In London and grow grapes? Join a community wine-making scheme!

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Posted Aug 28 2018 by Craig Bayne of OrganicLea
OrganicLea's Community Wine Making Scheme in action at the Hawkwood Winery

Calling all London grape growers – you’re invited to join the Community Wine Making Scheme run by OrganicLea. We find out more from Craig Bayne below.


Do you grow grapes in your garden or allotment that you would like to have made into wine? If so, then community food co-operative OrganicLea is inviting you to deliver your harvested grapes to its Hawkwood Winery in North London this autumn. The Winery will combine all deliveries into two batches to make one red and one white wine, and will then return the finished wine to participating growers in the proportion of grapes they deliver to this year’s vintage.

The minimum individual delivery the winery will accept is 1.5kg of grapes (about one full bucket). You can expect to get one bottle of wine for every 1.5 kilos. In return for your grapes and a minimal production fee of £6 per bottle, Hawkwood Winery will ferment, age and bottle the wine. Your wine you will be for domestic consumption only – that is, it cannot be sold.

Last year the Community Wine Making Scheme took in 400 kilos of grapes from 27 households across London, which were made into 260 bottles of wine. You can learn more about how the scheme started in the video below.

We will take grapes for processing on two dates this year. The first will be Sunday 30th of September, between 12 noon to 3 pm, and the second we will work out nearer the time depending on how the grapes are ripening. Participants in the wine making scheme will be informed in good time if these dates change to allow them to harvest and deliver their grapes to the winery.

How to join the community wine-making scheme

To join the scheme please email [email protected] with the following information: the expected weight or volume of your harvest, the grape variety, if known, and whether you treat your vines with any sprays. Below are some guidelines you should follow to ensure your grapes are ready and harvested correctly.

How to determine when your grapes are ripe

1. Look at the colour of the berries; feel how soft they are; taste individual berries from different bunches to see what proportion of the bunches are already sweet.

2. Take a berry between your thumb and first finger and pull it away from the bunch. If it pulls away easily without any resistance your grapes are ripe. If it resists then the grapes can ripen more.

3. The skin of a ripe berry will break up when rubbed between the fingers; the broken skin of a ripe black grape will stain the fingers.

4. The stem holding the grape bunch to the cane turns brown and shrivels when the grape bunch is ripe.

5. If you have a hydrometer or a refractometer then you can accurately measure the sugar content of your grapes. Expect 16-20% sugar by volume in fully ripe London grapes.

Grape growing in a vineyard on the outskirts of London

Credit: OrganicLea

Look out for mould and rot

The longer ripe grapes are left on the vine the greater the chance that any rot or mould on them will spread through the bunches. You must judge the right time to harvest the greatest number of the sweetest possible grapes before too many start to spoil.

Although its labour intensive, you can slow down his natural process of decay. Carefully remove mouldy or rotting berries right away from any bunches on which they appear. Use slightly opened scissors or secateurs to pick them out without damaging neighbouring berries. Early removal will prevent disease from slow the spread to the rest of your crop and will ensure you a clean harvest – and therefore a clean wine.

Some of your berries simply shrivel up, but they do not rot: they are simply losing water.

Protect your harvest from predators

As the grapes ripen their sweet smell will attract predators –birds, squirrels, foxes, even humans. Protect the ripening grapes from birds in particular by hanging a net over them or hanging up brightly coloured moving objects like CDs around the vine. Birds are often looking for water when they attack grape vines, so leaving a container of water a little away from your vines might keep them happy. Be vigilant!

Getting ready for harvest and delivery

Plan your harvest so that you can deliver your grapes to the winery within 24 hours of picking them, preferably less. As short a time delay as possible between harvesting and processing the grapes in the winery will minimise the likelihood that your grapes will be infected by unwelcome bacteria, especially the one living on fruit flies that produces vinegar. Fruit flies will appear very quickly over a container of freshly picked grapes.

To pick, store and transport your grapes safely you will need: scissors or secateurs; clean, non-metallic containers for the grapes; cloth and string to firmly cover your containers.

Harvesting

1. Pick whole bunches, big or small, and collect them gently in your container. Your container must not have any metal parts. Try to use a rigid sided container like a cardboard box or bucket rather than a bag, so the grapes are not held together tightly or crushed under their own weight.

2. Remove and discard any rotting or mouldy grapes before collecting them together.

3. Do NOT wash the grapes.

3. Keep black and white grapes in separate containers.

4. Unless you are delivering the grapes on the day you harvest them, cover them securely with cloth or plastic and string to make sure no flies or animals can get to them.


OrganicLea

About the author

Organiclea is a workers’ cooperative, growing food on London’s edge in the Lea Valley. The co-operative’s main growing site is the Hawkwood Plant Nursery, where its winery and vineyard are also located. From growing and selling food to workshops for schools and community groups, find out more about all that they do here.