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
- 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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Guest Wines Tour de France
It was now time for us to stop and take root for a while amongst the vines at Château la Tour de Chollet in Bordeaux, where we would spend a month helping out with their harvest. We came across an advert in Decanter magazine, which invited interested readers to gain some experience of working on a vineyard in Bordeaux. We didn’t hesitate to contact them to enquire about what they could offer and only a few emails later, we had secured a month lending a hand at this family run chateau.
Our very own Tower!
Paul and Kirstie Rowbotham decided to change careers in 2003 and bravely gave up their jobs in the IT industry to move into the winemaking industry. After spending a year working on a vineyard in Cahors they decided that France was the place for them and started searching for their ideal location. They found Château la Tour de Chollet in 2006 after agreeing to go into their exciting new venture with Kirstie’s parents, Laurie and Linda. We learnt that Chollet is the name of the area and a neighbouring property and the ‘Tour’ in the name turned out to be our accommodation for the period we were there.
They were on a steep learning curve taking over a vineyard which previously sold its grapes to the local cooperative and deciding to convert all 20 acres to organic production but they have managed to do this successfully, building up a reputable business incorporating wine tourism as well as the production of a range of wines for which they have now received several awards, including commendments from IWC and Decanter. They sell their wines to various restaurants in England as well as to those who visit the vineyard for a tour or stay in the holiday accommodation.
It’s a lovely area to holiday in with plenty to see and do within driving distance and the Tower is well equipped with a lounge, kitchen, dining room and two bedrooms. Looking out your window everyday to row upon row of vines is quite spectacular and you can’t help but be seduced by the lifestyle there.
The vines surround the house and winery, which is known as the chai in French, and they grow Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, some of the vines are as old as 60 years of age. Their range of wines consist of two reds, one oaked and one unoaked, a rose, a dry white and a sweet white, which is no mean feat for a small producer.
The chateau itself is situated in the small commune of Les Leves et Thoumeyragues, only 10 minutes drive from Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. Ste-Foy sits neatly by the Dordogne river and is a characteristic fortified town, walking the streets you pass many very old looking timber buildings whose walls worryingly slope outwards above you almost arching across the street. The town has a welcoming feel and there was plenty of activity going on, in particular with sales of ‘cèpes’ on the roadside, wild mushrooms that were in some cases very large!
The local E.Leclerc supermarket proved to be a great place to shop not just for our daily staples but impressively for wine too! It was the ‘Foire aux Vins’ whilst we were there, which is one of the times of year supermarkets in France discount a large amount of wine and you can access many famous Chateaux second wines at very reasonable prices, a taste of what the top guns produce! We found a second wine by Chateau Talbot, Connetable, 2009 and 2010 for less than 20 euros but without the help of Bruno, the wine advisor on duty, we might not have found the other delights that we did. He was so passionate about wine and pointed out a number of good value finds and he also spoke brilliant English, which was even more helpful although we were getting by not too badly with Ruth’s French.
Bruno, our helpful wine advisor!
You can read about quite a different ‘Foire aux Vins’ experience that Ruth had recently in Roussillon here.
On our days off we explored the region as much as we could, eager to learn more about what makes Bordeaux so special. The differences in landscape and soils were quite noticeable between areas, such as the sandy clay found here.
On one such day, after a nice Sunday dinner, we ventured out for a walk around the vines bathed in the early evening sun, which gently settled on the horizon as if performing a grand finale for us. A hot air balloon floated by in the distance, horse riders passed by whilst out for their evening trot, we even disturbed a wild deer that ran across our path, which all made for what was almost an idyllic moment apart from the occasional gunfire that could be heard as it was now the hunting season. This commences directly after harvest has finished, where local boar, deer, hare and a particular speciality the palambra (a type of wood pigeon that migrates at this time of year) are the targets, various lookouts and traps are erected in the local woods in order to catch these birds on their migration, it seems to be quite an event on the annual hunting calendar but we could think of other ways to pass our time.
Our month quickly passed and on our final night we were treated to a curry with the Rowbotham family, needless to say one or two good Bordeaux wines were a fine accompaniment that helped wash it all down. This rounded off our Bordeaux experience as the following day we would be moving on to the Loire Valley.
However, before moving on, we have more tales to share of our Bordeaux experience and our next blogs will feature in a little more detail our time in the vineyard and winery as well as exploring some of those lesser known Bordeaux appellations.