I jumped at the chance as I've never helped with harvesting grapes before and I was keen to learn more. But, on the day in question, the weather couldn't have been much more dark and dank. It had seemingly rained all night and the roads were flooded on the way to the vineyard.
However, we were given a really warm welcome by Founder and MD Ian Kellett (and a warm coffee and croissant). And the vineyard looked as beautiful as ever, even through the rain.
We were all presented with our pruning tools under strict instructions not to chop any fingers off! It felt like a lot of pressure and my little team of my husband and another Naked Wines Archangel, Leon, got a little bit OCD with making sure we didn't miss any grapes. I personally think we were perfect pickers!
It wasn't as hard going as I'd thought especially as there were so many juicy grapes and we were fortunate enough to be picking in a field where most of the grapes were at head-height. Thankfully, the sun shone nearly the whole time and my fingers remained in tact at the end!
Once we'd finished picking we went on a tour of the winery operation. I won't go into this too much as I already wrote about how fab it was in my post about a day trip to Hambledon Vineyard.
On this visit though we were lucky enough to have to have the MD and Founder of Hambledon wines giving us the tour. What shone through really crisply from Ian were three key themes:
Firstly, yes, they are using similar techniques, equipment and winemakers to the French. But with their own slant. Ian was a biochemist in a former life, clearly an innovative entrepreneur and massively driven. To such an extent that he even personally planned and designed the huge fermentation tanks. I really felt like they were taking the best of the French model and building on it.
Secondly, quality. No cutting corners. No sloppy methods. Everything done the right way to make a truly quality bottle of sparkling wine.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ian and the team clearly feel like they are on cusp of potentially something great for English Sparkling wine. The weather, the chalky soil together with the quality and innovative methods, meant that Ian believed within his lifetime, England would be making perhaps 50 million bottles of wine a year. Big stuff.
The few bunches that us Angels and Archangels picked that day will help towards the clutch. In fact, we picked enough to make 1,020 bottles!
And, yes, we got to enjoy a few glasses of the good stuff. Hambeldon supplies two Sparkling Wines to Naked Wines and since this was a Naked event, it was these that we had the pleasure of tasting at the end.
My favourite without a doubt was the Pink Fizz called Old Winchester Hill Oeil de Perdrix NV which was named after the area the wine grapes are grown. Served perfectly cold in glasses that Ian designed himself (of course, I'd expect no less) it had lots of beautiful, small bubbles, deliciously dry and a light, blushed pink colour.
I'll definitely be putting a few bottles in my next order. And, who knows? Maybe I will buy a bottle in the future containing some of the grapes that we picked!