English wine is big news. We're a premium wine producing region with around 500 vineyards in our midst and sales of English wine continue to build force with no signs of stopping. We as consumers are looking more and more to our local fare and trying to connect more with the food we eat and what we're drinking.
I can't think of a better way of connecting with our local producers than going down and spending some time observing their production techniques and values. Many vineyards invite volunteers down for the annual harvest of grapes.
Breaky Bottom are a vineyard nestled in a valley of the South Downs and Peter is the wine maker at the helm. Peter is somewhat of an English Wine celebrity - Breaky Bottom were pioneering back in the 1970's when there were only a handful of wine producers on the UK. Peter had come across the land and had seen the potential for grape growing on the particular climate of the valley which was similar to that of near continents that were successfully growing grapes for clean, elegant wines.
Following a commission to take some portraits of Peter for Viva Lewes I was lucky enough to be invited back down to Breaky Bottom for their main harvest day. Every year Peter and partner Chris invite a number of volunteers to the vineyard to harvest the grapes in exchange for an impressive, traditional farm house harvest lunch.
The journey to the vineyard takes your breath away while you head down a very bumpy track (crossing part of the South Downs Way) and come to sheep grazing on a steep bank which is where the vines and farmhouse become visible. From this height the pickers look like dots moving around. A warm welcome ensued and I was very keen to hear some of the pickers stories - how people ended up on the vineyard on this beautifully warm autumnal Sunday.
People had many reasons for being there (an interest in wine, they were new to the area and wanted to meet some people, they are in the industry) but one huge thing stuck out - the sense of community was huge. I met so many interesting people and without a smidgeon of mobile reception we all chatted, laughed, picked, learned and enjoyed.
In every food and drink community there are events to be involved in that hold as much tradition and passion as the Breaky Bottom wine harvest has - they are just waiting to be discovered. The very notion of that is incredibly exciting.
Do you have any stories about getting involved in a local food community? Or perhaps you have some ideas on things to get involved with. Let us know below!
Formally Emma Gutteridge