Linda Davy lives in the village of Bergh Apton and has been attending our community harvest days with her husband Tony (who is an Emeritus Professor at the UEA) since we first started harvesting our grapes in 2013. She has kindly shared her experience of the grape harvest in 2022.
Linda doesn’t mind us sharing the fact that she is a “vulnerable person” in that she has had a renal transplant and is immunosuppressed, so COVID was a particularly worrying time for her but she was able to come and pick grapes in the fresh air suitably socially distanced from others.
These are Linda’s words….
Grape picking in Bergh Apton
A buzzard circling lazily overhead in a clear blue sky and rows of vines stretching into the distance, their lush green leaves hiding heavy bunches of green or black grapes, suggest a scene in rural France or Italy. In fact, it is grape picking time at Chet Valley Vineyard here in Bergh Apton. For three weekends in October, a group of volunteers work hard to hand pick the grapes that will be turned into award winning wines by John Hemmant and his team. The volunteers are a disparate group: friends, neighbours and extended family of the Hemmants, members of the Chet Valley wine club, vine lease holders, past visitors to the vineyard, and complete strangers who, having seen the posts on social media, are keen to join in. Picking is officially from 8.30 until 5.00 each day but there is absolutely no pressure or obligation to stay all day. The teams tend to work a “buddy” system, working opposite a partner (or friend) and moving down the row, cutting the grapes with secateurs and dropping the bunches into crates, chatting happily along the way. No heavy lifting is involved as the crates are collected by the vineyard team on a buggy with a trailer and taken to the winery to be processed. Strategic refreshments are provided by Bridget Hemmant and her helpers; bacon butties and hot drinks mid-morning, soup, rolls and salad at lunch time, tea and cakes mid-afternoon and a hot meal (with a few glasses of Johns award winning sparkling wine) early evening, sitting in the upper floor of the Winery enjoying the spectacular views. The evening meals accompanied with generous quantities of Chet Valley sparkling wines are particularly sociable throughout the grape picking season.
Yes, it can be quite demanding but you only do what you feel able to do. Backs may start to ache a little as the bending and stretching take their toll for the older grape pickers. The rows are long so a good amount of gentle walking is involved. Gloves, hands and secateurs tend to get increasingly sticky as the day wears on. Sun hats and sun block were needed this year, whereas in previous years we’ve needed woolly hats and jumpers. However, it is really very good fun. Being out in the fresh air in such beautiful surroundings feels really good for the soul. Not only is there the real glow of achievement as row after row of vines are stripped of their grapes and the crates pile up at the Winery, awaiting their contents’ turn to be transported up into the grape press. The camaraderie amongst friends old and new is absolutely amazing. This year there were instances of remarkable connections: two ladies recognised each other from a pilates group both had attended several years ago in Gozo; one lady was the widow of the manager of the Highland Wildlife Park at which another picker had filmed programmes for television, and had known her late husband well; a past student recognised her former lecturer and they spent a convivial time over dinner catching up on mutual acquaintances. Do come along next year and join in this very special experience. We all get a real sense of pride as we see Chet Valley Vineyard wines on sale in local shops and served in local restaurants and think “the grapes I picked could be in that bottle”!