The Queen is said to be partial to a drop. It’s a regular at functions in 10 Downing Street and worldwide sales are booming. Britain may be going through a tricky patch, but there’s no holding back English wine.
Our home-grown varieties have been growing in stature for 20 years, with sparkling wine in particular moving from a curiosity to a globally respected tipple. Three million vines have been planted in the past 12 months alone and a whopping, sun-filled vintage from 2018 is in the cellars — so chances are you’ll see plenty more of it around. Even French winemakers accept that our bubbly is worthy of respect, with Taittinger and Pommery going as far as buying vineyards here.
And with all this growing interest, British wine tourism is taking off. At dozens of venues around the country you can wander around the vineyards, visit the wineries, take part in tastings and often have a delicious lunch or dinner. Some offer accommodation, too. With harvests in September and October, this is an exciting time to go. Here we uncork ten of the best British wineries, all of which offer tastings and tours…
Pink Sussex bubbly
The Bolney Wine Estate, pictured, is family run and just 15 minutes south of Gatwick Airport. It offers both still and sparkling wines
Bolney Wine Estate in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, is a pretty, family-run estate 15 minutes south of Gatwick, with a wide range of tours and tastings.
Bolney offers both still and sparkling wines and its 2018s should be excellent.
Its Sparkling Afternoon Tea — which involves five wines, sandwiches, scones and a glass of pink fizz — looks like the perfect treat for Mother’s Day.
Tastings: 45-minute tours with three tastings, £10.
Best bottle: Kew English Sparkling Rose (£32). Visit bolneywineestate.com or call 01444 881575.
Camel Valley, in Bodmin, pictured, has gone on to become Cornwall’s largest winery. There are tours and tastings every afternoon
Established in 1989 by former RAF test pilot Bob Lindo, who was seeking a less stressful way to earn a living, Camel Valley, in Bodmin, has gone on to become Cornwall’s largest winery.
There are tours and tastings every afternoon, but the Wednesday evening Grand Tours involve being shown round by a winemaker.
Their stone holiday cottages make a good base for exploring both the north and south coasts of Cornwall as well as the Eden Project.
Tastings: Grand Tours lasting for 90 minutes with five tastings, £18.
Best bottle: 2014 White Pinot Noir Brut (£32.95). Visit camelvalley.com or call 01208 77959.
Rural idyll: Chapel Down has its own herb garden used in food served up at The Swan restaurant
England’s largest wine producer, Chapel Down, in Tenterden, in the Weald of Kent, is (generously) more than happy for you to walk round the vineyards and sample three wines at its tasting bar without charge.
But if you fancy a treat, the Deluxe Experience (£120 pp) gilds the standard tour and tasting with a glass of fizz, a three-course meal in the excellent on-site restaurant and a goodie bag.
Tastings: One hour 45-minute tours with seven tastings, £17.50.
Best bottle: Kit’s Coty Blanc de Blancs 2013 magnum (£100). Visit chapeldown.com or call 01580 766111.
Wine and wildlife
Not many wine estates have a zoo attached, still less a craft centre full of independent businesses offering everything from artisan candles to glassware.
But versatility is the watchword at Halfpenny Green Wine Estate in Bobbington, Staffordshire, which also has gin tasting, walking trails and a fishing lake.
They use meerkats to keep the children happy while grown-ups take it in turns to sneak off for a spot of sampling.
Tastings: Four half-glasses of wine with cheeses in the Wine Loft, £19.95.
Best bottle: Classic Cuvee 2011 (£25.95). Visit halfpennygreen.co.uk or call 01384 221122.
Corking in Dorking
A good year: The vines at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey. A 17-room Vineyard Hotel has just opened, with doubles from £155
The Denbies Vineyard Train (pulled by a Land Rover) takes visitors around the wine estate in the beautiful North Downs
The Denbies Vineyard Train (pulled by a Land Rover) means that even lazy, tired or less mobile visitors can get out into the vineyards of this beautiful North Downs wine estate in Surrey.
With a craft brewery, miles of walking paths, lots of tour options and even gin and cheese ‘experiences’, it makes for a great Sunday visit. A 17-room Vineyard Hotel has just opened, with doubles from £155 (wine tastings included).
Tastings: 50-minute Sparkling Outdoor Vineyard Train Tours with a glass of sparkling wine, £12.
Best bottle: Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013 (£34). Visit denbies.co.uk or call 01306 876616.
Harrow & Hope in Marlow, Buckinghamshire produces sparkling wines
The flinty soil in this part of the Chilterns may play havoc with Henry Laithwaite’s agricultural equipment. but it’s worth it: the harrow-wrecking land produces superbly elegant sparkling wines.
Harrow & Hope in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, is a small, family-run estate.
There are a couple of tours a week, but the timings change, so check the website.
It’s worth the effort — they are a rising star of the English wine scene.
Tastings: 90-minute tours with three tastings, £20.
Best bottle: Blancs de Noirs 2013 (£38). Visit harrowandhope.com or call 01628 481091.
If you’re as interested in food as you are in wine, this could be the visit for you.
As well as vineyard tours and tasting, Llanerch, in Hensol, Glamorgan, has an excellent restaurant, and a 37-room hotel means you don’t need to worry about driving, either (doubles from £135).
At the weekend, the cookery school runs regular courses where you can brush up on your breadmaking, barbecuing skills or Mediterranean cuisine.
Tastings: 90-minute tours with tastings, £12.
Best bottle: Sparkling Blush (£35). Visit llanerch.co.uk or call 01443 222716.
Bumper crop: Vines outside the 40-seater Winery Tasting Room at Rathfinny, the UK’s largest single wine estate
Rathfinny in Alfriston, East Sussex, is the UK’s largest single wine estate, and Rathfinny’s Champenois winemaker Jonathan Médard makes elegant sparklers of real promise.
Just three miles from the Channel and ten minutes’ walk from the South Downs Way, it’s accessible, peaceful and surprisingly remote.
Its Flint Barns guest rooms (doubles from £100) and great restaurant make for a relaxing night away from the strains of modern life.
Tastings: One hour 45-minute tasting and tour, £20.
Best bottle: Blanc de Noirs (£37.50). Visit rathfinnyestate.com or call 01323 871031.
Three Choirs, pictured, is one of England’s largest vineyards, spread over 75 acres, and also one of the oldest; its first vintage was produced back in 1976
Established in the scorching summer of 1976, Three Choirs, in Newent, Gloucestershire, is one of the oldest wineries in the UK, with a focus firmly on still wines.
Tours and tastings are well-priced and it’s not far from Ross-on-Wye, Hereford and, more prosaically, the M5. Its wooden lodges make a tranquil base from which to explore the area (from £149 a night).
Tastings: 45-minute tour with tasting, £12.50.
Best bottle: Bacchus 2017 (£14.95). Visit three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk or call 01531 890223.
Dreamy in Devon
Sharpham Estate, in Totnes, is owned by the Sharpham Trust, a charity with the noble aim of building a more sustainable and compassionate world.
You can amble through the vines and along the River Dart or do more structured tastings of Sharpham’s own wines and cheeses. If the various mindfulness retreats and foraging sessions aren’t your cup of tea, then the outdoor cafe may be.
Tastings: 90-minute tour with four tastings and cheese, £12.50.
Best bottle: Sparkling Reserve Extra Brut (£30.50). Visit sharpham.com or call 01803 732203.
- Chris Losh is editor of the drinks magazine Imbibe.
A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLISH WINE
■ Wine was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who planted vines that may have produced wine. Some believe these were simply for decorative purposes, though, to remind Romans of home.
■ By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 46 recorded vineyards in southern England, stretching from Somerset all the way to East Anglia.
■ Henry VIII enjoyed his wine and had 11 vineyards producing royal vintages out of a total of 139 vineyards in the country.
■ From the mid-19th until the mid-20th century, British wine production was reduced due to competition from imports from Europe. The world wars also cause disruption, as farmers concentrated on food production.
■ Interest in English winemaking revived in the Fifties, with the first commercial vineyard opening in Hambledon, Hampshire.
■ English sparkling wine received more gold medals than champagne at the Sommelier Wine Awards in 2018.
■ Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger admits that in fact the English invented champagne … by mistake, when wines left on the London docks got cold and started undergoing a second fermentation.