Did you know that London has its own commercial-sized, organic vineyard that’s producing incredible wines?
That’s right…a vineyard in London!
Planted on a gentle, south-facing hillside slope just an hour’s drive north of Central London in Enfield, lies Forty Hall Vineyard. This viticultural haven is home to 10 acres of top quality vines, looked after by a community of volunteers. Not only is this vineyard the source of excellent wines, but it also offers an ecotherapy programme that supports individuals with mental health issues. Continue reading and I’ll tell you more about this truly impressive gem of a vineyard located in the wilds of North London.
When I first heard about Forty Hall Vineyard, I eagerly went online to see if I could visit and taste their wines. However, due to COVID restrictions, the best I could do was purchase a few of their wines online and sign up to their newsletter. After trying their award winning 2019 Bacchus (2020 IEWA Gold Medal) , I was very impressed and signed up to the Forty Hall Vineyard’s online newsletter. Then in May I received an email saying that they were offering vineyard tours again, as COVID restrictions were being slowly lifted. Needless to say, I immediately signed up for a tour and eagerly awaited the big day!
On an absolutely gorgeous Sunday afternoon, the 13th June 2021 to be precise, I had the privilege of touring Forty Hall Vineyard and tasting three of their impressive wines. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Pat, who is a passionate viticulturalist and one of the original Forty Hall Vineyard founding volunteers. He provided a brief history of the vineyard, an explanation of various viticultural practises and the unique terroir as well as an overview of the ecotherapy programme. I was so impressed with Pat’s passion and dedication to this community project! If it wasn’t for volunteers like Pat, this vineyard simply wouldn’t exist!
The vineyard is located on the grounds of Forty Hall, an estate built in 1632 by the former Lord Mayor London, Sir Nicholas Rainton. Over the years, the estate has changed ownership and the last owners of the estate were the Parker Bowles family. They sold the property to the Enfield Urban District Council in 1951 and it was then made into a museum, with spectacular grounds for the local public to enjoy. Today, it is the site of a local farmer’s market, museum, various community events and a vineyard!
In 2009, the idea of creating Forty Hall Vineyard came to fruition when 100 volunteers came together and planted one acre of grapes. Then in 2010, the vineyard was registered as a not-for-profit limited company and was awarded money through the National Lottery’s Local Food initiative as a start-up. As a result of this, more vines could be planted with volunteer support and the ecotherapy programme could begin. Additional support came from the charitable trust, Power to Change, which awarded the Forty Hall Community Vineyard £10,000 through the Community Business Trade Up programme. This grant enabled the vineyard to continue providing community support as well as developing an online store to sell their wine. Today, the vineyard has grown to 10 acres and continues to thrive with the continued support of its dedicated volunteers and donors.
The ecotherapy programme has proven to be a huge success. Known as the ‘Flourish Project’, Forty Hall Vineyard offers individuals struggling with their mental well-being the opportunity to volunteer in the vineyard and to work in the Forty Hall Farm’s market garden. Working in nature has proven to have tremendously positive benefits for individuals struggling with mental illness. Buying Forty Hall Vineyard’s wine and volunteering is a great way to offer further support to this incredible programme!
LET’S TALK TERROIR
The thought of growing grapes in London might not seem like the most idyllic terroir. You may be envisioning a vineyard site tightly squeezed between rows of terraced houses with a steady stream of red double decker buses and heavy London traffic rushing by. Surprisingly, the Forty Hall Vineyard site is a little slice of serenity in North London. In fact, for a moment, you might completely forget that you are on the outskirts of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.
The actual vineyard site was virgin land, never having been farmed by humans. There is evidence that a settlement was established nearby in 1066, but the land set aside for the vineyard was untouched. Millions of years ago, this area was an underwater tropical seabed and as a result, the soil itself is free draining, nutrient rich, filled with chalk deposits, glacial till and water-holding clay; ideal for growing grapes!! The geology is similar to that of Northern France and due to climate change, the present weather and climate patterns are most similar to those of the Champagne region in the 1950s.
The grapes varieties grown at the Forty Hall Vineyard site are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Bacchus and Ortega. All are vitis vinifera varieties and grow incredibly well in London’s moderate maritime climate. The vines farmed organically and are gently pruned using the Simonit&Sirch Method. I had never heard of this style before, but Pat explained that it is one of the best ways to protect the vine from trunk disease and to ensure the continuous flow of sap. One of the main problems the vineyard faces is disease pressure from fungal infections such as botrytis cinerea (also known as botrytis bunch rot or grey mould), powdery mildew and downy mildew. As the vineyard is farmed organically, it is important for the volunteers to be vigilant and monitor any potential threats to the vines and fruit.
ALL ABOUT THE WINE
After touring the vineyard with Pat, I was able to learn a bit more about Forty Hall Vineyard’s award winning wines from Lisa Harvey DipWSET, who is also a volunteer.
Throughout the wine tasting, Lisa did a wonderful job of describing the wines, how they are made and the varietal specific aromas and flavours found within each one. She explained that once the grapes are harvested, they are transported to Davenport Vineyards‘ winery in Rotherfield, East Sussex where they are made into wine by Will Davenport, who is a well-known, award winning English winemaker. His winemaking philosophy is grounded in the belief that wine should be created in a natural way, using as little human intervention as possible. He favours ambient yeasts during fermentation, letting the wine settle rather than filtering and avoids the use of fining agents to clarify the wine. As a result the Forty Hall Vineyard’s wines retain varietal specific characteristics and are truly reflective of the local terroir.
Forty Hall Brut 2018 (11.5% abv)
The first wine I was offered was the Forty Hall Brut 2018, (11.5% abv). Produced using the traditional Champagne method and made from an equal percentage of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this sparkling wine was a delightful way to start the tasting. As 2018 was an exceptional vintage, this particular sparkling wine definitely embodies the best that English sparkling wine can offer when climate conditions are ideal. In the glass, a pale golden colour and expressive bubbles caught my eye. On the nose, I was pleased with fresh aromas of crisp apples, ripe pear, subtle red currant, toasty brioche and a long lasting citrus grapefruit note that awakened my palate on a lengthy finish, which I absolutely loved. The mouthfeel was rounded and medium(-) in body. If you’re looking for an impressive sparkling, organic English wine made from grapes grown in London, then this Forty Hall Vineyard brut is your answer!
Forty Hall 2018 Ortega (11.5% abv)
The second wine I tasted was the Forty Hall 2018 Ortega (11.5% abv). I’ve never tried this particular grape variety before and was intrigued, as always! A vitis vinifera cross between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe, this particular variety is known for having lower acidity, higher sugar levels at harvest and is often compared to Muscat. A pale golden colour filled my glass along with delightful ripe orchard fruit aromas, predominately, a lovely golden apple note greeted my nose. On the palate, I enjoyed a rounded mouthfeel, good acidity, and subtle stone fruit flavours along with a honeyed note. I almost felt as if this wine was slightly (and I mean slightly) off-dry. Our wine guide, Lisa Hartley, recommended pairing this beautiful wine with smoked mackerel or chicken, which I think are two excellent suggestions! I’ll definitely have to create a perfect pairing recipe to showcase all that Ortega has to offer.
Forty Hall Bacchus 2019 (11.5% abv)
I love English Bacchus wine and Forty Hall Vineyard’s 2019 Bacchus (11.5% abv) is one of my favourites! A beautiful floral nose of elderflower and hedgerow aromas offer a delightful sampling of the English countryside without leaving the comforts of your wine glass. Filled with citrus fruit flavours, gooseberries and a hint of celery. This wine is light, refreshing and exactly what you need on a hot summer’s afternoon. I recommend pairing this wine with goat’s cheese or even a chicken salad sandwich with bits of celery in the mix.
Wow! Such an incredible vineyard tour and tasting. I will definitely be buying more Forty Hall Vineyard wines in future and hopefully, find the time to volunteer at some point. This vineyard is such a labour of love, dedication and community support. It’s an exemplary model that I hope other vineyards will replicate. Meanwhile, purchase a bottle or two or a case and know that you’re supporting a worthwhile cause!
I have to admit that I took an UBER from my house to Forty Hall Vineyard, but it was an exceptionally hot afternoon and I was in a bit of a rush! I know…excuses…excuses!! However, if you’re coming from Central London, it’s quite easy to take the train and then catch a bus (or an UBER). The journey by train from Central London takes just over an hour. If you choose to drive, you can park in the estate’s car park. Please note that once you arrive at the Forty Hall Estate, you will need to walk for about 10 minutes through the grounds to get to the vineyard.
If you visit on a Sunday, you will also have the added bonus of the Forty Hall Farmer’s Market, which is definitely one you don’t want to miss!
The vineyard tours need to be pre-booked and wines are available to buy online or at the vineyard’s wine stand in the farmer’s market. The tour starts next to the wine stand.
It’s a beautiful place and well worth the trip!