LAST NIGHT at the Windsor Castle, a lovingly restored Victorian pub behind Westminster Cathedral, it was business as usual for the packed clientele. But in the upstairs room something unusual was happening: the first meeting of London vineyards quite possibly since the Middle Ages.
London? Vineyards? The two words don’t easily sit together let alone drink together but the recent revival of winemaking in England has stirred some dormant roots. London used to be awash with vineyards – several not far from the pub – until climate change, the dissolution of the monasteries and other factors saw them off. Today with the price of land you would have to be a crazy billionaire to plant a vineyard in central London.
But there are other ways to achieve the same aim as the 15 or so pioneers gathered there last night illustrated. They included Sarah Vaughan Roberts, founder of a very promising 10-acre community-run vineyard in Enfield, Richard Sharp of Urban Wine, producer of Chateau Tooting a crowd sourced project gathering grapes from allotments and back gardens and turned into wine by an established winemaker, and Marko Bojcun and his business partner, Craig who make wine on their own account at Organiclea Hawkwood in Chingford and for a couple of dozen domestic growers in the Lea Valley. Paul Olding, author of The Urban Vineyard, a great beginner’s guide to grape growing, is expanding his Olding Manor allotment in Lewisham to, literally, pastures new in East Sussex. Tony Hibbett manages the hitherto abandoned Clocktower Vineyard, located in a public park in West London.
Sarah Vaughan Roberts of Forty Hall with other producers, right
Common problems included what to do about rampaging birds from pigeons that get under the netting to starlings which gobble up the whole crop and even flocks of ravenous parakeets. Observing closely was James Graham, publisher of UKvine, the first magazine devoted entirely to English and Welsh wine.
A theme soon emerged. Where do we go from here? Everyone seemed to agree that the next step might be a kind of virtual vineyard in which home growers, as well as depositing a wide variety of often unknown grapes of varying qualities with the likes of Chateau Tooting and Organiclea, could grow a couple of agreed varieties – say, Regent for red wines and Phoenix for white – while sharing experiences.In this way it might be possible to produce a high quality wine with, who knows, a London appellation.
How to publicise it? Obvious routes include contacting allotment societies and city farms – plus getting a sampling table during English Wine Week. Other suggestions welcome! I am trying to re-open the comments slot here which has been closed because of spam. We are most grateful to Dee & Mark Brecknock, managers of the Windsor Castle for letting us have a room in their splendid pub.