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.
Our first stop along the way was to The Bolney Estate at Bookers vineyard in the village of Bolney.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our final instalment of our 2012 English wine adventure concludes:
We still had much to do and see before our travels were over. We were now heading back to Kent and what better way to start than at The Bluebell Railway.
At the time of our visit, this railway was undergoing something of a transformation. Not only had there been a sighting of a diesel locomotive at this once very pro-steam railway (gasps of horror could be heard from the old-school fraternity!) but it was close to realising its long-held ambition of reconnecting with the main line at East Grinstead.
This connection has involved removing 90,000 tonnes of landfill and was still in progress on our visit with a projected completion date of March 2013 (something that the railway achieved on target and on budget – the big railway please take note!).
The Bluebell Railway is used in many film and TV period dramas and it is easy to see why.
Close by is a small railway that goes by the name of The Lavender Line. It is often in the news as it is part of the missing link between Uckfield and Lewes with an active local pressure group trying to get this bit of line reinstated between the two towns so as to once again create a through route between London and Brighton due to its importance as a commuter route. For the time being, it retains a tranquil atmosphere with its lovingly restored station at Isfield and many nature walks in the surrounding area.
Right then, let’s get back to wine…
We found ourselves in the Kent village of Marden, which once farmed apples and hops as its main commodity but has since replaced much of this with the cultivation of grapes due to it now being home to two important English sparkling wine producers – Herbert Hall and Hush Heath.
Both these producers were happy to show us around via prior appointment and it was great for us to see at first hand how two of the region’s leading fizz makers produced their lovely wines.
Up until this point we had not come across Herbert Hall. In fact, there wasn’t much clue to them being here as our initial search had simply come across a vineyard by the name of Marden. It wasn’t until we made an enquiry to see if we could visit that we discovered this to be Herbert Hall and what a wonderful discovery this was!
We met Nick Hall (who shares a partnership with his brother Peter) early one morning. He was happy to show us around the vineyard as well as his compact, very clean and well-kitted out winery, where we were given the opportunity to taste his fizz.
Herbert Hall concentrates on just two wines, a Sparkling white: Herbert Hall Brut and a rose: Herbert Hall Brut Rose, using a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The white is Chardonnay dominated whereas the rose is Pinot Noir dominated. Both are fantastic examples of well made English sparkling wine and should be sought out. They can be obtained from major high street retailers such as Harvey Nichols. What a find!
Read more about Herbert Hall in our 2013 blog.
Hush Heath Estate
Just a matter of minutes walk up the road is the estate of Hush Heath. Here, we were met by Owen Elias, previously the winemaker at Chapel Down who has since decided to concentrate his efforts making sparkling and still wines at Hush Heath.
There is a state of the art, brand new, compact winery and production area of which Owen was happy to show us around and take us on a tour, explaining the evolution of wine from vineyard to the finished bottle. It was impressive to see the bottling process in action.
Afterwards, we were taken to the nicely laid out tasting room to try for ourselves the wines that he produces and are sold to many restaurants around the country. This tasting included the estate’s: Balfour Brut Rose and Balfour Blanc de Blanc both of which are definitely worth trying and can be bought direct from their online store.
A surprise for us was that they were also experimenting with a still cider, keeping with the tradition of the locality. A trial with some London restaurants was taking place at the time of our visit and this has obviously been successful as you can now purchase it from the online shop and very nice it is indeed!
Having had two great English producers fizz, we did not want to spoil the day by trying to visit anymore wineries. However, our experience of ‘great wine finds’ was not entirely over as calling into a local store in the village of Horsmonden we stumbled upon a bottle of Horsmonden Limney White, that we later discovered was made by Will Davenport, of which we write about in our 2013 English vineyard adventures.
Now it was off to do something completely different. Not only did this include a nature reserve and a place close to the sea resembling a strange and distant land but it also had a narrow gauge railway running through it! Well lets go!
The sun was shining and the heat was on, so what better way to indulge than with a walk around the RSPB Reserve at Dungeness. Apart from the many waterfowl that come here to swim in the lakes and ponds, and the many song birds, it also plays host to an array of butterflies and Damson Flies, we even caught site of our first English Lizard!
Dungeness is a very unique place and what better way to travel through its extraordinary countryside than by taking the narrow gauge train of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
The line was constructed in the 1920’s on the site of the closed standard gauge railway by the race drivers Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski.
Artefacts from the previous railway such as old railway carriages can still be seen, previously abandoned they have been reused and converted into homes and are a unique site in the village of Dymchurch. Here, the old line used to connect with various narrow gauge lines working along the coast, of which, this particular one is actually expanding rather than eroding and can be evidenced by how far away from the sea the light houses have become.
So are we going to get back to wine??? We hear you cry! Yes, we could not end our journey without calling in on two more important English wine producers. Important due to their production of sizeable quantities of English wine and both are household names.
So it was back to Tenterden and the chance to go and explore Chapel Down.
We had booked onto one of their vineyard and winery tours and decided that we would also try out their new stylish restaurant.
The tour took us on an A to Z of wine production and enabled us to see this on a much bigger scale, which ended in a tasting that included most of their range. Anything that was not included in the tasting that we would like to try, we found that we could ask for at the counter and our request would be obliged.
Chapel Down also produce an excellent beer that goes under the name of: Curious Brew – a lager made from Champagne yeast and well worth a try!
The food in the restaurant was excellent. Kel had his with the: Chapel Down Union Red: Pinot Noir, Rondo, Pinot Noir Precoce – Dark purple in colour and had a lot of dark fruity aromas on the nose, he did find that on the palate, as with so many English reds, this soon dissipated and the finish was a tad short as there didn’t feel to be enough tannin to keep the structure going.
An enjoyable day indeed!
Denbies Wine Estate
After leaving Kent and homewards bound, we crossed the border into Surrey for our final wine visit to Denbies Wine Estate. Situated in Dorking, literally just off the M25, its history lies in a farm that once stood there in the 18th century but now lays claim to being the country’s biggest single vineyard at 265 acres.
Denbies produces quite a wide range of wines – still, sparkling and dessert at reasonable prices.
We must say that the estate is more in line with a large farm shop and function venue than a typical winery. However, don’t let this deter you from paying a visit and trying some of their wines.
We took home with us a bottle of their: Surrey Gold: A blend of Müller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus – herbal, fruity, citric with elderflower aromas.
And so our 2012 English vineyard tour comes to an end. We were now convinced that English wine has an important role to play in the world of wine, something that we felt needed sharing.