James Cracknell meets the people behind Forty Hall Vineyard
Over the years Enfield has gained a reputation for producing armaments, televisions and light bulbs. Is it time to add wine to that list?
Forty Hall Vineyard, located within Forty Hall Estate, is the only commercial-scale vineyard in London. It’s run as a social enterprise, growing 14,000 grapevines across its four hectares of fields but also offering ‘ecotherapy’ as part of its volunteer programme – boosting both physical and mental health at the same time.
As for the wine itself, produced off-site by East Sussex winemaker Will Davenport, Forty Hall’s Bacchus 2019 vintage, a dry white wine, won a gold medal at the Independent English Wine Awards. Others include London Sparkling Brut, made using the traditional Champagne method, and Ortega, another dry white.
On a damp July morning I met Emma Lundie, head of operations, and Chus Bartolomé, the vineyard manager, to hear more about the challenges of growing grapevines organically in North London.
“We have to contend with changing weathers and disappointments,” said Emma. “There’s a lot of ups and downs – 2017 was a horrific year and we barely had a crop.
“The volunteers were devastated but we worked through it and everyone kept on going and the next year was our best-ever harvest. That’s a metaphor for life really.”
Chus, originally from Spain, admitted the unpredictable English climate makes growing grapevines a challenge. A hard frost in late spring can do vast damage, while too much rain at the wrong time can make disease control difficult.
“I’ve never seen a typical English summer – it’s always different,” Chus said. “This year the vines were tricked into thinking spring was coming early but then they were killed by the cold weather in April.
“The vines were five weeks late, but thankfully they have caught up.”
Bad weather can dramatically reduce the quantity of grapes harvested in autumn. In 2018, the vineyard’s best year, 20 tonnes were picked, but in 2020 – a year affected by the pandemic as well as poor weather – there were just four tonnes.
Explaining the impact of the pandemic last year, Chus said: “We lost our volunteers and we thought we we’d have to let all our vines go. We had four people managing ten acres.”
Emma said: “So many people rely on us for their wellbeing and suddenly the volunteers were cut off from us.”
Vineyards in England often rely on eco-tourism to stay profitable in bad years. As a social enterprise, Forty Hall Vineyard is able to access grant funding, but most income still comes from wine sales.
Since launching in 2009, the vineyard has built a reputation for high quality. “The pickers have instructions not to pick bad grapes,” said Chus. “You can make bad wine with good grapes but you cannot make good wine with bad grapes.
“Here we are in a good position because we get an extra 3°C of heat from being in London as opposed to rural areas.”
Emma added: “I think there’s more people now wanting to buy locally-made products, which helps us, but then they taste it and they realise it’s actually a very good wine.
“It is organic and people appreciate that. We are very serious about the vineyard and making the best wine we can.”
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