When I lived in London and worked for Sky News I used to scoot out to Surrey and help out on Albury Vineyard in the Surrey Hills. It was my escape from the studio lights and air-conditioning; something I was learning I wasn’t too fond of.
But my most recent visit to a vineyard was inside the M25 for BBC Radio 4’s On Your Farm.
Having completed my WSET Level 3, a qualification by the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust for those in the wine industry but also for those with a passion to know more, I decided I wanted to know even more about the practicalities of managing a vineyard. In the back of my mind I thought how wonderful it would be to set one up at the farm.
Ignoring the other niggle in the back of my mind that told me ‘but you know the clay soil of Leicestershire isn’t at all suitable for vines’, I would don the appropriate clothes for the weather, throw in my boots, grab my secateurs and bolt to the Surreys Hills.
There’s an epic, EPIC, view at the top of the hill on Newlands Corner on the A25, moments from the vineyard, and that’s when I knew I had arrived. You can see for miles. Sometimes I’d go and sit in the car park for five minutes to breath and look and think how beautiful our countryside is.
It’s been a long while since I’ve visited but I know they’re going from strength to strength; not only do I still get to drink the occasional tipple from the site but they were Producer of the Year in the Surrey Life Food and Drink Awards 2016, and you can find them in Searcys at St. Pancras, the longest Champagne bar in Europe.
I always search out vineyards on my travels. So much so my husband agreed a detour on our honeymoon in France to visit Domain Jones in Tuchan in the south west. She was an extremely generous hostess and I would highly recommend visiting this fellow Leicester lass if you can.
Other places I’ve sought out the vine include Australia and South Africa. So you may be surprised to read my last visit was to an urban vineyard, within the M25.
From the top of one of Forty Hall Vineyards’ fields you can see the point of the Shard in east London. Yes, you can see a few tower blocks from the other field, but there is something very peaceful about the location. We heard a cuckcoo three times. And I love the ordered rows of vines. I can 100% see why it works as a location for ecotherapy, where people can come and work in the natural environment improving their health and well-being.
It’s an organic vineyard and they survive off the local volunteers, operating as a social enterprise. I was there to record an episode of On Your Farm for BBC Radio 4. You can listen to it here.