There’s no such thing as a lazy Saturday morning come harvest time at an biodynamic vineyard, especially when 25,000 or so tonnes of grapes are ready and waiting to be picked by hand.
And so it is, Local Food Britain finds ourselves armed with snippers, gardening gloves and a bucket, ready to tackle the burgeoning vines at Albury Organic Vineyard, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Among our motley crew of volunteers, there are first-timers like ourselves, seasoned veterans from the popular Albury Wine Club and some have even travelled down from London to experience life among the vines for the day.
We’re tasked with picking some of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that will be blended to create next year’s vintage of Silent Pool Rosé, a wine that was famously served on the Royal Barge to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. No pressure there then.
Following coffee, cake and an introduction by the vineyard’s owner, Nick Wenman, who retired from the IT business in 2006 to follow his dream and plant a vineyard, we get down to the serious stuff: the health and safety briefing with charismatic Italian vineyard manager, Alex Valsecchi.
Having been informed how best to not chop our arms off or get run over by moving vehicles, Alex leads the way with assistant vineyard manager, Dominic Travers, and points us in the direction of the rows we’re set to harvest.
Having spent the year tending to the vines and watching the bunches grow through all the inclement weather Britain can throw at a vineyard on the edge of the North Downs, I completely appreciate any trepidation that might creep into her voice at this point.
The grapes we’re picking are a bruised black when ripe, rather than pink or green as they’ll have been along their journey, so it’s easy to spot the prized bunches.
We’ve also got to keep an eye out for any botrytis, a mold that is handy for creating complex dessert wines in the correct conditions but absolutely awful for English sparkling wine. Clean grapes only then - and as few creepy crawlies as possible, please.
A few hours of utterly therapeutic grape picking ensues, chatting with those occupying the neighbouring vines and filling our buckets row by row.
It’s noticeable how the crop fluctuates in certain areas of the vineyard, depending on the sunlight, drainage, altitude, depth of chalk, air flow and more.
You can easily forget how much time, love and care goes into creating that delicious glass of vino in front of you while relaxing in the pub, restaurant or at home, and grape picking helps to round off that process and appreciate it all a little more.
It’s also a truly invigorating experience with phones ignored and beautiful Surrey Hills landscapes and views to be enjoyed in the great outdoors.
During our visit, we helped to pick four-and-a-half tonnes of grapes, which is apparently enough to make 4,000 bottles of Silent Pool Rosé.
Local Food Britain can’t wait to get our hands on a bottle of next year’s vintage, safe in the knowledge we had a very small part to play in its production this year.