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Well, not exactly Thoth's grapes, but as I'm writing today about grape-picking and pressing so I'm claiming help from the all-knowing Egyptian god of writing. The picking took place not far from the river Isis (aka the Thames) who, as the Egyptian goddess Isis, was protected by Thoth during her pregnancy, as all scholars of Egyptology will attest (maybe), and lies close-by the all-knowing seat of learning, Oxford. Pick your own pips out of that.

An overcast but temperate and non-wet day at the Bothy Vineyard, Marcham, Oxfordshire. Ideal for picking grapes. Even vendage-virgins were allowed to join in this community pick after minimal instruction from owner Richard. No grapes exhibiting blue mould allowed (penicillin), or tiny hard ones (acidic), or shrivelled (dried out) but the noble brownish rot of sweetness was good to fall beneath the snippers jaws into the collecting bucket. So we snipped and snipped and chatted and heard stories, told stories and straightened our backs and snipped again, and again. Two dozen volunteers and many rows of ripe grapes. Coffee (proper) and cake break (home-made by co-owner Sian) allowed more opportunities to knit connections together. Here, a man who knew my only friend in Oxford as a neighbour and who welcomed her to her new house in Oxford 12 years ago, there, a real French-trained sommelier getting to grips with a sandy terroir on a relaxed busman's holiday of sorts. Back to snipping and buckets to bins and more snipping and chatting but then, almost as soon as thoughts began to turn from Thoth to Voltarol, the Egyptian god of backache remedies, it was all over. All the ripe grapes had been picked - and it was time for wine and the communal three course lunch. Yet more time too for craic and tall stories and tales of low pickings. Thoughts of post-lunch slumbers were dismissed in favour of the screwy de-stalking machine and the rotary press fed by a motorised squirty tube filled with oozing grapes like a prop from a 'Quatermass' B movie. When all the bins of ripe grapes had been evicted of their cargo, (with attention being paid to the rescue of drunken ladybirds first) washed and stacked, time was called and an array of bottles displayed to take home. This was fun, learning and connecting. Labour was exchanged for food and wine and everyone gained by the art of this deal. I'll be back next year.


The prediction of a return came good. An email offer to snip the dry twigs of last year's frenzied vines drew us back for a winter's day in the Bothy. With a weather forecast promising heavy afternoon downpours there was a sense of urgency amongst the ranks of the snippers who set off at pace armed with anti-twigrash goggles, gloves, snippers and wheelbarrows. It soon became apparent that the tendrils of the beast were tougher than expected but a combination of ripping and snipping made steady progress and, with 25 at work, the task was done before lunch. As we sat down to eat on long trestles in the fermentation room our hosts asked for a moment of silence - just to listen to the rain hammering on the tin roof and to be even more thankful for an early start. And lunch was a ripper. Terrine de terroir for starter i.e. rabbits, muntjac and pheasants despatched amidst the vineyard sanctuary where they nibble the roots and eat the grapes. A satisfying circle of life. Sweet red grape juice or a selection of estate white wines to quaff amidst the excellent craic. Our lunch companion was Bruce, an ex-Oxford University Press man who had jumped at a brief secondment to Japan and decided to learn Japanese to enrich the experience, so top bloke. Arigatō, mata ne

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