Wine in the South
Once considered the preserve of our mainland continental cousins, the growing of grapes for wine production is now once again flourishing in England. The South East of England has hundreds of commercial vineyards producing wine of the best quality and enjoying international renown. The region including Kent , Sussex , Hampshire and Surrey now boasts a number of eminent vineyards and, fortunately, the distances between them are relatively modest. This means one could spend a charming few days visiting a selection of the finest wineries and enjoying the beauty and hospitality of the area.
Established in 1986, Denbies Wine Estate , just outside Dorking in Surrey, is England’s largest single estate vineyard with 265 acres of vines. Denbies led the world in turning wine-making into an established tourist attraction. It was one of the first wine estates in the world to give visitors of all ages access to all aspects of the wine producing process, all year round. The organised tours at the estate are very popular and visitors can select from a choice of three experiences: the Denbies Classic Tasting Experience; the Sparkling Wine Experience and the Wine and Food Tasting Experience. There is even a 360 degree cinema there and it’s all so refreshingly different from the traditional, secretive way vineyards used to go about their business.
The vineyard has developed excellent visitor facilities including an information centre and shop, art exhibitions, restaurants and tours. The flint-clad Chateau-style Visitor Centre hosts two restaurants; the third floor Gallery Restaurant and the popular indoor Garden Conservatory. The Gallery Restaurant enjoys spectacular views of the estate and the Surrey Hills , and of course a great wine list! The gift shop and garden centre are just more of the many facilities open to the public at the estate. If you feel a brief visit isn’t enough, you’ll be glad to know there is the Denbies Farmhouse Guest Accommodation on offer. Denbies also provides a range of versatile function rooms and facilities which can be hired out for all occasions including weddings and private parties and can accommodate up to 200 guests. The vineyard is easy to reach being on the main A24 trunk road, close to the M25 London Orbital and just a few miles from the A3 London - Portsmouth road. Gatwick airport is just a few junctions away via the M25. Once you are at Denbies, enjoying the absolute tranquility of the Surrey Hills, you’ll find it hard to believe that civilisation is still relatively close at hand. Denbies hasn’t neglected the quality of the wine though, the estate has made many award-winning wines and their produce is sold both locally and internationally.
Danebury Vineyards in Hampshire enjoys an ideal situation on gentle south-facing chalky ground and grows four varieties of grapes. Nestling beneath Danebury Hill Fort the winery produces three wines; a sparkling and dry white and medium dry wine. The seven acre vineyard is set among beautiful gardens. There is a wine tasting room there that opens out onto the gardens and this space can be booked for tasting, barbecues, private dinner parties and entertaining. Extensive renovations to the Tasting Room and Gardens have been completed recently, the result is an idyllic setting in which to taste the wines. You’ll find the vineyard just off the A30 trunk road from Stockbridge to Salisbury , about three miles out of Stockbridge. The winery boasts that they are “out on the very fringe of the wine producing regions of the world” and claim this means “that an outstanding and distinct wine can be produced.” The vineyard reckon the long summer days allow for maximum ripening. They also claim that the chalk and flint stone that makes up the soil in the region allows the grapes to develop a balanced level of acidity. Tasting and tours are available but the vineyard is not set up like Denbies to allow casual drop in visits, booking must be done in advance. All their events are tailored to meet individual requirements and they offer a selection of daytime and evening formats and meals to accompany their wines.
Elham Valley Vineyard in Kent enjoys a prefect location among within the Kent Downs Area of Oustanding Beauty. The winery lies a mile south of Barham, on the B2065 minor road that links Canterbury to Hythe . The first vines were planted here back in 1979 and the winery has remained in constant production ever since. Today, 2500 bottles of wine are produced annually from three white grapes varieties grown there; Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc.
The Vale of Elham Trust took over the running of the vineyard in 1995. It was established as a charity to provide work and recreational opportunities in the East Kent area for adults with learning disabilities. The Trust's workers are responsible for all aspects of the business. Tours of the vineyards and wine tasting are both offered by arrangement. There is also a plant centre and a shop selling wine and crafts. Hungry visitors will enjoy the tea room which specialises in home baking, light lunches and cream teas.
At Biddenden Vineyards and Cider Works in Kent, visitors can enjoy a relaxing walk around the 22 acres of vines before tasting some of the red, white, rosé and sparkling wines produced there. The estate also runs organised tours for those who prefer a structured visit with a guide. Biddenden is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard.
Bolney Wine Estate enjoys a beautiful location in the heart of rural Sussex. Based in the village of Bolney , the estate started back in 1972 as Bookers Vineyard , with just three acres of vines. Since those humble beginnings the estate has enjoyed international and national awards along the way. A variety of tours and tasting occasions are available at the estate throughout the year.
Accommodation is plentiful in this part of England. For visits to Denbies the excellent White Horse in Dorking makes an ideal billet. The historic Inn is right in the middle of this charming market town. The Lainston House Hotel at Sparsholt is an elegant William and Mary house built in the 17th century and is set in 63 acres of Hampshire's downland countryside. Situated on the outskirts of the historic city of Winchester it would be an ideal place to stay for a visit to the Danebury Vineyards. Ockenden Manor is a delightful Elizabethan Manor House, situated in the heart of the Tudor Village of Cuckfield . It is the ideal retreat from which to discover the Bolney Wine Estate. Visitors to the Kent wineries might like to sample the excellent living on offer at the Bishopsdale Oast , a double kiln oast house at Biddenden built in the 1700s and now a stylish B&B. Alternatively, try the Abbots Fireside in Elham. Surrounded by breathtaking countryside, this historic timbered house has five delightful bedrooms all named after the well-known or local people relating to the history of this ancient building.
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