England: countryside vines and sparkling wines
Be among the first to visit the new wave of vineyards on England’s green and pleasant lands, where sparkling wines are rivaling those of Champagne. From its rugged coastline, to rolling green countryside and historical cities, visitors can expect picturesque rural vistas, gastronomic excellence, cultural discoveries and the warmest of welcomes.
In the sheep-spotted hills of the English countryside, a new and exciting wine culture is quietly evolving. On the same chalky soils as those found in the Champagne district of France, English viticulture is positively bubbling, with the area under vine doubling over the past eight years to over 2,000 hectares. These pioneering vineyards are producing world-class Vintage and, increasingly, Non-Vintage sparkling wines, putting England firmly on the map as the place to visit for the intrigued and intrepid oenophile.
It may come as a surprise that the emerging English wine scene is not novel, but more of a revival of a turbulent vinous history. It is thought that the vine was brought to England during the Roman conquest and became established with the spread of Christianity due to its role in religious ceremonies. The Domesday Book, written in 1085, documented vineyards in 42 locations, the majority associated with monasteries. Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 by Henry VIII, viticulture virtually disappeared from the English landscape until the brief, but inspiring, attempts at Painshill Park in the 18th-century, and its revival a few decades ago. And what a revival it has been. A breakthrough moment in 2010, precipitating a stream of successes for English sparkling wine, was the placing of the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2003 at the top of a list of stellar sparkling wines, including several big name Champagnes, in a blind tasting. Spearheading the campaign to success are replanted and revived vineyards such as Hambledon (www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk) and Painshill Park (www. painshill.co.uk), and the young leading lights such as Nyetimber and Ridgeview. To get to grips with the roots of the new vinous England, Hambledon Vineyard, the first commercial vineyard planted by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, is definitely worth a visit. The nearby village of Hambledon also happens to be the cradle of another English gem, the sport of cricket.
Southern England dominates wine production due to the increasingly mild climate and chalky soils, viewed as the ideal terroir for the famous Champagne trio of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Indeed, such is the quality of the terroir that Taittinger and Pommery, two of Champagne’s best-known producers, are buying land to plant vines of their own, English style. Although comparable to Champagne in terms of production and a second fermentation in the bottle, English sparkling wine has its own distinctive aromas and flavors reminiscent of orchard fruits, hedgerows and country lanes, as well as generally higher levels of acidity. As Hugh Johnson puts it: “less of the pâtisserie, more of the apple.”
The sparkling south
A vinous adventure would sensibly begin in London, the capital and epicenter of English cultural heritage and history, as well as of the wine trade. The city is an eclectic mix of the old and the new, both in terms of architecture and wine culture. For architectural and historic scenery, take a leisurely stroll along the bustling Thames Path or wine and dine with panoramic cityscape views in the futuristic restaurants and bars on the 31st and 32nd floors of The Shard, inspired by the spires of London’s churches and masts of tall ships. To step into the past, visit Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant, Berry Bros & Rudd (www.bbr.com), which has been trading in the same historic premises since 1698 and has over 4,000 wines for sale—plenty of choice for your holiday purchases. Modernization of the London wine scene is in full swing, sparking the arrival of several urban wineries. London Cru pioneered the idea of an urban vineyard in London in 2013, and produces IWC medal-winning wines listed in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants. Relaxed wine tours, tastings and “winemaker for the day” experiences are available (www.londoncru.co.uk). Following the trend is Renegade London Wine, which makes a small selection of artisanal wines using grapes hand-harvested and vinified in the capital itself. Situated in a renovated railway arch, the city's first “Winery Tap Room” is open on Friday and Saturday evenings (www.renegadelondonwine.com).
On London’s doorstep, within easy reach by train or car, are the southern counties, home to the English wine revival. Perhaps the best area to visit is the South Downs National Park in Sussex and Hampshire, which, with its tapestry of tranquil green fields, sweeping vineyards cut into the chalk-ridged hills and thriving market towns, is a magical spot to spend time walking, eating and tasting. A growing group of small producers are found here, and winemaking tends to be homely and intimate. The helpful, and free, The Vineyards Map of England & Wales (available to order at www.winegb.co.uk) shows the location and contact details of all vineyards that are members of the Wines of Great Britain organization, color-coded according to whether the vineyard is open to the public. Visits often offer an immersive and educational experience of the grape to glass journey, usually led by the passionate vignerons themselves. As producers are in the majority small, appointments are advised.
A journey through the South Downs’ vineyards should start at the gateway city of Winchester, founded by Alfred the Great, winding down to the colorful seaside city of Brighton. Explore the medieval streets and foodie spots of Winchester, meandering past Europe’s longest cathedral and discover the largest farmers’ market in the UK. For the adventurers out there, the well-trodden 100-mile South Downs Way or network of trails including converted railway lines, footpaths and bridleways, offers a romantic route through ancient woodlands, heaths and hamlets, as well as between pubs and vineyards. Such is this the way to enjoy the scenery and wine that several tour operators have developed boutique walking and tasting experiences. Fizz on Foot (www.fizzonfoot.com) and Trek n’Taste (www.trekntastesussex.co.uk) both provide such activities, where you can combine delicious sips of English wine with gulps of fresh country air and breathtaking views.
Further south in the foot of England are a collection of Cornish vineyards where the cool sea breeze tempers the warmer conditions, optimizing grape ripening. Among the vintners to set up beside the rugged coastlines of Cornwall is Camel Valley (www.camelvalley.com), situated on the banks of the Camel River. Guided tours and tastings are available in this award-winning vineyard, where the down-to-earth attitude and deep enthusiasm for winemaking is infectious. The sandy beaches and secluded coves along the south coast are a must-visit. Catch the waves at Watergate Bay, paddle in the turquoise waters of Kynance Cove, or gaze up at the tall granite cliffs of Porthcurno Bay. Visits may be more enjoyable in the summer months, when the yellow sands and glistening rocks look at their best, and the ocean waters can be appreciated without the extra layer of a wet suit.
When it comes to accommodation, there is something for everyone. To embrace the fresh country air and admire the starry sky on a cloudless night, a large selection of campsites is available throughout the hilly landscape. For a cozier night, stay in a farmhouse or B&B with hearty English breakfasts showcasing the best of local produce. For visitors seeking a roaring fire and good food among the vines, The Hand and Flowers (www.thehandandflowers.co.uk) in Marlow combines bold yet elegant British flavors with a sumptuous wine list, awarded the maximum three stars by The World of Fine Wine's World’s Best Wine Lists awards, and has eight comfortable guest rooms nearby to sleep off the meal in style. Many vineyards offer the opportunity to sleep among the vines in rustic houses. At Adgestone Vineyard (www. adgestonevineyard.co.uk) on the Isle of Wight, magnificent views of the 10 acres of vine and the gentle tides of Sandown Bay create a peaceful and romantic ambience—the perfect accompaniment to a celebratory glass of English wine.
Beyond the stronghold of producers in the southern counties are a few far-flung vineyards, braving the colder climate of the north. On this path less traveled is some of England’s most alluring countryside, including the patchwork of fields and drystone walls in the Yorkshire Dales and the undulating mountains and lyrical lakes of the Lake District National Park, which has attracted artists and poets for centuries.
The north is steeped in history, and sites to visit include the UNESCO World Heritage site of Durham Castle and Cathedral, the cobbled and crooked streets and medieval houses of York and Hadrian’s Wall, the most famous of the frontiers of the Roman Empire that stretches from coast to coast.
Leventhorpe Vineyard (www.leventhorpevineyard.co.uk) and Ryedale Vineyards (www.ryedalevineyards.co.uk) in Yorkshire, famous for its tea and rhubarb, represent two of the highest viticulture ventures in England. At Ryedale, the two wineries are rich in wildlife including barn owls, hares and skylarks, with the city of York, voted Britain’s prettiest city, close by. Both offer informative tours by enthused and knowledgeable guides by appointment, and at Ryedale there is the chance to get hands-on during the harvest.
A set of charming converted barns with seasonally changing menus and wine lists, set in beautifully landscaped gardens designed by an RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold-winner, offers a cozy retreat from which to explore the nearby vineyards.
Alfriston Road, Berwick, East Sussex, BN26 5QS | +44 13 2387 0164 | www.englishwinecentre.co.uk
Nestled in the picturesque Kentish countryside, the converted 200-year old former village inn now houses a luxury boutique hotel and contemporary fine dining restaurant.
Alkham Valley Road, Alkham, Kent, CT15 7DF | +44 13 0487 3410 | www.themarquisatalkham.co.uk
Within earshot of the peeling bells of Winchester’s landmark cathedral and amongst the cobbled streets lined with historic museums, boutiques and theaters, Hotel du Vin is a good base for tours of the South Downs and to explore the city. As expected from the hotel’s name, the restaurant boasts a wealth of wines to choose from, with the option of dining al fresco in the quaint 18th-century walled garden. As well as Winchester, Hotel du Vin has 17 other town houses and city center hotels across England from Brighton to York.
Southgate Street, Winchester, SO23 9EF | +44 19 6289 6329 | www.hotelduvin.com
Jake Saul Watkins’ Michelin-starred restaurant is located in a 17th-century former coaching inn, where diners can enjoy impeccable classical dishes and an impressive well-priced wine list, sourced from the extensive cellar stocking over 900 wines. Three intimate and cozy rooms are available.
20 Dragon St, Petersfield, Hampshire, GU31 4JJ | +44 17 3026 2030 | www.jswrestaurant.com
One of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants (by Michelin, the World’s Best Wine Lists and others), Heston Blumenthal has created a modern menu inspired by historic British recipes, some dating as far back as the 16th-century, that will excite the palate and the mind.
Mandarin Oriental, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA | +44 20 7201 3833 | www.dinnerbyheston.co.uk
Walking the streets of London, you will find vinous and gastronomic delights on every corner. While many bars are polished and extravagant, The 10 Cases is unpretentious and celebrates wine diversity. A carefully curated range of appellations and niche producers are available, which continually changes depending on the ten cases of wine in the cellar.
16 Endell Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9BD | +44 20 7836 6801 | www.10cases.co.uk
A classic English pub, with breath-taking views of the Weald of Kent, is located just a few miles from the Hush Heath winery, by whom it is owned. Combining good food, drink and comfortable rooms, this down-to-earth inn is the perfect place for a homely and rustic stay.
Cranbrook Road, Goudhurst, Kent, TN17 1DX | +44 15 8021 1451 | www.thegoudhurstinn.com
This stylish and meticulous five-star luxury hotel boasts a magnificent and eclectic wine list, praised by the World’s Best Wine Lists judges for its extensive collection of dessert and fortified wines, and English wine specialty. The leisure facilities are also first-class, including a spa, pool, golf course and tennis courts, as well as the chance to stay in unique tree-house suites.
New Forest, Hampshire, BH25 6QS | +44 14 2527 5341 | www.chewtonglen.com
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
A pioneer of English Rosé sparkling wine, Hush Heath welcomes visitors for tours and tutored tastings amid its fine apple orchards, oak woodlands and 16th-century manor house.
Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst, Kent, TN12 0HT | +44 16 2283 2794 | www.hushheath.com
A key player in the revival of English wine, Hambledon marries its historic heritage with modernity, housing the only gravity-fed, state-of-the-art winery in the UK, run by one of Champagne’s leading chefs de cave, Hervé Jestin. Advance booking required.
Hambledon, Hampshire, PO7 4RY | +44 23 9263 2358 | www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk
Previously known for its magnificent gardens, this boutique estate is now better known for the vineyards that lie beside the impressive Grade II listed country house. For a chance to visit, booking onto scheduled owner-led tours is necessary.
Hole Lane, Bentley, Hampshire, GU10 5LU | +44 14 2048 1581 | www.jenkynplace.com
With wines served at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and President Obama’s state banquet, this high-profile producer promises tastings of the best English fizz. Pre-booking is essential.
Fragbarrow Lane, Ditchling Common, Sussex, BN6 8TP | +44 14 4424 2040 | www.ridgeview.co.uk
Accessed by car and by appointment only, this isolated and beautiful vineyard in the folds of the South Downs is a far-flung gem. Flocks of sheep graze the surrounding banks of the vines, whose grapes have produced wines featured in the top ten English wines in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for 20 years.
Rodmell, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 3EX | +44 12 7347 6427 | www.breakybottom.co.uk
One of the largest vineyards in England, Denbies offers an experience unlike any other: exploration of the 265 acres of vine by train or horse-drawn carriage. Apart from this unique tour style, an excellent visitors' center, art exhibition and tastings are found.
London Road, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6AA | +44 13 0687 6616 | www.denbies.co.uk
A visit to these pretty vineyards, recognized as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” offers informative tours of the vines and exquisite winery in the form of a converted barn. With picturesque views of the church spires of Tenterden, Chapel Down’s gourmet restaurant, The Swan, specializes in modern British cuisine to match the extensive selection of Chapel Down wines, of course.
Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 7NG | +44 15 8076 6111 | www.chapeldown.com
This eco-friendly red wine specialist, unusual for England, invites visitors to a fine variety of tours of the biodiverse vineyards and modern winery, from tastings to a quintessentially British sparkling afternoon tea tour. Booking required.
Foxhole Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 5NB | +44 14 4488 1575 | www.bolneywineestate.com
An ancient windmill offering views across the Sussex countryside provides the setting for tastings, a highlight of a visit to Nutbourne’s award-winning vineyards.
Gay Street, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 2HH | +44 17 9881 5 196 | www.nutbournevineyards.com
Owned by the Goring family for generations, Wiston Estate produces world-class sparkling wines amid a beautiful backdrop of chalky slopes and the impressive country manor. Booking is essential.
North Farm, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 4BB | +44 19 0381 2129 | www.wistonestate.com