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 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 …