IT FEELS like the last day of summer. A cluster of wine lovers, clinking glasses as the sun sets.

Couples take leisurely strolls through a green vineyard. The pace is slow, the colour almost sepia.

Bolney wine estate is doing a good job of hiding it, but this is the beginning of their busiest time of year.

It’s the harvest, and they’ve just got a whopping new hangar to handle all the grapes.

Master Winemaker Sam Linter is giving me an inaugural tour.

The place is massive. It’s an industrial barn in the middle of a leafy field. There are huge metal urns with valves and pressure monitors, keeping check on last year’s red wine.

Round the back, the grapes chug along a conveyor belt into a hopper, which crushes the berries into juice. Skins on for red, off for white, and stalks left attached for bubbly.

Sam said: “The run-up to harvest is crazy. It’s all hands on deck.

“It’s been a family business here for 47 years, and it’s grown a lot since I was a girl, learning how to make wine from my dad. We needed a bigger place to make more wine.”

Sam hopes the new winery will help the vineyard increase production by 170 per cent in the next three years.

She said: “It’s a labour of love. The hours are long, but we need to get the crop in fast.”

Still, the atmosphere this evening is relaxed. We amble through aisles of carefully trimmed vines. Sam leafs through a bush and inspects a bunch of grapes. Their skins are just turning red.

As we walk back to the vast warehouse to sample the wine, she explains how it is supposed to be tasted.

She said: “Purists will say you’re meant to swill it, sniff it, then sip it.

“If you’re assessing it, you’re meant to shoosh it between your teeth to aerate it.

“You don’t normally need to spit – that’s just if you’re tasting a lot of wine.

“But to be honest, I just say drink it and enjoy it.”

Sam pops the cork on a bottle of Bolney’s Blanc de Blancs, an English sparkling wine.

On the bottle, the wine is “rich and balanced with a nutty creaminess leading to baked apple and toasty oak on the palate.”

On the tongue, that’s not far off.

I’m sceptical when a label tells me that something obviously quite bitter tastes of biscuits or peach.

But oak and apple is right. There’s a whiff of chopped log and the tang of Granny Smith.

It’s a corker.

Bolney’s wine taster Nick Hutchinson explained why. He said: “The bubbles are trapped CO2, the product of a second fermentation in the bottle. It’s aged two years to give it that bready, brioche taste. It’s like a gentle champagne.”

Nick said that English sparkling wine has now established itself as a rival to its famous French cousin.

“The big names in the industry are working with budgets we can’t contemplate, but we’re still managing to compete with French house champagnes.

“Once we get people down here to taste it, they can see for themselves.”

The hangar is also being used to conjure up curious new concoctions. Bolney has launched its own vermouth, based on a red wine and flavoured with pungent wormwood. It’s designed to be mixed with aromatic tonics. In the winery, it’s served over ice with a slice of orange. It’s dark, bitter and intriguing.

But it’s the sparkling wine that lingers on my tastebuds.

When the harvest is over, the field will look very different.

Sam said: “It looks strange. All the twigs are bare by winter. We’ll be pruning to get a good bud burst in February, and busy in the new winery.”