Becky’s Blog: UK regen viticulturists’ farm visit, Harrow & Hope

June saw the first of what we hope will be many RVF farm visits. The truly generous folk at Harrow & Hope in the UK invited 20 regen-minded vineyard owners and managers along to check out what regenerative viticulture looks like on their farm.

Matt Robson explaining how he adapted his spreader

When we finally stopped debating, we had a tour with Harrow & Hope vineyard manager Matt Robson, to see what he has been up to in the vineyard. 

I knew he was pretty handy, having previously seen the direct drill tractor attachment he and Ian Beecher-Jones of JoJo’s vineyard have developed. 

However, I hadn’t appreciated just how good he is at repurposing old bits of kit, including adapting a sprayer for compost teas, a rusty old hopper into a biochar kiln and next on the list… an old truck axle into a windrow turner.

Johnson-Su bioreactors
One of Matt’s many compost piles

Fascinating stuff.

Of course the pizzas went down well (thanks Henry and Kaye Laithwaite). 

As did the tasting of 20 wines made from regeneratively farmed grapes (one of the rules of attending was that everyone brought along a bottle to taste, and a spare for Henry and Kaye).

We almost didn’t get to see anything.

Discussion was flowing so thick and fast over coffee, the Q&A that had been planned for the end of the day had to be brought forward. While everyone agreed on what we are trying to achieve, not everyone agreed on the speed of change.  But that’s what these things are all about!

Biochar kiln which uses prunings as kindling

Matt talked us through how he improves his soil health.

There aren’t many groups of people who will enthusiastically peer into a stinking Johnson-Su bio-reactor (see here) or watch a man sticking a thermometer into each of his 3 compost piles at varying stages of maturity.

But I wasn’t alone in loving every minute of it.

Alex Valsecchi from Albury examining microbes fresh off the compost pile

Nick Cooper from Mycolife took samples from the compost piles so that we could see the microbes in action under the microscope.

Mimi in a meadow

And, of course, it was brilliant to have Mimi there to inspire and educate.