Our much anticipated tour of some of England’s vineyards stemmed from our growing fondness for wines from this part of the world and our quest to know and understand more about wine in general. We discovered that we have so many wine estates on our door step and as such, hoped that we would come away with a deeper awareness for what English wine is.
So after some careful planning and armed with our copy of Wine Tourism UK, 2011 Edition and A guide to the Wines of England & Wales and of course, a detailed schedule that Ruth had put together, we set off on our first tour of vineyards.
In order for us to really capture the essence of English wine, we felt that it was important to include terroir and by this we not only meant the actual place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made but also the surrounding area to that wine: that is the towns; villages; sights; sounds; countryside; local attractions; foods; other beverages and of course, the people. Sometimes, we feel that in order to really capture the essence of a wine, we need to also explore non-wine pursuits and as such, these will often include a drop or two of the stuff anyway. It never ceases to amaze us how versatile a great wine is!
For this trip, we decided that we would concentrate on wine estates in the Kent and Sussex regions, by doing so this would enable us to stay in one place with regards to our accommodation. We found ourselves a nice holiday cottage situated in the Kentish village of Tenterden. An ideal location for vineyard exploration.
We were given a warm welcome by the owners of Barden Cottage, who had left out a box of chocolates and a bottle of Mateus Rose … it would have been rude of us not to.
Our first evening we chose to walk into Tenterden and sample some of their local ales. The real wine trek would commence the following day.
We would like to present a snapshot of the wine estates we visited and highlight some of the wines that we particularly enjoyed (a complete list of all wines tasted can be found in our “Tasting Notes” section – this is currently under construction). Included in this snapshot are also some of that regions’ attractions, which we hope will express a sense of place.
This Estate promotes itself as “Kent’s oldest vineyard” dating back to 1969 and produces white, red and sparkling wines made from various varieties including Ortega, Reichensteiner, Dornfelder, Gamay and Pinot Noir. They also produce their own ciders.
There is a tasting area and well stocked shop. There are regular vineyard tours but you are also free to wander the vineyards unescorted, which we did taking with us a refreshing bottle of their estate made apple juice. Lunch was enjoyed at one the the picnic tables situated next to the vineyard.
The wine we most enjoyed was:
Gribble Bridge Rose 2011: Dornfelder & Acolon – lots of strawberries and cream with a hint of raspberry
In close proximity is The Kent & East Sussex Railway as well as The National Trust property of Sissinghurst. We took the opportunity to visit both.
We called upon Sissinghurst first. This was the home of the writer Vita Sackville-West, of which her family remain as tenants working with The National Trust. A recent TV series on Sissinghurst depicted this.
A great place to spend the day or just for a few hours as we did. The sun shone whilst walking through the wonderfully maintained gardens. Views afforded of the Kent countryside from the tower leave a lasting impression.
We then headed back to Tenterden to take in the Kent & East Sussex Railway. However, on this journey, we must have taken a wrong turning somewhere, though we were pleased that we did as we spotted a hand written sign at the side of the road advertising wine for sale. Curious as to who might be selling wine and where from, we decided to make a U-turn and take a look.
We pulled into the drive of what appeared to be a residential cottage and knocked at the door.
Soon afterwards, we were greeted by a man who informed us that he was the owner producer of the wines for sale and introduced himself as Laurence Williams of The Harbourne Vineyard. He explained that he and his family have been making wines here since 1979. Varieties grown ranged from traditional English types such as Ortega, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc as well as Pinot Meunier and Blauer Portugieser.
Laurence was very charming and happy to open a bottle or two of his wines whilst chatting about his wine making processes as well as life in general, where we did find ourselves getting a bit philosophical at times, which must have been down to the wine!
We came away with a bottle of his: Harbourne Orgtega Dry 2007, 11.5% and unchaptalised – Hedgerow with crisp acidity and floral notes, finished with a soft creamy mouthfeel
Afterwards, we retraced our tracks and found the right road back into Tenterden, where we called into The Kent & East Sussex Railway.
This railway, once part of the Southern Railways network, has always had a rural existence with Bodiam Castle as its backdrop. It played host to the many seasonal hop-pickers who used to travel to Kent each year by train from the surrounding towns and cities, now its main source of income is tourism. It is soon to regain more of its original length by rejoining back up with the nearby Rother Valley Railway, whose volunteers are relaying miles of track in order for this to be achieved. If you want very old vintage steam trains set within the rolling Kent countryside then this is a must.
Join us next as we take a ride to Bolney and Ridgeview Wine Estates …