot July and August, but, although temperatures were mild, the sunshine was not forthcoming and there was some concern for the advancement of the fruit in such grey, miserable conditions.  Even so, the vineyard community was buoyed by the arrival of our splendid Fendt tractor, purchased with income from the generosity of donations.

Previously, we had shared a tractor with Forty Hall Farm, but it wasn’t always available when we needed it for crucial spraying.  A special mention here to Rob at Voxx Machinery who helped source our tractor and also built an undervine strimmer to attach to it, to control the growth of grass and weeds beneath the vines. This is one of the biggest challenges in an organic vineyard; long grass minimises airflow and creates a perfect habitat for disease, when moisture builds.

With our vines rapidly growing, our dedicated volunteers came in for extra sessions (often in very wet conditions) to make sure the vines were tidy and vertically raised. They spent hours tucking in, leaf thinning and topping the vines - all by hand.  It was a mammoth effort.

Although the rain was falling heavily at the end of August the flowers were advanced and the fruit had already set. With minimal disease we were at that point estimating around twenty tonnes - way over our target – and while we anticipated some loss to bird damage, as in previous years, were still hoping for 16-18 tonnes, which would be close to our FHV record-breaking bumper 2018 crop.  

We also made one last investment from the funds raised - an electronic bird scarer.  This brilliant machine fed speakers through the fields that sounded off pre-recorded bird noise.  It rather sounded like we were in the Amazon forest, but it had the desired effect of deterring the circling birds, keen to devour our ripening fruit. Even the parakeets were confused and the device held them at bay for a good three weeks leading up to harvest, before they cottoned on.

The decrease in bird damage and disease under control, meant that we could safely leave the grapes to ripen a little more, in order to improve the natural sugars as much as possible and decrease the acidity. Both crucial to producing good quality, minimal intervention wines.

In early September more rainfall came, this time plumping the vines, ahead of our first grape picking day on 18th September. In 2022 we couldn’t pick Ortega, it was too ravaged by disease.  So it was poignant that we kicked off 2023’s harvest with this variety.  In a momentous turnaround of fortunes from the previous depressing year, we harvested (by hand) 2.5 tonnes just on that first day. The same quantity as our entire harvest across all varieties in 2022. 

Words cannot really express the relief and thrill of that first harvest day. Knowing that everyone’s hard work and commitment had paid off (and the weather had not been disastrous!) and the future of FHV was more certain.

Over 80 regular Forty Hall Vineyard volunteers took part, from 7am crate distribution, coordinating pickers, to picking, weighing and quality control of the grapes. And with the forecast for our yield rising, we invited in friends, family and members from the local community to help with the ‘big pick’.  More than 200 guest volunteers came along and over ten picking days we harvested just over thirty two tonnes of grapes.  A record for Forty Hall Vineyard. 

 With only twenty tonnes capacity for us at Davenport Vineyard’s winery, (where our wines are made by Will Davenport) we were able to sell some of the excess yield to some other fantastic London wineries, including Blackbook Winery and Numbers, to raise additional funds while adding to the growing number of London wines on the market.

A huge thank you to our loyal community of volunteers and our small team of vineyard staff who gave it everything to make sure we saved London’s Vineyard. We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have production costs and a wait until the wine is ready. But goodness we are in a better place than we were this time last year!  

Emma Lundie

FHV Head of Operations




Also in News

Launch of 2022 Forty Hall White Still Wine
Launch of 2022 Forty Hall White Still Wine

December 01, 2023

Next Sunday come on over to Forty Hall Farmers' Market and get your hands on one of just 350 bottles of 2022 Forty Hall White!

Continue Reading

Join us for the big pick!
Join us for the big pick!

September 09, 2023

we're recruiting harvest helpers

Continue Reading

Fundraising update. We have a tractor!
Fundraising update. We have a tractor!

August 09, 2023

Thanks to the generosity of donations we have been able to buy a tractor and the future of FHV is looking brighter!

Continue Reading

Are you over 18?

By continuing to use this site you are confirming you are over 18.

For advice on drinking and limiting alcohol intake please visit Drinkaware