WE HAVE MOVED!!!

To all our lovely followers and wine browsers, please note that we have moved to a new site. All our previous blogs have now been transferred to: http://www.guestwines.com This is our new website – go to “Blog” then jump on board and keep abreast with us on our latest wine adventures!

Thank You!

Ruth & Kelvyn Guest

Wine Partisans

http://www.guestwines.com

@guestwines

The Bacchus Gricer: Herbert Hall Sparkles

We had now just about reached the end of our 2013 English vineyard adventure, having no more non-wine related activities to engage in, we therefore aimed to finish as we started by once again getting amongst the vines, only now we had exchanged Devon for Kent and none other than the estate of Herbert Hall.

We came across Herbert Hall for the first time last year whilst we had been touring vineyards in Sussex and Kent. We noted that there were a couple of vineyards close to the village of Marden, one being Hush Heath Estate, which we also visited, and another simply titled as “Marden vineyard”. Intrigued, we got in touch and discovered this to be what we now know as, Herbert Hall, whose proprietor, Nick Hall, kindly agreed for us to visit and take a tour of his vineyard and winery.

A relative newcomer to the English wine scene, Herbert Hall was set up in 2007 with the first vintage released in 2009. These wines can now be found in some of the country’s most prestigious retail outlets and restaurants. All attention is focused on producing high quality Sparkling Wine, a Brut White and Rose, using the traditional method and made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

We promised that we would be back in touch and having consumed one or two bottles of his fizz over the past year, we were keen to see if we could in any way get a little more involved. Nick welcomed our return and a chance for us to work amongst the vines, so here we were, towards the end of our trip but ready for some more vineyard action.

Nick had already hatched a plan of things that we could do and was intent that we should not simply be doing menial jobs for the sake of it. Instead, he preferred us to have the opportunity to take away some new experiences as well as being able to demonstrate those skills that we had already learned, which we can’t thank him enough for.

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Over the next three days, we undertook various tasks in and around the vineyard and winery. Included was some tucking in and trimming, using our recently found knowledge to get on with the task with little intervention. We felt very privileged that Nick chose to join us for most of the three days in our company, where we spent many an hour chatting amongst the vines, in the winery or over lunch sat in the sunshine in the garden of his family home.  We could not have been made to feel more welcome.

We were blessed again with amazing summer weather and when the temperature peaked at 32 degrees it felt like we could have been on a vineyard in the South of France.

In the winery, we got the chance to fill a cage with the 2011 wine ready for riddling by loading it onto the gyropalette. We also had a go at disgorgement, dosage and corking – great fun, though we must admit that we were better at some jobs more than others. Kel took himself off the crown cap opening and disgorgement after a couple of the bottle necks fractured in the process (eek)!

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Nick was recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about his wines, which you can read more about here.

We also had the opportunity to meet Peter Morgan, Head of Winemaking at Plumpton College and co-wine maker at Herbert Hall. It was great to hear the views of two great wine makers and their advice to us has been of great value.

Peter invited us to visit the College so we could see the facilities for ourselves. We duly agreed that we would make a detour on our return schedule and head for Plumpton before heading back home the following morning.

That morning, we chose to set off that bit earlier so we could reach Plumpton with enough time on our hands to get home at a reasonable hour. This was a good decision as we encountered our second flat tyre of the trip!

Not to be deterred, we put this matter to one side and met up with Peter. Here, we were introduced to Chris Foss (Head of the Wine Department at Plumpton) whom Kel has had contact with over the past year or so in relation to undertaking possible courses at the college as well as help and advice about the English wine scene in general. It was great to actually have the chance to meet Chris in person.

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Peter then took us on a tour of the vineyards and the winery. Plumpton has recently heavily invested in its wine education facility as we witnessed new buildings being constructed that included class rooms, laboratories and additions to the winery. The college also makes its own range of wines of which we had the opportunity to try their fizz at a local English Wine festival last year.

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This drew to a close our English wine adventure. We were fortunate that our flat tyre was quickly fixed and we were able to make our journey home without further incident.

English wine has come such a long way in such a short time and we feel very confident about its future and no doubt we shall be back amongst the vines once again in the not so distant future.

 

The Bacchus Gricer: Brighton Rocks!

We awoke to what was to be another scorching summer’s day. Having arrived back at our hotel in the early hours after an enjoyable night at The International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner it was now time to check out and go exploring. Both of us could probably have slept a few more hours but check-out time was upon us and we had a full schedule penned out.

It was a slow and painful drive out of London taking hours rather than the planned 30 minutes or so, though luckily this did not impact too much on our schedule as shaving off some of the time intended for each stop seemed to do the trick.

Once out of London, we had a very pleasant and sunny drive heading towards the south coast once again.

Bolney Estate

Our first stop along the way was to The Bolney Estate at Bookers vineyard in the village of Bolney.

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We had called here last year and were impressed by their Pinot Noir, which not only looked the part, that is not deep purple, but also tasted like you might expect. However, it would seem that others have made a similar discovery and unfortunately for us (though fortunate for Bolney) they had completely sold out and would not have any more in stock until the next vintage is released next year. However, we weren’t going to go away empty handed, so we purchased a bottle of: The Bolney Estate Classic Cuvee 2007 – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay (yet to be tried).

Our next destination at Pulborough has several vineyards in close proximity to one another including Nyetimber. All share similar soil types (loam on greensand) although there is some cross-over with some of the grape varieties used, the wines that each produce are distinctive to the individual estates.

Nyetimber is not open to the public, although we did try to contact them to see if we could (cheekily) visit but this wasn’t forthcoming. So, a quick photo shoot outside the property is as far as we got but we do have a bottle of their fizz already at home in our “put away and to be drunk at a later date hideaway cupboard/cellar”.

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Not to be deterred, we had read about and were intrigued by a wine estate that was minutes up the road, which has an old windmill as part of its tasting room. From the pictures it looked an idyllic place and we weren’t to be disappointed.

Nutbourne Vineyards

Upon entering the windmill at Nutbourne on the ground floor, which has been nicely done out with a welcoming and tasteful seated area, we went up a flight of stairs to what is the tasting room and shop where a balcony overlooks the vineyard and surrounding area.

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Here, we were met by the very friendly Irene, who was most helpful with describing the estate, its history, vines and grape varieties. We were also offered a tasting of all the still plus one of the sparkling wines.

Wines tasted:

Sussex Reserve 2012 – A blend of Bacchus, Huxelrebe and Schönburger: Crisp with soft fruit flavours.

Bacchus 2011: More flowery and perfumed than some of the Bacchus’ that we have tried lately.

Nutbourne Blush 2011 – Pinot Noir & Schönburger: Light & refreshing with summer fruits.

Nutbourne Hedgerow 2009 – Bacchus & Schönburger: Does what it say on the label! Slightly off-dry blend with hints of hawthorn, green leaves and a touch of elderflower.

Nutty Brut 2010 – Pinot Noir, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay: Crisp, fresh with good bubbles, hints of apple and pears – bottle taken home.

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Before heading off, we took the opportunity to have a walk around the vines and well tendered paths. The estate hosts various events throughout the year, including music and BBQ’s, so it is worth keeping an eye on their website for details.

Brighton

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By now the heat of the day was sweltering, so the call of the seaside became even more appealing.

It was great to take some time out to simply walk along the sea front as well as take in the famous Pavilion. However, to Kel’s disappointment, the Volks Electric Railway, which had been pencilled in for today, seemed to be closed. The little railway claims to be the oldest working electric railway in the world and boasts one or two interesting artefacts. Oh well, we shall just have to come back when it is operating. Contacting them prior to departure might be helpful perhaps?

And so, our first day venturing into Sussex came to a close and we found ourselves hotel bound for the evening for some very much needed sleep (in our plush £17 a night Gatwick Travelodge, a bargain indeed!).

Our schedule for our second day in Sussex seemed all the more busy, so it was to be an early start so as to try and fit in all that we had carefully planned.

And what better way to start our day but to call into one of England’s few organic vineyards, run by one of the leading figures in things organic and winemaking, Will Davenport.

Davenport Vineyards

We had come across Will’s wine a year earlier purely by accident when we were touring Kent and Sussex vineyards and we happened to call into the local shop at Horsmonden. Here, they had various bottles of English wines on their shelves including the one that caught our eye, Limney White, that retailed at just under a tenner.

We thought that it was such a good example of an English white that we wrote to Will to let him know. In fact, we ordered more and gave out bottles of it to friends last Christmas.

So here we now were with the man himself, who had taken the time out of his busy morning to meet us and give us a personal tour of his vineyard and winery.

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One thing we picked up straight away is Will’s passion for his craft, in particular doing things organically. This seems to have been a labour of love that is now getting the respect that it deserves including from ‘those that be’ at Plumpton College.

Some of the vines are now reaching the ripe old age of 20 or so years, which Will is re-invigorating by encouraging a new shoot to grow from around the base of the trunk. Once this has been established, the older trunk will be cut off and future use will see the newer shoot then being used as the trunk.

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Will concentrates his efforts on a small range of dry still and sparkling wines. He has in the past released a limited quantity of Pinot Noir and might do again in the future after a bit more experimentation in order to get it to be exactly as he intends.

We had a great morning, particularly as Will is so enthusiastic and knowledgable, utilising his degree in Chemistry to good effect alongside his winemaking portfolio. Discussions about organic practices, chemicals, soils and of course the wine itself, made for a fascinating morning.

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Wine tasted:

Limney Horsmonden 2011 – Ortega, Faber, Siegerrebe, Bacchus & Huxelrebe: Dry crisp with citrus, orange peel and floral aromas.

We also tried the 2012, which was still in the tank and developing.

We took home a bottle of: Limney Estate Quality Sparking Wine 2008 – Pinot Noir & Auxerrois, which is yet to be tried.

Will’s Blanc de Blanc made from 100% Reichensteiner had sold out.

The English Wine Centre

The English Wine Centre stands proudly by the roadside just outside the picturesque village of Alfriston.

As well as having a well stocked shop, the centre also boasts a restaurant with outside seating area and separate buildings, one for functions such as weddings, of which, one was taking place at the time of our arrival, as well as a small hotel.

We were greeted by owner Colin Munday, who was happy to talk about his range of wines and his take on the English wine scene.

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Open for tasting was a bottle of Cornish wine: Polgoon 2012 – Orion & Bacchus: Crisp, fresh with some aromatic and floral aromas. At only 9.5% this seemed a nice summer quaffer. 

After much browsing, we decided to take home:

Litmus 2011 Element 20 – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris & Bacchus. This is made collaboratively between Denbies Wine Estate and John Worontschak (Director and Chief Winemaker at Litmus Wines Ltd).

Alfriston is soon to become even more rooted on the wine map of England when the nearby Rathfinny, heralded by Mark and Sarah Driver with French Winemaker, Jonathan Medard, and Cameron Roucher as Vineyard Manager, together plan to become one of the country’s biggest producers of sparkling and still wine.

From a view point close to the English Channel can be seen the large area that the estate covers and its development so far. We hope to have more on this at a later date, so watch this space…

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Alfriston

It would have been rude not to visit the actual village of Alfriston, that has in its own right become a bit of a tourist pilgrimage (as we soon discovered). However, taking a walk away from the main village square, we came across the most relaxing of village greens that had as its backdrop St Andrews Church and close by The National Trust owned Clergy House. This was the first property acquired by the Trust all the way back in 1896, which was a pleasure to visit with plenty of butterflies and bumble bees busying themselves in the gardens. A resident kingfisher also nests in the reeds behind the gardens but unfortunately on our visit we did not catch a glimpse!

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Our next wine adventure was not to be until we arrived in Kent but we still had plenty to do on our way there.

After leaving Alfriston, we drove up to the cliff tops at Beachy Head, which offer dramatic views of the coastline and surrounding countryside. From here we could see the grey clouds rolling in, our first real cloud cover and cool breeze experienced in weeks and it was certainly a shock to the system. Nonetheless this didn’t deter from our enjoyment of being at this famous landmark.

This was followed by a brief walk along Eastbourne’s promenade but it was a real shame that the sun had chosen to hide away from the seafront.

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The following day, we had a wine day off although we did consider whether we would have time to call in to the Bluebell Vineyard, who make the Hindleap Sparkling Wine range, however, as it is closed to the public it was not possible.

The highlight of the day was to be the much anticipated call to the Bluebell Railway, who have now achieved their long term ambition of reconnecting with the mainline at East Grinstead. This has been the result of several years hard labour during which literally thousands of tons of household waste had to be removed from a cutting that hadn’t seen trains pass through it for the past sixty years. The railway achieved its goal in March of this year and Kel was very excited to now be able to journey on this particular piece of line. Better still, the railway had a scheduled diesel service running alongside the steam service on that day. The Bluebell Railway has always prided itself until recently to be a steam only operation therefore having the opportunity to travel along the railway by diesel was a real treat.

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Our last stop was to The National Trust’s Sheffield Park and Gardens, which we had planned to visit on our adventure last year but were deterred by rain on that occasion. In total contrast, today we were blessed with hot summer sun and blue skies. The impressively landscaped 18th century gardens make for a relaxing day out, where you can while away hours strolling along the various footpaths that meander past flowering gardens, huge trees, a waterfall and picturesquely framed lakes.

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Tune in for our final instalment of ‘The Bacchus Gricer’, which finds us on a renowned Sparkling Wine producer’s estate in Kent with a brie foray back into Sussex before heading home.

The Bacchus Gricer: Going Over The Alps

England is producing excellent award winning wines year on year and they are well worth hunting out!

Our journey continued winding through the Dorset countryside towards Hampshire, where we would then make a detour and head for London.

Having now moved out of our comfy cottage environment that Eastcott Vineyard had provided, we were now cheap hotel hopping and determined to stick to the very low budget that we had set ourselves. This included restrictions on our food, meaning that eating out was a definite luxury and that we had to find and provide ourselves with a reasonable diet with only pennies to spare: an endurance test indeed to see how well we could cope on little.

Enter “The Travelodge Surprise” – a surprise as we never knew how the end result would turn out. Now don’t try this at home, or should we say in a Travelodge near you, unless you have a strong will not to cave in to dining out or take-away – we nearly did but in the end, we held on strong. We are glad to be back home to some welcome cooking we can tell you!

To make the “Surprise” you will need:

  • 1 kettle (essential)
  • 1 plastic bowl
  • 2 plates (optional – if missing eat straight from the bowl)
  • 1 spoon
  • 2 forks (again optional – if missing take turns to use spoon)
  • Packet of noodles
  • Packet of dried soya mince (TVP)
  • Packet of sauce flavouring or stock cube

Method:

  • Boil kettle
  • Throw all ingredients into the bowl
  • Pour boiling water over contents and leave to soak (cover bowl with plate or similar)
  • Stir occasionally over 10-15 minutes
  • Enjoy!

This became our main supply of “nourishment” for the next few days… and we survived!

Right, back to the adventure…

We still had plenty to do before London and this included sampling another English award winning wine, none other than an International Wine Challenge Trophy Award.

In this instance, the trophy was for the best English Sparkling Wine of 2013 and we were about to try it out for ourselves. As well as the IWC Trophy, this wine had also won:  Silver Outstanding Medal in International Wine & Spirits Competition 2013 and Silver Medal in Decanter World Wine Awards 2013.

… and the Trophy went to none other than The Furleigh Estate.

The Furleigh Estate

Furleigh Estate, tucked away in the Devonshire countryside at Salway Ash, pride themselves on dedication to their craft, working in collaboration with students from Plumpton College, who are studying one of the wine degree courses. They make both still and sparkling wines, some of which, are limited release.

We arrived a little later than planned after almost getting lost driving around the narrow winding lanes (something we were by now getting used to). The tasting room was busy with a coach load of visitors, who had been on a tour of the vineyards and winery and were now sampling Furleigh’s range of wines on offer.

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However, this did not prevent co-owner Rebecca Hansford (Winemaker Ian Edwards being the other half) coming over to welcome us and spend a little time chatting about their estate and wines.

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A bottle of the trophy winner itself was duly purchased.

Classic Cuvee 2009 – 41% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 24% Pinot Meunier: Persistent mousse, fruity with brioche aromas, elegantly balanced with long finish. 

Originally, we planned to call upon several vineyards in the area but these either did not open on the day available to us or had not got back in touch, and one even seemed closed altogether when we chanced it and drove up to the front door. Therefore, we decided to make the most of the splendid sights and sounds that we knew were available (although non-wine related).

Corfe Castle

We decided to stop off along the way at Corfe Castle, a National Trust property that we have visited before, still worth a second or even more visits. It’s rich history, stretching as far back as the 10th Century, and its majestic stance against the backdrop of the surrounding village and countryside leave a lasting impression. The Swanage Railway runs alongside and lends an added attraction both on and off the train.

Here, we took in lunch. Ah ha! We hear you cry! What’s happened to your endurance test, your “Travelodge Surprise”??? Well, we can tell you dear friends, it was just that, that we had for our lunch! By now cold or more precisely luke warm from being in a hot car boot, we stuck to our guns and “enjoyed” whilst sat on a hill overlooking the castle (a good distraction technique).

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The Swanage Railway

This is a great railway well worth a visit. The main station is right in the centre of town and very close to the sea front. It was proposed for closure in 1968 but strong local opposition kept it open until 1972. However, fortunes were upturned when in 1979 part of the line was reopened as a heritage railway. Today the line has been reconnected with the main line and is a major tourist attraction.

We visited Swanage a couple of years earlier for one of the many gala days that are staged at the railway, which on that particular occasion was also playing host to a local beer festival.

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Still on the hunt to find a local wine merchant who sold English wine, we managed to locate one close to the station but alas there was no English wine! Although they did have an impressive selection of local ciders and ales.

However, we weren’t to finish the day without our goal being accomplished and this occurred when we tripped over the border into Hampshire to take a look around the Mid-Hants Railway when we literally stumbled upon The Naked Grape wine merchants in Alresford.

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This is a locally run business with another premises at Four Marks (also a stopping point on the Mid-Hants Railway) and was neatly set out with product information. The friendly member of staff was very helpful especially with being able to point out the section containing English wines as well as describing each one of them to us.

We opted for the most local:

Court Lane Vineyard, Ropley Dry Reserve 2011 – Grapes non-specified but the UK Vines website highlights that it grows: Huxelrebe, Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc, so it may just well be a blend of all four though we suspect that it might be more in line with the last two grape varieties on the list. Good fruit aromas that carried onto the palate with a richness to the mouthfeel and a good finish. Might also have undergone some malolactic fermentation but still maintained a fresh acidic backbone. A very pleasant surprise to our day. 

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Mid-Hants Railway

It was almost time to set off on our journey to London but not before taking a walk around the locomotive shed and yard of the Mid-Hants Railway at none other than Ropley!

The railway had closed to the public for the day but a kind Shed Master permitted us to take a walk around the yard, for which we gave a small donation for the upkeep of the railway.

This line was once the main line for the London and South Western Railway Company (later part of The Southern Railway) from London to Southampton and was closed as a through route by British Rail in 1973. It has earned the name “The Watercress Line” after one of its main functions used to be the carriage of local watercress to retailers in London. It was and still is famous for its gradients and as such local engine crews describe the journey as “Going over the Alps“.

The line maintains its Southern Railway heritage and is well worth a visit, in fact they are currently building seven holiday cottages next to the railway at Ropley.

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It was now time to head for London and get ready for the International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner and Summer Ball, which was to take place the following evening.

The Bacchus Gricer – Still Enjoying The West Country

A few more tales to tempt your taste buds to get out there and try English wine!

After a few more days spent working amongst the vines at Eastcott Vineyard, we once again had the opportunity to go exploring the Devonshire countryside.

Huxbear Vineyard

A good start to the day was calling in on Lucy and Ben Hulland at Huxbear Vineyard, Chudleigh. They shared with us their inspirational story of giving up their ‘day jobs’ to head South from Manchester, learning how to make wine at Plumpton College and purchasing land to plant a vineyard. Living in a caravan in a field far longer than envisaged, where they have now planted vines, built a house and a winery from scratch. They have also managed to grow a family of two children and two dogs in this time.

They now have over 9000 vines to look after, which Ben impressively does himself. They have a selection of German varieties for a white blend, but their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for future production.

It was a true pleasure to meet a young couple who have changed the direction of their lives and committed to the land. They have achieved a huge amount since 2007.

We weren’t able to taste the white blend as this had sold out due to production being of a limited number of bottles. However, we did taste the 2012 Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay, both still developing in the tank and we were able to take a bottle of Ben’s Huxbear Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay home with us.

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Seaton

By now it was almost lunchtime, so what better than heading to the Coast for chips by the sea. We spent time enjoying the sun in Seaton, looking out over the sea lapping against the Jurassic Coastline. We were blessed with glorious weather and the town was bustling with locals and tourists. Even the Town Crier was out and on form.

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The town also boasts a vintage tramway that runs from the town centre to Colyton, running along the banks of the Seaton Marshes in the Axe Valley, it is a very picturesque setting indeed.

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It was such a lovely sunny day, we decided to drive along the Coast taking in the picturesque seaside towns of SidmouthBudleigh Salterton and Exmouth. We highly recommend visiting these charming seaside towns with their striking coastal views.

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Pebblebed Wine Cellar

Our final call of the day was at Topsham, a quaint harbour town on the River Exe estuary. We enjoyed a pleasant walk along the marine harbour, passing local pubs and bars already filled to the brim with people sat outside in the warm evening sun.

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We specifically wanted to call into the Pebblebed Wine Cellar, which is situated close to the harbour, not too far from where the 1904 Thames Barge Vigilant is being restored.

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Our initial thoughts were that we were going to be disappointed as the Wine Cellar looked full when we arrived, however, there was space at one of the long tables, if you don’t mind sharing there’s plenty of room for everyone.

All Pebblebed wines were available to purchase by the glass as well as by the bottle, which gave us the opportunity to try the full range. The food on offer was simple but tasty, meat and cheese platters or thin based pizza, we elected for the latter – tomato and mozzarella oh so good!

The staff were very friendly and helpful, willing to discuss the wines and the vineyards. On this occasion we hadn’t booked to go on a tour of the vineyards and the new winery as we felt a visit to the Wine Cellar would complement our evening better.

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Wines tasted:

Sparkling Seyval 2010 – pale lemon green, nice persistent small bubbles, apple fresh with good acidity, after a while in the glass more pastry, brioche notes come out, lovely bubbly tipple.

Sparkling Rose 2010 – Seyval Blanc & Rondo, delicate rose pink in colour, larger bubbles, more prominent fizz on the palate, aromas of cranberry, strawberry, hints of apple, yeast characteristics mid palate, fruit tapers off at finish.

Dry White 2011 – Seyval Blanc & Madeleine Angevine, light floral aromas, lemon citrus, white pepper, creamy mouthfeel, surprisingly low acidity, which for us affected the structure of the wine.

Dry Rose 2011– Seyval Blanc & Rondo, orangey pink, light red fruit aromas, cranberry, strawberry, smoky overtones, creamy on the finish, very soft low acidity. 

Red 2011 – Pinot Noir Precoce & Rondo, pale ruby red in colour, a lovely promising nose of red fruits, cherry, violet, plum, herbs and some smoky savoury notes. Rondo characteristics shone through, fruit lingered on the palate, surprisingly nice for an English red.

For our next instalment, sadly leaving Eastcott Vineyard behind, we headed to Torquay – or should we say The English Riviera! Taking in the sights, sounds and wines to be had, or should we say in the case of the wines, to be drunk!

The Bacchus Gricer: The English Riviera!

Aahhhhh a celebration of English wine with a taste of the English Riviera!

Although our stay at Eastcott Vineyard was sadly over, it was not the end to our time in Devon. Now heading South East to what is known as The English Riviera, we spent the next couple of nights in Torquay. Our hotel was conveniently located next to Torre Station, only two minutes ride from Torquay seafront, quayside and amenities.

After getting settled in, we made attempts to sniff out a local wine merchant, with a particular emphasis on finding English Wine, however our search was sadly fruitless (or to be more precise ‘grape-less’). Therefore we took advantage of the continuing sunny weather and decided that a trip to the seafront and a nice cool glass of local beer would be justifiably in order.

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After a pleasant walk, we landed upon The Offshore Bar overlooking the harbour where a couple of local ales could be purchased. Kel particularly enjoyed the Bays Gold, fruity with a touch of hops, a great accompaniment to the summer’s evening.

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South Devon Railway

Not too far from Torquay is the South Devon Railway that runs between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, with most of the journey skirting the banks of the River Dart. It’s a great tourist attraction with plenty to see and do, also just next door is the Otters and Butterfly Sanctuary.

We passed an enjoyable hour or so at Buckfastleigh station, museum and locomotive works, enjoying lunch at one of the picnic tables that were dotted around the site.

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Sharpham Vineyard

A short drive away from the South Devon Railway is Sharpham Vineyard, set in the glorious Devonshire Dart Valley countryside, with its fields of Jersey cows whose milk goes to make Sharpham’s award winning cheeses. The views from the drive into the Estate are quite breathtaking, enhanced by wood sculpted artwork that appears along the road and around the Estate.

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We arrived to a buzzing vineyard cafe and bar, with people enjoying lunch alfresco (what? In England?) sampling local produce washed down with a glass or two of Sharpham’s wine.

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A range of tastings and tours are available at the vineyard including wine and cheese pairings from the Estate. Starting at £6.95 you can visit the vineyard on a self guided walk and taste one wine. Three wines with two of Sharpham’s cheeses is better value at £8.95 and takes place each hour on the hour. Alternatively you can attend a full 2 hour tour with tastings for £19.95 or half day events at £65.

Wines tasted:

Bacchus 2011 – English countryside in a glass, nettles, hawthorn with a fresh citrus zing, rounded mouthfeel.

Whole Berry Rose 2011 – Dornfelder, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, soft mouthfeel, fairly low acidity which to us seemed to affect the structure a little.

Pinot Noir & Pinot Precoce 2011 – typical English red, deep in colour, red fruits, red currant, cranberry, elderberry, spices, hints of cinnamon and some sweetness from the oak.

Sharpham Red 2011 – Rondo, deep purple in colour, dark fruits, plum and blackberry, hints of chocolate and pepper, smooth mouthfeel, low tannins, intensity tapers off towards the finish, which is not unusual for English red. 

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We noticed in the shop that Sharpham makes a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for the Beenleigh Estate, their sister vineyard. It would have been interesting to try this but unfortunately it wasn’t on offer by the glass.

On prior recommendation, we procured a round of Sharpham’s Brie, creamy and rich, which we thoroughly enjoyed over the next few days on baguettes with locally grown tomatoes for lunch.

Brixham

As part of our English seaside extravaganza, we stopped to take in the atmosphere at Brixham Harbour. The Dartmouth Railway runs close by the town so a trip here can be made all the more worthwhile.

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Dartmouth Steam Railway

This railway runs from a mainline connection at Paignton along the Dart Estuary to the picturesque harbour town of Kingswear. Here if you have a little time on your hands, you can catch the steam ferry from Kingswear to Dartmouth (this ferry passes by and stops at Sharpham Vineyard). Totnes is located a little way up the river where you can catch the heritage steam or diesel train to Buckfastleigh on the South Devon Railway.

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Tiverton

We took a little respite from the heat of the day by visiting the Museum of Mid-Devon Life in Tiverton, in order to gain a better insight into Devon life past and present. Although the museum appears small in size, it contains a large amount of artefacts all very well displayed and Kel even managed to score his last required 1400 Class Collet loco ‘The Tivvy Bumper’.

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We had a short stroll around the town centre and got very excited when we discovered there was an independent wine merchants just 5 minutes away from us, where we hoped we would be able to buy some English wine … but unfortunately we arrived to a closed door, ho hum! Finding English wines beyond the cellar door seemed to be proving a little difficult.

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Devon Railway Centre

Situated at Cadeleigh Station, on what was once the Great Western Exeter – Tiverton – Dulverton branch line, the railway centre is host to a narrow gauge and miniature railway, great for a family day out, and is also next door to Bickleigh Mill, with its shop, restaurant, pub and working 18th Century water wheel.

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Old Walls Vineyard

One bright, early morning another great vineyard visit took us to Old Walls Vineyard situated in the picturesque village of Bishopsteignton. Navigating our way there through the narrow high hedged Devonshire lanes was a bit of a challenge especially when faced with a car approaching from the opposite direction.

The sharply inclining driveway leads you to the boutique winery and cafe, which is set against the very steep slopes of the vineyard, certainly the steepest English vineyard slopes that we have seen so far on our travels.

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You can take in the spectacular panoramic views of the winding valley from the terrace outside the cafe and while away a little time admiring the vines from the benches at the bottom of the vineyard. We could have easily spent the day here, sipping wine and taking in the views.

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The full range of wines was available to sample for free in the cafe as well as purchase by the glass. Whilst tasting a few of the wines we had the pleasure of meeting owners, Ken and Lesley Dawe.

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Wines tasted:

Chapel White Medium English – Reichensteiner, floral and fruity with a nice creamy body and a good finish.

Chantry White Dry English Wine – Auxerrois, floral and citrus character, light bodied and easy drinking.

Rose – Pinot Noir, red currant fruit, cranberry, a dry style. Portrayed on the label as a light red wine we discovered that allowing the wine to warm up a little from its chilled state enabled the flavours to come through better.

Follow us in our next instalment along the Jurassic Coast to Dorset and finally Hampshire, before taking a break in London at the International Wine Challenge 2013 Summer Ball Awards Dinner.

 

The Bacchus Gricer: Enjoying The West Country

While you’re out enjoying some English wines and have the chance to visit some of our beautiful vineyards, don’t forget to look out for other attractions to visit. Here’s a taste of Devon & Cornwall.

The days that we were not amongst or around the vines during our stay at Eastcott Vineyard were utilised to explore what was to be a combination of visiting and tasting wines from other local producers as well as taking in one or two none wine related local activities.

The first place where we took advantage of this was immediately after our day at the Ruby Market where we had been helping out with Eastcott’s stall.

Dartmoor Railway

Armed with Grumpies of Cornwall pies, we took ourselves off to the nearby Dartmoor Railway. The railway is currently closed to a scheduled operating service but it is still worth a visit to Oakhampton station, which has been restored to its former Southern Railway glory. A station cafe is open most days with places to sit outside on the platform where you can watch various historic vehicles being lovingly restored.

This railway runs adjacent to the Granite Way cycle route and footpath and a walk or ride along this takes you past Meldon Quarry (once a main source of ballast for British Rail) and Meldon Viaduct that used to carry the main line over to Plymouth with such trains as The Atlantic Coast Express. Panoramic views can be enjoyed of the countryside around Meldon where plenty of footpaths have been created for various walks. We were not the only ones taking advantage of the glorious weather as we experienced a frequent procession of cyclists using the main track as well as one or two folk camping in the valley below close to the Okement River that runs along its contours from the reservoir, opened in 1972.

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Launceston Railway

Later that week, we took ourselves on a journey which would involve several attractions in a single day; including a bit of wine tasting as a grand finale in the evening and all set against wonderfully sunny weather!

The first attraction on our schedule was the Launceston Railway. This is a narrow gauge railway built on just over two miles of the former North Cornwall Main Line and created by a husband and wife team Nigel and Kay Bowman (again, it was nice to see another husband and wife project success).

The station site at Launceston also includes a museum with displays of industrial artefacts as well as a small collection of classic cars and motorcycles. It is also close to the nearby English Heritage site of Launceston Castle that still stands guard over the town.  Again, there is a pleasant cafe on the station where we whiled away some time watching the proceedings of the outbound steam service before heading off to our next destination.

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Bodmin Railway

Now winding our way into Cornwall and the temperature of the mid-day sun getting hotter, we called in to the heritage railway centre at Bodmin, which was already bussling with tourists. Here, we took in a visit to the locomotive and carriage works to witness several items of rolling stock under restoration whilst the steam service busied itself in the station for its next departure. The opportunity was then taken to have another lovely cup of Cornish tea whilst writing out a few postcards.

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Lanhydrock House

Now things were really beginning to heat up and the call for ice cream became ever more popular on our way to this lovely National Trust property.

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Obviously many more people had the same idea as us because the place was very busy when we arrived. We decided that taking a slow walk through the well maintained gardens was the best option as the heat was starting to slow us down and it was more challenging to walk through the house as it was quite stuffy. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our visit, both agreeing that sticking to the gardens had been a good bet. The only downside is that we could not find an ice cream within the property so we decided to wait until we arrived at our next port of call, which was to be the delightful seaside harbour town of Padstow.

Padstow

We parked in the car park in what used to be the town’s railway station. Its station building still standing proudly but no trains have called there for 50 years or more.

Padstow is a traditional Cornish harbour town and on our visit, was absolutely packed with folk enjoying the sun.

We decided to stick with tradition, the long overdue ice cream, from the Harbour Ice Cream Parlour, was calling but not before sampling a traditional Cornish Pasty, from the Padstow Pasty Co., and so many there were to choose from, with fillings to cater for all tastes and imaginations.

This is a place to simply slow down, take things easy, sit back and enjoy the comings and goings along the harbour front. Though a bit of a challenge was trying not to get dive-bombed by the gulls who seemed intent on getting their bit of pasty and if not, letting go of some cargo of their own!

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Camel Valley Vineyard

As a couple of tight Northerners we do indeed like to get our money’s worth, although by now, we had reached our limit of attraction visiting endurance and needed quite rightly, something to drink. So our final call on this day was to drop in for the Wednesday evening Grand Tour at Camel Valley with no other than the man himself Bob Lindo, doing the honours.

Bob was very entertaining and kept the rather large tour crowd amused as well as informed about his wine and the English wine scene in general. He also proudly showed off his International Wine Challenge awards as well as drawing the crowd’s attention to the fact that HM The Queen also likes a tipple (or could that be quaff?) of Camel Valley fizz. Bob is currently also the only producer in the country to have a PDO site rather than the generic PGI that is tagged to all of England – times are indeed a’changing! We were also fortunate to arrive in time to see the first flowers appear on the vines.

The sun was still shining and the heat was on, so the chilled wine that was served was most welcome! A couple of purchases were made for something to savour back home (and hopefully to be drunk in similar sunny settings (we hope).

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What a fabulous end to the day!

Our Star Choices:

Cornwall 2011 – Seyval Blanc & Chardonnay: Crisp fresh apple with some yeasty notes. Refreshing on a summer’s evening.

Bacchus Dry 2011: Crisp, fresh with aromatic Bacchus flavours. The fennel seed breadstick which was served with this drink helped to bring out and enhance the flavours of both the wine and the aniseed.

Other Wines tasted:

Rose 2012 – 100% Pinot Noir: Red fruits and a touch of creaminess. Quite light and delicate.

Cornwall 2010 – White Pinot Noir: Good mousse with red fruit character, autolytic notes and a good finish.

Sparkling Red 2010 – Rondo: very English characteristics, cranberry, elderberry and bramble. Red sparkling wine on the whole is not one of our favourite tipples, a bit of a novelty.

Tune in for a continuation of The West Country blog coming to a computer near you soon!

The Bacchus Gricer: Eastcott Vineyard

More tales for English Wine Week, up close and personal at Eastcott Vineyard in Devon.

The Guests are put to work

After a good night’s sleep in one of Eastcott Vineyard’s gorgeous holiday cottages, aptly named Cabernet, our first job was to assist Richard with his stall at the summer Ruby Market in Hatherleigh. The market was larger than we expected and was bustling with people in the Devonshire sunshine.  All sorts of local produce was on offer: meat; dairy; vegetables; cakes; breads; beers; ciders; as well as arts and crafts, plus a bit of Country music to keep the crowds entertained in the heat. It was great to see Richard in action talking passionately about his wines, of which two were open for tastings.

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Throughout the day, a steady stream of people visited the stall, tasting and purchasing from the range of wines. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with locals, visitors and stallholders alike, coming away with a rather full shopping bag of produce ourselves to take back to our cottage. We can highly recommend Grumpies of Cornwall pies, West Lake apple juices and ciders, Curry Now! sauces by the Anglo Indian Chef, Riverside’s Goat Cheese and the Vegetarian deli.

The following day, Hilary gave us a tour of the vineyard to familiarise us with everything and the kind of work we would be helping out with. It’s a truly beautiful spot with 12 acres of land, 6 of which are planted to vine with 7 varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Rondo, Dunkenfelder, Solaris and Seyval Blanc.

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Most of the week, we were out amongst the vines, tucking the shoots into the trellising system, ‘geek alert‘ known as vertical shoot positioning (VSP) where all the vines are trained to grow upright. It is interesting to see the varietal differences between the vines once you get up close and personal with them, such as differences in colour, leaf texture and shape. I’m even getting quite attached to them. We were also privileged to witness the flowering start, although the flowers appear quite insignificant they are an essential part of the process to form the all important fruit. We also helped with general vineyard management, such as tidying up around the hedges as well as other jobs.

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We participated in Hilary and Richard’s Vineyard Tours that included a visit to their shiny new and very modern winery. It was interesting to hear more about their story of how they came to own and run the vineyard. These were probably the most educational and informative tours we have attended.

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One evening was spent at a tasting and presentation with the Fuchsia and Geranium Group in Plympton. About 40 people attending their local meeting heard Eastcott’s very professional presentation and tasted some of their wine. We assisted with handing out the samples to the group. It was a fun evening and great to meet some of the local community.

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We also attended one of Richard’s tutored wine tastings with a group of young lads on a stag weekend, um a challenge maybe? Considering they confessed they didn’t know a great deal about wine, they were great sports, asked lots of good questions and seemed to enjoy it all.

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Our final day coincided with it being Kelvyn’s birthday, which we celebrated with homemade strawberry victoria sponge cake (thanks again to Richard) and the cottage suitably adorned with birthday banner and balloons courtesy of Ruth and Hilary. We all enjoyed a glass or two of each of Eastcott’s Sparkling range as well as Furleigh Estate’s Classic Cuvee 2009.

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We couldn’t have asked for better weather since arriving, the sun shone every day and the heat warmed our skin, average temperatures hovered between 25-30 degrees, we have never had such good tans – could you really call this work??? On a hot day in the vineyard, we were generously rewarded with refreshingly chilled elderflower cordial and yummy carrot cake both freshly made by Richard.

Most evenings, we relaxed in our lovely cottage or, took advantage of the evening sunshine, lazing on a blanket in the orchard, with a well deserved glass or two of chilled Eastcott wine. We certainly enjoyed our experience of the Devonshire vineyard lifestyle. We were even adopted by the neighbour’s cat, Mrs Tinks.

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A plus we found to the cottage was that the bedrooms are on the ground floor, so they are lovely and cool later in the day, especially in the heat we experienced during that week. The bed was also very comfortable, so we slept soundly and solidly every night! On one of the cooler mornings we had, admittedly not many, which is a rare thing I hear myself saying, we had a wonderful early morning jog around the vineyard, and you can’t get better than that really. If you are after a holiday to remember in the West Country, we couldn’t recommend a stay on Eastcott’s Vineyard more.

The days seemed to pass quickly and the next part of our English vineyard adventure was about to begin. It was sad to leave Eastcott behind (for now) as both Hilary and Richard had been most welcoming, great hosts and a pleasure to work with. However, we came away better equipped having gained a sound knowledge from the good direction that both had given on how to do the job well.

To say that Hilary and Richard have only been making wine for the past 6 years, having come from none wine-making backgrounds, and now going on to win awards with both the International Wine Challenge and the International Wine and Spirits Competition says something of their commitment and dedication to the cause, setting a good standard for their future vintages.

Our Eastcott Star Wines:

Brut, 2009, 11.5%, £19.90, Seyval Blanc, strawberry (bonbons) and cream, Kel gets notes of apricot glazed pastry and brioche, lovely lingering aromas! 

Brut Rosé, 2010, 12.5%, £24.50, Seyval Blanc and Rondo, strawberry, cranberry, hints of fresh cherry and freshly crushed almonds, good acidity, creamy mouth feel and persistent bubbles.

Other Eastcott wines:

Brut Zero, 2008, 12%, £19.90, Seyval Blanc, lovely dry style sparkling white, crisp green apple, good acidity and freshness, nice creaminess. Surprisingly not as dry as one might expect for a bone dry sparkler with no added dosage.

Furzehill White, 2010, 11.0%, £9.90, blend of English varieties plus Chardonnay, dry style white with aromas of English hedgerow, elderflower, nettles and lime citrus notes. However, the acidity and sugars felt a little out of balance

Gribbleford White, 2010, 10.5%, £9.90, Seyval Blanc, easy drinking medium dry style, apple and kiwi aromas with a hint of crushed almonds.

Two Moors Rosé, 2011, 11.5%, £10.90, Rondo and Madeleine Angevine, strawberry and cranberry flavours, hints of herb, refreshing on a summer’s eve. 

In our next blog we’ll tell you more about our visits to other wineries as well as great things to do on days out in The West Country.

The Bacchus Gricer*: Wine-ding our way through Gloucestershire and The Avon Valley

In homage to English Wine Week (and while our blog is being upgraded hence the lack of blogging of late), we would like to re-release some of our English vineyard blogs and hope they may inspire you to pick up a glass or two!

As keen advocates of English wine, we have spent the last month on a planned tour of Wine Estates stretching from Cornwall right along the South coast to Kent.

After an early start driving South, we arrived at Three Choirs Vineyard at just after 10am in glorious sunshine and warmth! On arrival, we decided to take one of the various walks around the vineyard, which gives you a great feel of the size of the Estate. There is a fair amount of information dotted around highlighting the various trellis systems and vine varieties all set against the wonderful Gloucestershire countryside. Unfortunately the audio education system in the pergodas didn’t seem to be on at the time we visited but we were able to watch an interesting film about the vineyard in the tasting centre.

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There are several holiday lodges nestled amongst the vines, which provide an idyllic and peaceful setting for a getaway.

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After a pleasant walk around the vineyard, we visited the shop to sample some of the wines. A couple of bottles were open for a free tasting but you can also choose 5 from the selection of Three Choirs wines available for £6.

The free tasting:

Bacchus Cellar Door 2011 – Refreshing and aromatic dry white, notes of asparagus, elderflower, nettles and green pepper.

Willow Brook 2009 – Schonberger & Siegerrebe, an off dry white, slightly floral and spicy, hints of lychee, nice body. This one took our fancy and a bottle was purchased for later enjoyment!

The five wines we chose to taste:

Siegerrebe Cellar Door 2009 – dry white with classic English character, hedgerow, hawthorn, grapefruit, lychee and zesty citrus feel.

Reichensteiner – Barrel Fermented Cellar Door 2009 – new French oak for 6 months gave a nutty, buttery aroma and taste, slightly honeyed, the fruit seemed a little masked by the oak.

Rosé 2010 – Seyval Blanc & Triomphe, salmon pink in colour, light aroma of strawberries and summer red fruits, a little herby mid-palate, finishes with a soft creaminess.

Red Ravens Hills 2010 – Rondo & Regent, very deep purple in colour, fresh black & blue berry summer fruits, hint of spice, mid-palate some vegetal notes, fruit carried to the finish, which is good for an English red wine as they can often taper off a bit too quickly.

Classic Cuvee NV Brut – Seyval Blanc & Pinot Noir, traditional method bottle fermentation, a little reductive at first but soon developed into more yeasty notes encapsulated within a nice bubbly mouth feel.

After this splendid start to the day, we continued on our journey further into the West Country that included a stop off at Glastonbury Tor.

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We enjoyed visits to the Avon Valley RailwayEast and West Somerset Railways, all of which have been lovingly restored and maintained.

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In the evening, we arrived at Eastcott Vineyard, Devon, which was to be our destination for the next 10 days. We received a warm welcome from owners Hilary and Richard Waller, who had gone out of their way to prepare a tasty homemade butternut squash risotto. This was followed by home grown strawberries with cream, washed down with a lovely bottle of Eastcott Brut Rosé 2010 (red berries, strawberry, cranberry and cherry with a hint of freshly crushed almonds).

This was a fitting end to an eventful day!

* Gricer: a railway enthusiast; collects objects or visits places connected with locomotives and railways. 

Grand Cru Drive Thru Bordeaux: The Other Side of Bordeaux

Guest Wines Tour de France

Bordeaux, known for its world famous châteaux, has many more gems that are easy to find once you know where to look. This is particularly relevant to what is referred to as the ‘Côtes de Bordeaux‘ that encompasses the appellations of Blaye, Cadillac, Castillon and Francs amongst other appellations, such as Côtes de Bourg as well as the St Emilion satellites. Here can be found some fantastic wines for extremely reasonable prices. We had the good fortune to be able to visit all of these appellations whilst staying in the region.

As harvest came to an end, the signs of autumn were now beginning to show, lending a wonderful array of colours to the landscape. It was truly breathtaking to see the change of colours and the quite sudden transformations of the vineyards.

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On our first Côtes trip out, we headed to the large town of Blaye where we stopped for lunch and a wander round the ancient Citadel providing impressive views of the Gironde estuary splitting into the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. It was nice to get away from the traffic behind the impressively solid walls!

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The Maison du Vin shops that are scattered around Bordeaux each represent a specific appellation and give you a chance to see what is on offer from a variety of producers and enable you to come away with a range of wines. We luckily found a Maison du Vin specialising in what Blaye had to offer, where we were given a wine tasting of good examples from the region, these were excellent value and on average cost less than 10 euros.

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Further down the river, we stopped at the smaller Citadel of Bourg, set high above the river, we took in the views looking down upon the sea of tiled rooftops below, there was a strong sense of history all around. A game of boules was being seriously played out by a group of local men in the square in front of the church, completing what was quite a classic French scene.

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The area had a certain rustic feel to it but still had a sense of grandeur with its majestic buildings and impressive architecture.

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Lyre Trellising at Château Bertinerie

We made a beeline for Château Bertinerie, a producer of particular interest after reading about their lyre trellising system that enables them to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon almost every year. We pulled into the château and had a good nosey at the trellised vines, however we soon realised that we might have come to the rear of the building finding no sign of an entrance. Taking a quick drive around to what was in fact the front of the property, we were greeted by a lady who had been tending to the gardens. She welcomed us into the building and commenced a tour of the winery for us. It was quite hard to imagine the hustle and bustle that must have taken place just a few weeks earlier with the harvest in full swing as it was now so still and no one else was around.

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As the tour continued, we enquired who the owner was, to which our guide revealed this to be herself. Jacqueline Bantegnies and her husband Daniel run the business with their sons and come across as very down to earth, even emphasising that they don’t have any airs and graces hence they endeavour to host each winery tour themselves preferring to see all those they receive as equals. Daniel later joined us while we had a tasting although he was rather anxious to get off to the shops on what was now early Saturday evening, but this didn’t deter Jacqueline from giving us a thorough and proper tasting of their wines. This lead to some good humoured banter between husband and wife and made for a very enjoyable tasting leaving a lasting impression. We were very appreciative of their time and hope that they managed to get all their shopping done after we left. We thought they were a great couple and it is certainly a place we hope to return to in the future. We were pleasantly surprised when given a couple of the bottles that had been opened for our tasting to take home with the wines that we had purchased. We thought this was a very kind gesture and the wines were enjoyed that evening.

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One lovely sunny day, having a moment of respite from our work in the winery at Château la Tour de Chollet, we took a drive up to Castillon and Francs, which were just up the road. We wanted to find a couple of places, one of which was Château d’Aiguilhe as we had picked up their second wine, Seigneurs d’Aguilhe 2008, for €8.50 in our local E.Leclerc – a fantastic wine at a fantastic price.

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Château d’Aiguilhe

Following this, we found the hilltop and windswept village of Francs where we enjoyed the beautiful views surrounding us along with a picnic lunch.

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We stopped for a walk around the town of Cadillac on a rather damp afternoon, true to Bordeaux’s changeable weather. The town was undergoing some cosmetic restoration to return it to some of its former glory. Our arrival coincided with France’s leisurely lunchtime so the place was quite deserted and everything, including the castle, was closed up.

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On our travels, we came across the inconspicuous Château Marjosse, the home of Pierre Lurton, who happens to own both Château d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc. The handwritten sign made us smile considering the grandiosity of the other Châteaux revealing that underneath all this are people who prefer to maintain a level of modesty.

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Another trip found us driving through Fronsac, one of the St Emilion satellites that is starting to get back on form, and we were pleased to see several shiny new Vignobles de Fronsac welcome signs having read in Oz Clarke‘s Bordeaux book that the signs were particularly dilapidated. The area is an interesting mix of grand châteaux as well as smaller farm-esque “châteaux”, all set in very pleasant countryside.

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Château de la Riviere, Fronsac AC

We especially enjoyed a moments stop off at the hill top village of Cars, which at first seemed deserted, until we stumbled upon the village hall, desperately in need of a loo break, only to be met by what seemed to be the entire village, who were all going out on a 12 mile walk of which we were kindly invited to join. We politely declined having other places to visit that day but we did accept the offer of a hot cup of coffee and a chat.

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Being able to visit all these places, wine tasting aside, gave us a real sense of history and a glimpse into the bigger picture of what Bordeaux is.

Join us next time for a taste of the sweeter side of Bordeaux.