Grape Picking in Somerset Cider Country

I always imagine that when I grow up I’ll have a garden where I nurture fruit trees and grow all my own vegetables, then I suddenly remember that I’m fifty next month (aaargh…..) and it’s a bit like wearing red lipstick or having a tidy car, it’s just never going to happen. It’s rather fortuitous for me that I have friends who’ve taken different roads in life and sometimes ring with the offer of a basket of quinces or, better still, the opportunity to help them harvest their grapes.

So last Saturday Peter and I set out on our first grape picking expedition. A few years ago you would probably have assumed that we were leaping on a plane to visit some far flung Spanish bodega, but nowadays with over 400 hundred vineyards in England and Wales you won’t be so surprised to discover that we were within 1/2 an hour of Bristol. Our friend Ingrid’s vineyard is in Wrington, North Somerset, just a stone’s throw from The Ethicurean (that fabulous restaurant/cafe/walled garden that I’m always banging on about). Most people associate The West Country with cider but, with the acreage of vineyards doubling in England over the last 10 years, you’ll find a few winemakers too.

I’d imagined a seriously back breaking morning but Ingrid and Stephen had dozens of eager friends and family lined up and, after a bit of secateur tuition ( basically cut the green bits and not the old wood), we got going. We were picking  Pinot Noir grapes, which along with some green Seyval (yes, you wine buffs probably know that they’re green – I didn’t) go into the Dunleavy Vineyards Rosé. The hot summer had been good to those vines and Ingrid seemed very chuffed with her harvest. I did feel a bit guilty though; it was as if we’d all just snapped up the form prize without doing the homework. There was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment filling all those crates with grapes, it seemed rather painless and fun, chatting away amongst the vines. It’s all too easy to forget that a couple of hours were the culmination of weeks and months of pruning, tidying and nurturing – it was almost as if we’d made it look too easy.

We finished up sitting around on picnic blankets with sandwiches, cake and wine; all in all a wonderfully relaxed day that will make the 2014 vintage an even more special one to drink. I can’t claim any knowledge when it comes to grape requirements for wine production but, later in the day, we received news that we’d picked around 2000 bottles’ worth of grapes with a sugar level of 85 and acidity of 8.5 – sadly this means very little to me but it made Ingrid happy so it must be good!

I meant to include a recipe in this post too – I remembered that (rather conveniently) I had a very simple one for poached peaches in my book The Real Taste of Spain. However, I rushed along to the local green grocer’s, Reg The Veg, to discover that the peach season really has come to a close. I also decided that I couldn’t bear the thought of boiling up some of Ingrid’s award winning rosé with vanilla and orange zest in any case. If, however, you do happen to have some peaches you can find my recipe on The Telegraph website here .

To hear a bit more about Ingrid,  Dunleavy Wines and the rise of English winemaking then you can catch up on this Radio 4 Food Programme episode from July.

AND, more importantly, if you’re after some of the wine (the 2013 vintage won the Local Producers award at Bristol Good  Food Awards 2014),  here’s where to get it



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