I have talked previously about many of the Yorkshire vineyards that welcome visitors, but if you are planning to head further afield, then a trip around the South Coast will bring a lot more vineyards within reach.
Some have been established for decades, gradually building up their facilities to the point where some now run restaurants and even have accommodation. Many of them are familiar names because they have enough established vineyards to supply major supermarkets. English (and Welsh) wine is here to stay, and who knows, maybe one day there will be Scottish wine. Visiting vineyards these days still requires a little planning.
There are some where you can just drop in, but if you want an organised tour around the vineyard or even a tutored tasting then you will need to book.
Here are some vineyards to head to:
Hush Heath Estate/Balfour Wines www.hushheath.com: With 150 hectares of vineyards, apple orchards and woodland, this estate near Staplehurst is well worth a visit. You can pick up a map from the cellar shop and wander along two designated routes, enjoying the scenery. And they make seriously good wine too. Available in many supermarkets and retailers, Hush Heath and Balfour names seem to be interchangeable on the labels. They organise tours, tastings and even have a Dining Club when you can sit down to a dinner with wine.
Chapel Down www.chapeldown.com: With around 700,000 bottles of wine produced each year, Chapel Down, near Tenterden is a big producer, and it attracts a lot of visitors. But if you have tried the wines, which are widely available on most supermarket shelves, it is sometimes good to see where they come from. With guided tours, masterclasses and their on-site restaurant The Swan, this provides an insight into the big business side of English wines.
Bolney Wine Estate www.bolneywineestate.com: Famous for its red wines as well as whites and fizz, Bolney, near Haywards Heath has recently opened a new visitor centre and café, overlooking the vines. They do regular tours, but you can also book in for a dining experience with wine, or a morning of yoga in the vineyard. Everything is bookable on the website.
Rathfinny www.rathfinneyestate.com: Planted on a blustery chalk slope at Alfriston, near Eastbourne, Rathfinny has hit the headlines for the sheer size of the vineyard and the dynamic plans of owners Mark and Sarah Driver. Now with 93 hectares of vines making a fine range of top-quality bubbles Rathfinny is set to become a highlight of wine tourism. They do regular tours and tastings but also have The Flint Barns offering bed and breakfast.
Denbies www.denbies.co.uk: Denbies, near Dorking, has been in the wine tourism business for a long time, but the whole estate has moved up several notches in recent years, and so have the wines. Now looking more like a Californian wine estate with different tours, including one where a train takes you around the vineyard, you can stay on for lunch in a selection of restaurants, and even stay over in a vineyard hotel. Bigger than most, but definitely impressive.
Black Chalk www.blackchalkwine.co.uk: Relatively new on the scene but now really hitting its stride, Black Chalk was established by Yorkshire-born Jacob Leadley on a fine stretch of Hampshire chalk near Andover. Now with investment moving the vineyard and business forward, this is a dynamic property making delicious wines.
There are organised tours with tasting Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (£20). Overlooking the vineyards but not part of Black Chalk are some luxury treehouses providing upmarket accommodation. These are operated by Wild Escapes.
Bride Valley Vineyard www.bridevalleyvineyard.com: Wine writers, especially world-famous ones, rarely make the switch to actually making what they write about, but Stephen Spurrier did just that. He and his wife Bella already owned a farm near Dorchester where they raised sheep but there was one chalk slope that looked west and seemed ideal for grapes. Sourcing vines from Burgundy, the slope was planted and Bride Valley Vineyard established.
The first vintage of sparkling wine was 2011 and I tasted it a few years later. Light and delicate it was delightful and sold out almost immediately. Sadly, Stephen died earlier this year, but his wines and vines remain. Bride Valley is open for tours on Thursdays and Saturdays, booked on the website.
Sharpham Vineyard www.sharpham.com: Situated on a loop in the River Dart near Totnes, Sharpham has one of the most spectacular locations I have seen. This is not just a vineyard, it is a working farm with dairy cattle too, so they make cheese as well as wine. Open seven days a week for tours and tastings, the website clearly show what slots are available each day.
There is an on-site café and restaurant, and while the website may indicate that they are fully booked, in fine weather they can seat more people, so it is always worth ringing ahead. Over half the production of Sharpham is sold on site and the other half goes to local shops and restaurants – the wines are excellent.
Camel Valley Vineyard www.camelvalley.com: Ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie established Camel Valley Vineyard near Bodmin over 30
years ago. Over the years it has won fistfuls of awards, not just for the undoubted quality of the wines, but also for tourism, and they became the first producer of an English sparkling wine to be awarded a Royal Warrant, from the Prince of Wales.
Camel Valley is open to visitors Monday to Friday, and you can book a guided tour with a tasting of four wines. Alternatively, if you just want to sit overlooking the vines, they also serve wine by the glass. Booking is available on the website.