A late harvest – picking at Carter’s Vineyards

While many of us office-bound workers may have complained about the awful weather this year, the ones truly suffering have been producers. Poor harvests, blight, failed crops, disease and distempter – it’s been a fairly horrendous year all around.

So it was with dreadful irony that the sun shone bright and the weather was fine for our trip yesterday to Carter’s Vineyards, in Boxted near Colchester. Each year the vineyard is opened up for willing volunteers to try their hand at grape picking – we noticed it on the vineyard’s twitter account (@CartersVineyard), and as we have tried their wines in the past, thought it would be a great thing to try out. Over two weekends the volunteers are given a quick introduction to the grapes – what to pick, what to leave, which vines to avoid because of disease – and – equipped with gloves, secateurs and a few boxes – let loose to wreak havoc.

A muddy track leading to the vineyard

Heading off to the vines

It’s an incredibly brave thing to do really – amateurs hacking at carefully cultivated vines, selecting with an inexperienced eye the grapes we think are needed – and I have to praise Carter’s massively for letting people do it. It’s especially brave given the poor conditions this year – the harvest will be smaller, later than usual, and with some vines quite badly affected by disease and the dreadful summer.

We started on Saturday working on Bacchus vines – a variety that produces a lovely dry white that we’ve enjoyed before. The sun was bright, and the work hard – picking through tangled vines looking for grapes that met the required standard isn’t easy – but the fresh air and good company made the experience really quite special. It’s an incredibly therapeutic activity, and does make you feel far more in touch with the wine that ends up in the rack (well, until it’s uncorked and rapidly glugged).

Rows of vines of Baccus graps

Bacchus vines under the clear blue sky

Box of freshly cropped Baccus grapes

Lucy’s crop

We broke for refreshments after a couple of hours working on the stronger growing vines, getting to enjoy coffee and biscuits in the sun, accompanied by the very friendly Ruby – who took a particular shine to Lucy!

Dog sitting on a lap in the sun

Making friends on the terrace

Back out on the vines, we then worked on the areas more badly affected by the weather. The work here was a lot harder, with the amount of suitable fruit falling dramatically. We got a fair amount off, but it was clearly a bad year for this variety. I just hope we got enough healthy fruit to allow Carter’s to produce a good quantity of this Bacchus wine this year – it really is a very nice drop.

Man picking grapes from vines

Peering through the vines

Before we broke for the day we did a little work on some red vines – I can’t for the life of me remember what variety they were, but I can say – I wish we’d started on them earlier! They were much healthier, and far easier to pick. While the vines were thicker and hardier, the grapes were easier to spot, were bunched much more generously, and their health was far more easily judged. Will definitely have to give some of the 2012 red a try when it’s released!

Red grapes on the vine

Red grapes are definitely easier to spot

We finished off the day with a lovely late lunch on the sunny terrace of the tasting barn, chatting with our fellow pickers and having our random questions answered by the owner, who was incredibly friendly and very grateful.

I can’t recommend the activity more, and strongly suggest you give it a go. There are more vineyards than you might think in the UK, and many of them do similar events. See if there’s one near you!

I’d also like to thank Carter’s for allowing us bumbling amateurs to have a go – it was great fun, and if they’ll have us again, we’ll be back next year!



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