It is like lighting candles on the mother of all birthday cakes.

A text in the middle of the night wakens Harrow & Hope vineyard owner Henry Laithwaite, alerting him to get out of bed to light some of the 1,500 paraffin wax candles set out beneath the vines to protect them from frost.

“This year we had frost alerts on two nights,” Henry recalls.

“The first was in February and the second in mid-May, which was the latest we’ve ever had.

“Many vineyards suffered loss through frost damage but fortunately ours were protected, thanks to the weather stations we’ve set up around the vineyard which send an automatic alert.”

This week Henry and his team have been gathering in the grape harvest.

I remind him that at last year’s harvest, after Harrow & Hope was named UK Vineyard of the Year 2019, I asked him the secret of success.

He replied: “You’ve got to be paranoid, stressed out, that’s what gives the energy to produce the best result.”

So if the winegrower’s life before Covid-19 was stressed, what about 2020? It’s been quite a year.

“We had been working towards becoming organic for some time and decided to go ahead this year.

“Using biocontrol sprays, organic nutrition and managing the vines and soil has not been easy, but physically we knew we could do it.

“However, mentally it’s tumultuous when you care so much about a piece of land and the weather is bad and you know your vineyard is wet.

“You never switch off. But it’s been a successful trial. We are picking some fantastic fruit, not a big crop but the quality looks high.

“Then Covid-19 came along and created problems with the contract crews we usually use for pruning and picking.

“They travel from one vineyard to another which of course would be undesirable this year.

“We decided instead to recruit locally. Not everyone liked the work and stayed, but we now have a really good core team of local people who enjoy it.”

Harvesting began last Friday and continued most of the week.

Within 30 minutes of hand-picking, four tons of grapes are in the on-site winery press and with two or three presses a day, picking finishes at 8pm or later.

The juice then goes straight into tanks to ferment. Blending takes place in January, bottling from May to July, then after four years for the ageing process needed for sparkling wine, you’ll be able to taste this year’s Harrow & Hope bubbly.

It’s ten years since Henry and Kaye bought these flinty slopes above Marlow and planted 35,000 vines, with the first harvest in 2013.

Varieties grown are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Buy direct online, through Laithwaites or at Rebellion Brewery nearby.

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