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Wiston Estate Sussex Wines harvest vineyard

5 ways to reap the best of the Sussex wine harvest

Autumn is a time when Sussex comes alive. The colours of the landscape change in spectacular fashion as our art and performance venues unveil their new programmes. Meanwhile our wineries are abuzz, first with anticipation then activity, as all eyes turn to the final make-or-break moment in the grape growing calendar.

Harvest is the most exhilarating time to be in a vineyard. For producers it’s all-action and breakneck-busy. Dates must be calculated, equipment prepared, timings coordinated and workforces galvanised to bring the year’s precious grapes into the winery at the peak point of ripeness.

For visitors, it’s the time to see this abundance of activity up close – and increasingly take part themselves. With every passing year more and more English wineries are offering dedicated harvest experiences. As ever, the Sussex Modern wine partners offer some of the best.

This year’s harvest will be a late one – we have the sketchy summer weather to thank for that. Most producers won’t start picking their grapes before mid-October but preparations will underway a couple of weeks earlier. So with October the time to aim for, here are five memorable ways to get in on the action.

 

Albourne Estate Sussex wines harvest vineyard tour

1. Vineyard tours

If you’ve never toured a vineyard around harvest, put it straight to the top of your must-dos for the rest of 2021. It’s a magical time. The vines are laden with heavy clusters of ripe grapes and the excitement is as palpable as the nervous weather-watching. If you tour the winery, you’ll see preparations for grape reception in full flow – giant shiny tanks and processing equipment being checked, cleaned and readied for the task ahead.

Most of our wine partners are continuing their vineyard tours throughout harvest – visit their respective websites to see dates and book places. Wiston stop just beforehand, with final tours taking place on Thursday 30 September and Saturday 2 October. If you want to try their award-winning sparklers and see the gorgeous vines that produce them, get booking.

 

Albourne Estate Sussex wines harvest tasting

2. Tastings

A tutored tasting of a producer’s wines is the finale – and let’s be honest, highlight – of most vineyard tours. But our friends at Rathfinny have taken the tasting concept to a new level this October. As well as tasting a selection of the estate’s superlative finished wines, on the Harvest Blending Tasting you get to create your own.

After a guided walk among the vines, you’ll be presented with four or five ‘base wines’. These are the still wines, all subtly different, blended together to create the cuvée that goes into a bottle for the all-important fizz-inducing second fermentation. So here’s your chance to play winemaker, mixing the base wines together to make a cuvée of your own. The session finishes up with a tasting of four Rathfinny wines, just to show you what you’re up against!

£30 per person. Book your tickets online.

 

Rathfinny Sussex Wines harvest experience

3. Food + Wine

Autumn may well be the best season to eat English. Trees and hedgerows groan with ripe fruit and mushrooms litter forest floors. Squashes and pumpkins puff themselves up while root crops quietly swell to perfection beneath the soil. If that sounds poetic, wait till you try the seasonal menus our wineries are creating from this natural bounty.

Bolney’s Autumn Dining Experience (7pm, 1 October) is a chance to celebrate the harvest over a three-course seasonal tasting menu, paired with three of the estate’s award-winning wines. You’ll be greeted with fizz and canapés on arrival, before taking your table with an expert Bolney wine guide, who will talk you through the locally-sourced menu and share top tips for food and wine pairing. Book online.

Back at Rathfinny, a Harvest Marquee Restaurant will be serving lunches and evening meals from throughout October. Head Chef Chris Bailey’s menu uses ingredients guided by the Sussex season and inspired by the vineyard. Expect the finest autumnal produce available from the land, sea and garden of the British Isles. Book online.

 

Tinwood Estate Sussex wines harvest experience

4. The complete package

Tinwood’s Harvest Experience is as immersive as it gets. Rather than merely watching from the sidelines, you get to take up your secateurs and take part in the picking. The day starts with a coffee-and-cakes welcome from the owners and a quick lesson on the fine art of harvesting grapes for quality winemaking. After that, it’s out into the vineyard for a couple of hours of picking with the team, ending with a hard-earned three-course harvest lunch served with complimentary Tinwood wines. For an unforgettable autumn day in the Sussex countryside, book online here.

 

Albourne Estate Sussex wines harvest vineyard

5. Join the land army

For those keen to get their hands dirty, there are opportunities for volunteers to join the harvesting team at several Sussex producers this year. As anyone who has done a harvest will tell you, it’s a lifetime memory in the making – intense, satisfyingly exhausting but uplifted by the camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose.

Near Brighton, Albourne are looking for volunteers to pick and process grapes, most likely deep into October. Email info@albourneestate.co.uk for more details.

For three weeks from mid-October, you can join in the harvest at Hidden Spring, just south of Heathfield in West Sussex. Email info@hiddenspring.co.uk or call 01435 813078 to raise your hand.

At the eastern edge of Sussex, close to Bodiam Castle in the gorgeous Rother Valley, Oastbrook are recruiting volunteers. Contact owner Nick Brewer on 07496 727014 or email info@oastbrook.com.

In Pulborough you can get involved at Stopham, one of England’s stand-out producers of still wines. Email simon@stophamvineyard.co.uk for more.

 

Stay in the know

As autumn comes alive, we’ll be updating you on many new experiences that define contemporary Sussex, from new arts and cultural programmes to breathtaking scenic walks. Follow us on our social channels to keep up with it all.

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