The harvest is in, but we must wait until 2024 to taste the wine, writes Sandra Carter.

Early October is the highlight of the year for Henry Laithwaite. It’s when he brings in the harvest of grapes from his vineyard and begins the process of creating award-winning sparkling wines.

Henry and his wife Kaye planted the first of their 35,000 vines on a chalky hillside near Marlow in 2010 and were soon winning medals. This June they won four golds at the WineGB Awards and were also named Vineyard of the Year 2019.

It hasn’t all been easy. They discovered that the field they had bought was so full of vicious flints that they soon broke two harrows. Hence the name they gave their vineyard: Harrow & Hope.

And hope is something Henry has in abundance. “The lower temperatures in this country mean more acidity, which is good for sparkling,” he says. “I set out to compete on a world stage where English sparkling wine is getting recognised globally.” He already exports his wines to Sweden, Finland, Hong Kong, US - “and a tiny little bit to France”.

Since the end of September and early October, friends and family have been joining the crew of commercial pickers to bring in the Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meuniere grapes. Within 20 minutes of picking, 4 tons of grapes are in the press nearby. This cycle takes up to four hours, and there may be three sessions a day - work may not finish until midnight. The juice then goes straight into tanks or oak barrels to ferment. The all-important blending takes place in January and bottling in May, then the wine is left to age.

Henry loves the French attitude to the grape harvest: “It’s always a joyful time when the grapes are brought in. All our pickers stop for lunch together each day, and we celebrate the end of harvest with a barbecue of cote de boeuf and chips.” Lunch is often cooked by Henry’s mother Barbara, who runs her own award-winning Wyfold vineyard. “My brother also has a vineyard and we all help each other with the harvest,” he adds.

Wine grapes are notoriously vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. In 2016 Henry lost 65 per cent of the crop to frost. In 2017 when some vineyards were losing 80 per cent, his team lit 800 paraffin wax candles among the vines which saved them. 2018’s sunshine created “the best vintage ever”. So will the 2019 vintage be a good one?

“This year’s weather has been fairly average, though the recent warm-and-wet is the worst possible combination as it increases the disease pressure. We need to wait and see.” So come back in 2024 when this year’s sparkling vintage will be ready to drink.

Henry, 38, brings to his Marlow hillside a lifelong passion for wine growing. He recalls that when little he was “staggering around Chablis Grand Cru vineyards in my nappies” with his dad, wine importer Tony Laithwaite, on his travels selecting wines from French boutique growers. Henry went on to work at wineries in France and Australia before setting up in Marlow.

Harrow & Hope wines can be bought online or at Rebellion Brewery a mile down the road.