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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.
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.