If finding out that London had its own commercial-scale vineyard wasn’t enough of a heartwarming surprise, discovering that it required a journey to a how-have-I-not-heard-of-that-before train station named Turkey Street* moved it straight to the top of Drink Hackney’s must-do list. The 25min hop from Hackney Downs seemed far too short a journey to have transported us to the rather bucolic Forty Hall Estate, comprising parkland, woods, and an organic farm, all lorded over by regal Forty Hall, a box-shaped 17th-century pile.
Tucked away, just beyond the hall, lie ten acres of south-facing vines, lovingly overseen by Sarah Vaughan-Roberts and her team of enthusiastic volunteers. A social enterprise launched in 2010, Forty Hall Vineyard grows pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier, bacchus and ortega grapes, to produce an even split of both still and sparkling wines. The harvest is transported to Sussex to be made into wine by award-winning vintner Will Davenport.
We joined the volunteers on a Wednesday morning as they tended the vines. Although producing excellent-quality wine (using environmentally sustainable and certified organic practices) is the vineyard’s focus, it is in equal parts a centre for health and well-being. The jovial team were made up of dedicated hands, whose motivations varied from getting active in the open air and learning more about viticulture, to regaining a sense of community and staving off loneliness.
An added bonus for aching backs was the arrival this year of a horse-drawn vineyard kit that will allow the team to harness the strength of their ridiculously beautiful shire horse, Wallace, reducing tractor carbon emissions and soil compaction.
Forty Hall Vineyard held its first small harvest in 2013 and released a still white at the Real Wine Fair this year. Ideal growing conditions and an unusually warm autumn mean that the 2014 vintage is full of promise. As the vineyard establishes itself, yields are low so you’ll only be able to get your hands a bottle as part of their sponsorship scheme. A fantastic way to support the venture, sponsorship guarantees a bottle of the first-ever batch of Forty Hall Vineyard sparkling brut released in autumn 2015.
*Apparently a variant on an ancient family name, rather than a reference to the large, gobbling bird