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