Posted by Victor Keegan
on September 24, 2016
The Ilford contingent arrives
Chateau Tooting is one of my favourite London oddities. They collect grapes from gardens and allotments in London and elsewhere at a fixed time and a designated place (today it was in a sidestreet in Clapham) and then dispatch them to an established vineyard, Halfpenny Green in Shropshire to be made into surprisingly good wine. This year I arrived with naked humility. No grapes. My half a dozen mature vines which I have been fondly tended after reading numerous books decided to have a miserable harvest and what they did produce was wiped out by powdery mildew. Then I meet Marcella Grazette, a mental health manager from Ilford who brought along 39 kilos of healthy looking grapes, enough to make 20 bottles. And – wait for it – all produced from a single vine which she hardly ever tends. Ouch!
But that’s Chateau Tooting. It breaks all the rules but somehow works. No one I spoke to today, apart from one, even knew what variety their grapes were. Alan Frankham from Purley bought a vine six years ago from a garden centre having been inspired by a talk at Denbies vineyard in Dorking which produced 23 kilos this year, just over 11 bottles. Jilly Hanson from nearby Tooting Common produced 11.2 kilos from a single vine and Diana Kerr from Fulham 9 kilos from a single vine.
Richard Sharp – who started the project with his friend Paul (photo, right) – managed 8 kilos this year but added that Furzedown Primary School produced some from a Rondo vine and he also got some from the greenhouse at Brockwell Lido. The success of the scheme has prompted the two pioneers to start expanding. They are marketing some of their surplus bottles – those that are not acquired by the growers who have first choice – to local shops, restaurants and markets together with bottles produced by other cooperatives associated with Halfpenny Green. They have their own tee shirts and banners and this Christmas they are hoping to produce hampers with all these in plus a specially selected vine that can be planted in your garden or given to a friend. Yes, Chateau Tooting which started life as a guerilla grape grower is becoming a brand. If this works out and enough people buy the selected vine (maybe a Rondo for red or Seyval for white) then Urban Wine could in a few years produce a single varietal wine in addition to their present Chateau Tooting cocktail.
Posted by Victor Keegan
on June 19, 2016
LONDON has long been an international centre for wine but none of the growing or production has happened in the capital for centuries. Now things are changing, albeit on a small scale. The latest news is that the admirable Vagabond Wines, where you can buy up to 100 wines by the glass (which would be attractive to punters wanting to try out English or Welsh wines) is planning to build a winery in London to make wine from grapes grown in this country. This means that London could soon have two wineries of its own following the pioneering efforts of London Cru in Earls Court.
Yesterday (Saturday) I added another London vineyard to my experiences when I visited one I was previously unaware of in Morden (See photo, above) at the southern end of the Northern Line in the middle of suburbia. It is quite sizeable for an urban vineyard with over 300 vines but there is no way you would know it was there as you can’t see it from the street and the owners understandably intend to keep it that way and asked me not to reveal its location.
From here they have been making white, red and rosé wines since the mid 1990s on reclaimed allotments from well tried cool-climate varietals such as Triomphe, Dornfelder and Dunkelfelder which they turn into wine at their own well-equipped micro winery. What they don’t drink they distribute to friends and relatives. They kindly gave me a bottle of white which I look forward to sampling.The terrain is not text book ideal – soft clay soil on ground that slopes the wrong way – but it seems to work. Even when you are in the house it is a bit of a maze to find the exact location but well worth the unique experience of viewing suburbia from a secret vineyard. If anyone knows of any other vineyards in London however small please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Morden it was only a few stops on the Northern Line to Tooting Bec station where I somehow managed to find my way to the vibrant Furzedown Festival to collect my annual allocation of four bottles of Chateau Tooting which makes wine from grapes grown in gardens and allotments across the Capital. You are allocated bottles in proportion to the weight of grapes you put in. This year – a rosé made into wine by the highly regarded Halfpenny Green vineyard in Staffordshire – was sweeter than last year’s excellent offering but very drinkable even though I don’t have a sweet tooth. Chateau Tooting makes north of 600 bottles and is the second largest wine priducer in London.They seemed to be doing a roaring trade at their stall yesterday.
This morning – yes, this is definitely London wine collection weekend – I trekked to Enfield in North London to the 10 acre Forty Hall (photo, left) which is emerging as the most exciting vineyard in London for a very long time. I bought a few bottles of its Bacchus, which has been well received by early imbibers plus an Ortega. Its second sparkling wine will be released later in the year probably only for patrons until production gets fully underway. Forty Hall is an organic vineyard run by volunteers, some of whom have social problems which are greatly helped by the therapeutic value of vineyard involvement. I felt a bit better just by strolling around. The wine is made for them by Davenports, the highly respected Sussex winery, and the combination of the two organisations looks like a highly encouraging blend.
Chateau Tooting’s stall at the Furzedown Festival)
Posted by Victor Keegan
on February 24, 2016
London vineyard movers meet for the first time
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
Richard Sharp of Chateau Tooting with a copy of UKvine, below
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.
Posted by Victor Keegan
on October 17, 2014
, Engilsh vineyards
MARKO BOJCUN is part of tiny workers’ co-operative vineyard called Hawkwood in Epping Forest, part of the OrganicLea community
. This year he lost around 90% per cent of his own grapes to wandering deer and downy mildew. That’s the trouble with having a vineyard surrounded on three sides by trees. But his artisan winery also makes wine for 26 people in the neighbourhood who brought 375 kilos of grapes to him for processing. This is enough to make 250 bottles of wine which probably makes him the second largest of the new co-operatives in London after Chateau Tooting, the crowd-sourced experiment which I last wrote about here
which hopes to make 750 bottles compared with 662 last year.
Loading Chateau Tooting’s harvest en route to the winery
In turn this could make Marko the third largest crowd-sourced winery in the country after Eden Vale in Cumbria – one of the most northernly vineyards in Britain. Eden hopes to produce 800 bottles this year – double last year – all from grapes grown in local greenhouses and conservatories. The increased quantity was thanks to a great response to an appeal for grapes in their local paper – a move which other budding co-ops may like to follow. They tell me that 650 of these bottles will be red (though so light it could be mistaken for rosé). At the moment it is not feasible to grow grapes outside so far north on a commercial scale . Angela and Ron Barker, the proprietors, admit that they will only get a pesky two bottles from their own (small) open air vineyard. But if global warming continues then . . . watch this space.
The question is: are these three vineyards pioneers of a new trend that will spread around the country or just isolated examples of only local significance? None of them seem to have known of the others’ existence. They have all sprung up spontaeouusly in different places like mushrooms in a field. But in theory, they have a lot going for them. There is a resurgence of interest in UK wines buoyed up by global warming and increased technical ability. Lots of people have vines growing in their gardens and they soon get caught up in the romance of contributing to a wine partly made from their own grapes. Oh, and you don’t pay tax if it is for your own consumption.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the drinking. Imbibers, including myself, were quite surprised at the quality of Chateau Tooting’s product last year despite the fact that it was made from unknown grapes of varying sizes and quality from gardens across London which all had to be ready on the same day.
It is not only in GB. There is a resurgence of vine growing in the Paris area to complement the vineyard on the slopes of Montmartre which has been a tourist attraction for decades – but the price of land in central London and Paris rules out the prospect of large vineyards in the city centre.
Vineyard on the slopes of Montmartre in Paris
Forty Hall in Enfield from where you can see the Shard and Canary Wharf comes closest. However, space in gardens and allotments is a different matteer. Patrice Bersac, president of L’association des Vignerons Réunis (the association of united Parisian and Ile de France winemakers) told the Daily Telegraph that the French authorities should take inspiration from Chateau Tooting’s iniitiative in London where grapes come from numerous gardens in the capital.
Meanwhile, I’d be very interested to hear about any wine cooperatives in the UK. If there are others it might make sense for them to create some sort of loosely run organsation where experiences can be exchanged.
From Forty Hall’s 10 acre vineyard in Enfield you can see the Shard and Canary Wharf