by Sharon Constançon
I was enticed to drive down to Leonardslee Gardens and Wine Farm, south of Gatwick (the sister wine farm to Benguela Cove in Walker Bay, South Africa) by offers of top end South African MCC (sparkling wine) and a stupendous lunch.
Benguela Cove, Leonardslee and the nearby Mannings Estate are owned by well-known South African, Penny Streeter OBE, who recently performed a wine-tasting for the Chamber over Zoom.
The autumnal air was a reminder of the cool air of the Atlantic Ocean. The gardens were incredible, but on arrival there was no sign yet of the promised food. We had to more than “sing for our supper”, Barry Anderson took great pleasure in informing us, the tour of the vineyard meant we had to pick the entire crop. Like me, most were not dressed for the occasion, but obediently went across the fields to the vineyard anyway.
Armed with the most amazing pair of secateurs I have ever used, all 40 odd of us were allocated our rows. Health and safety rules prevailing, the First Aid box that had been brought out to the vineyard with us was in use within minutes for a gentleman who confused his finger for a bunch of Pinotage grapes!
Yes, I did say Pinotage. On the sloping piece of land, bathed in the autumn sun, alongside some pinot noir, had been planted the famous, heavy, robust South African red wine grape. Small bunches of little berries hid from the sun under the leaves.
I picked and I picked and I picked about 20 kgs of grapes… now for that promised lunch! It was warm in the vineyard, but cooler back at the Estate House front lawn, where there was still no lunch to be seen. Instead, I was presented with all 20 kgs of my freshly picked grapes to be “stalked”, which involved crouching on the wet ground and using my bare hands to pull thousands of berries from their stalks.
Then, to the last part of our duties, to tip the grapes into the vat. Modern science does take away the romance, no more corks, and here was a massive purpose-built vat made of plastic for the safe transfer of the grapes to the winery.
Finally, the work done, the promised lunch arrived, followed by some excellent wines. It was a ploughman’s style lunch, consisting of the most amazing tastes you could wish for, the most exotic being red wine flavoured butter – what a pleasure!
The food and the (socially distanced) socialising were all the more enjoyable for the hours of labour. Now, to find myself in another “labour of love”, the final stage of the process, drinking the wonderful outcome of the TLC put into vineyards, plants, wine making, bottling and transport.
The wine farm near Horsham is a destination visit which includes many attractions, cafes, walks, restaurants, play areas, and – for me, an additional highlight – a quick detour on my way out via the Doll’s House exhibition. Even a full day would not give enough time to see all the details of the many scenes it portrayed.
Now I hope our efforts complemented nature’s successfully, such that the grapes are good enough to be bottled as a Pinotage – the first harvest in the UK. If so, we shall be testing the outcome in a year’s time. I might go dressed more appropriately for that occasion!
Find out more about Leonardslee Gardens and Wine Farm here.