Can Decanter's Ellie Douglas cut it as a picker? Read her account of harvesting wine grapes at Hambledon vineyard in Hampshire, one of several emerging English wine producers.
My London underground commute was recently swapped for a train to Petersfield, Hampshire, to try my hand at harvesting wine grapes at Hambledon Vineyard.
Only an hour from London, it’s hard to believe you’re arriving at a vineyard. But, Hambledon is one of many English wine producers looking to imprint its name on the world wine map.
Grapes in my allocated vineyard will be used to make English sparkling wine, and much has been made of the area’s geological similarity to Champagne; in particular the chalky soil.
Hambledon’s 2015 wine harvest
Hambledon hired around 80 pickers – our group not included – to help harvest 100,000 vines by hand.
From September, the winemaking team had been tasting grapes twice-a-week, from all areas of the vineyard, to establish when it would be time to pick. This year’s harvest was later than usual due to the wetter autumn.
We were led down the south east-facing vineyard to the row of vines we’d be working on – number 50 – armed with clippers, buckets and crates.
Jess Mead, Hambledon’s events manager, explained the basics of harvesting grapes to us.
We were told to exclude any green grapes.
We were also taught to hold the bunch from underneath and snip the stalk from above with the clippers – to make sure we didn’t end up with any sliced fingers.
Hambledon’s accountant was on-hand with a first aid kit.
After less than an hour’s work, we were feeling the strain. I definitely have a newfound empathy for full-time wine harvest pickers, many of whom began their day at Hambledon at 7am.
No wonder it is a commonly held philosophy among winemakers that serving the best harvest lunch is crucial to obtaining the best grape pickers.