Thursday of this week was a great day to find oneself in a vineyard. The sun was low in the sky on a cold December morning as 35 local volunteers arrived to start the winter pruning. But it was no ordinary vineyard. It was London’s one and only fully-functioning commercial vineyard, found in the outskirts of Enfield at the Forty Hall Estate.
Forty Hall was set up as a not-for-profit community well-being project, offering a place of healing for people in the local community who – for whatever reason – have suffered personal setbacks, experiences of loneliness or depression. Behind the project is the idea that taking part in physical activity, working organically with nature in a beautiful setting, learning about viticulture and winemaking and being part of a wider community provides immeasurable mental and physical health benefits. The project also provides eco-therapists who offer assistance and a listening ear to the volunteers involved. And the volunteers’ hard work has paid off, producing a sparkling wine Jancis Robinson described as “outstanding…beautifully made” and “…worthy of a place among the best sparkling wines of the UK”.
F+R was there with 35 of the vineyard’s local volunteers, sharing their masterclass on holistic pruning methods from the best in the business – Marco Simonit and his colleague Tommaso Martignon, who had flown over from their bases in Italy and Bordeaux respectively.
The day began in the early hours, huddled around the wood burning stove of the Volunteers Room, where Marco gave a lecture on his natural approach to vineyard management. His approach and teachings have seen him become today’s most celebrated globe-trotting viticulturist, working with some of the world’s finest wineries including Chateau Yquem, Domaine Leroy, Louis Roederer as well as many others throughout Europe and beyond. This week was Marco’s first time visiting UK wineries, presenting at Plumpton Wine College before his final stop to Forty Hall Vineyard. After hearing about the Forty Hall project and all the good things they were doing, Marco was eager to visit this unlikely source of artisan wine production to provide some voluntary advice and training.
Following the presentation, it was out into the vineyard for some practical training. It wasn’t long before the team were surrounded by the local sheep who also took an interest in Marco’s pruning techniques! It was a wonderful morning to witness the sharing of minds and experiences from two social enterprises: one committed to the improvement of people’s mental health, the other to the environment. It was such a warm welcome and Marco and Tommaso were clearly touched by the reception they received. Marco has promised he would send his team back to Forty Hall Vineyard next Spring to continue supporting such a great cause. F+R will be sure to return to lend a hand too.