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Meet Londons vineyard start-ups

by Vic Keegan

We hear a lot about new tech companies in London but a lot  less about vineyard start-ups.  So, a warm welcome – and as a vineyard  it sure needs a warm welcome  – to Forty Hall,  a captivating ten acre social enterprise in Enfield  next door to Myddelton House. London has had  plenty of vineyards in the distant past – there was one of several acres at Hatton Garden in Elizabethan times and several  in Westminster and Lambeth – but Forty Hall must have some claim to be the largest London vineyard of them all. Yes, ever.

On a recent visit I was mightily impressed seeing a handful of the 50 or so volunteers that its part-time director and creator Sarah Vaughan-Roberts had organised toilng in the heat in an almost Biblical atmosphere. Because they are mainly growing the classic Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) to cash in on the UK’s sparkling white revival it will be a couple of years before they have a large crop – though the volunteers hope they will get a taste before then. This organic vineyard is a volunteer-based effort but it is being advised by the very experienced Davenports Vineyard in East Sussex and Sarah herself took time off to train at Plumpton,  Britain’s foremost wine college.

Forty Hall vineyard secretary Tony Gay  strengthens posts (note CDs as modern scarecrows)

Forty Hall is not alone. A number of fascinating little ventures are popping up in the capital. They include a micro-vineyard (see below) on the perimeter fence of Alara’s premises at Camley Street Kings Cross (which hopes to produce 200 bottles this year) and a crowd-sourced experiment in South London when people growing small numbers of grapes in their back gardens or allotments will bring them all to a collection point in Wimbledon where they will be taken away for processing. The last time this happened a couple of years ago it bcame known as Chateau Tooting. This year it could be Chateau Womble.
Marko Bojcun runs Hawkwood vineyard, a new organic  bijou quarter-of-an-acre cooperative at Chingford which he hopes will produce 100 bottles this year and 1,000 when it is settled.. The business model is for people to lease the vines with the wine produced sold back to them. Marko himself has  his own micro vineyard in hs allotment producing 60 bottles.
Tony Hibbett now manages Clocktower Vineyard located in two former allotments in a park in West London and there  is another, Gallows vineyard, near Wembley. But these are only the tip of the urban winemaker’s barrel. There are many more hobby vineyards which may expand, group together or explore new places such as railway cuttings to join the English and Welsh wine revival now turning into a surge. The price of land forbids the establishment of a big vineyard in Central London but once English ingenuity is called into play who knows what might happen?

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Micro-vineyard at King’s Cross (the vines are in a line inside the fence)

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