The UK now has 500 working vineyards, many offering tours and tastings, as well as restaurants and places to stay
Sitting on a sun-drenched terrace with a cold glass of sparkling wine, gazing out at lush, vine-covered hills, it feels as if I have broken through border control and am on a holiday in France.
‘That’s often the first comment people make,’ says Charles Palmer. ‘They just can’t believe they are in Britain.’
The Charles Palmer Vineyards in Winchelsea, East Sussex, not only look as if they are in France — the chalky soil is so similar to that found in Chablis and Burgundy that it’s ideal for producing flinty whites and the award-winning classic cuvée I’m enjoying right now.
English vinitourism has taken off in recent years, spreading out from the sunny downs of Sussex and Kent to as far afield as Cornwall and even Yorkshire.
The UK now has 500 working vineyards, many offering tours and tastings, as well as restaurants and places to stay.
So, with the Continent off the menu for the time being and English Wine Week about to begin, here’s our guide to the top UK vineyards.
BUBBLY IN KENT
Chapel Down, pictured, is set in the Kent countryside near Tenterden and is described as the superstar of the English wine scene
Chapel Down is the superstar of the English wine scene, set in gorgeous countryside near Tenterden, Kent. It is the first English wine producer to feature in the London Stock Exchange’s ‘1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain’.
Book a tour and a tasting of six wines or splurge at the restaurant The Swan, which sits above the vineyards, has two AA Rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand, and specialises in locally sourced, modern British produce.
Raise a glass: Pick up a bottle of Chapel Down Bacchus gin, then book a cocktail-making masterclass to nail that gin sling.
Details: Tastings from £25, two courses at The Swan from £25 (chapeldown.com).
Tillingham Wines in East Sussex is the new kid on the block — a biodynamic winery and restaurant serving imaginative and locally sourced food in a trendy, renovated hop farm with views across Rye and Romney Marsh.
There are also 11 en-suite bedrooms and bell tents.
The innovative menu changes weekly, and there’s an outdoor kitchen and pizza oven for dining on the pretty covered terrace.
Raise a glass: Combine your vineyard trip with a visit to Camber Sands, eight miles away.
Details: Tours and tastings from £35, rooms from £160 (tillingham.com).
A TRUE VINTAGE
Sparkling company: A lunch with wine at Gusbourne in Kent – known for its award-winning vintage sparkling wines
A serious player on the English wine scene, Gusbourne is known for its award-winning vintage sparkling wines. The estate in Appledore, Kent, which dates back to 1410, hosts two-hour tours with wine tastings and an extended tour with lunch in the on-site restaurant, The Nest.
Raise a glass: Spend the weekend and visit two nearby National Trust properties: Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Scotney Castle.
Details: Two-hour tours from £25, with lunch from £75 (gusbourne.com); stay nearby at the chic Woolpack Inn at Warehorne from £110 (woolpackwarehorne.co.uk).
THE BRITISH LOIRE
The Charles Palmer Vineyards, pictured, in East Sussex, just 30 miles from France
Close your eyes and pretend you are in the Loire Valley on a visit to Charles Palmer Vineyards for a tour and tasting of three wines.
It’s only 30 miles across the Channel to France from here in East Sussex.
Midsummer Feast Nights with an Argentinian barbecue and lashings of award-winning wine are also available.
Raise a glass: The Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine (2013) is superb.
Details: Tour with a tasting costs from £15, Midsummer Feast Nights from £75 (charlespalmer-vineyards.co.uk); stay at Wickham Manor from £135 (wickhammanor.co.uk).
NOT SO HUSH-HUSH
Open for business: Balfour Winery at Hush Heath, Kent, which features a light-filled tasting room
Hush Heath Estate & Winery is another established superstar of the English wine scene, producing the award-winning Balfour label since 2002. The 400-acre estate near Staplehurst, Kent, features a light-filled tasting room and terrace where you can enjoy beautiful views.
Raise a glass: Balfour Brut Rosé was the first English sparkling wine to be served in British Airways first class, and was the official English wine of the London 2012 Olympics.
Details: Full tour and tastings from £45 (hushheath.com); rooms at its sister pub, The Goudhurst Inn, from £117 (thegoudhurstinn.com).
The Black Chalk winery near Andover. Here you can book tours with a tasting and a charcuterie lunch
Black Chalk sprawls along the glorious banks of the River Test near Andover in Hampshire, and its small batch fizzes are in top form. Book a tour with a relaxed tasting and a charcuterie lunch.
Its Wine Club has exclusive offers, plus a welcome case of wine for new members.
Raise a glass: Black Chalk Classic sparkling wine is aged in oak barrels and won gold medals at the 2020 WineGB Awards.
Details: Tour with a tasting and lunch from £32, club membership from £225 annually (blackchalkwine.co.uk); ‘eco treehouse’ rooms from £260 (canopyandstars.co.uk).
SURREY SWEET SPOT
Grapes ready for harvesting at Denbies in Surrey
At 265 acres, Denbies in Surrey has the largest single vineyard in the UK.
If you take your food seriously, book a table at the elegant Gallery Restaurant overlooking the North Downs, or nab a more relaxed table on the terrace or in the vineyard restaurant after your wine tour.
Raise a glass: Its rosés are perfect for a summer day (and less than a tenner per bottle).
Details: Tours from £14.95 (denbies.co.uk); doubles at the Vineyard Hotel from £145.
The Tinwood Estate sits close to Chichester, which is reported to enjoy more sunshine hours than any other city in the UK. It’s not only the perfect spot to grow grapes and make wine, but also next door to the Goodwood Estate, and within ten minutes’ drive of eight excellent pubs.
Raise a glass: Tinwood’s sparkling Blanc de Blancs is perfect to celebrate a win at the races.
Details: Tours with wine from £18 (tinwoodestate.com); wooden lodges from £195 a night.
A DROP IN DORSET
The Langham Estate near Dorchester. Langham was named by the International Wine & Spirit Competition as Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2020
Dorset may not be top of the list of wine-growing regions, but the Langham Estate near Dorchester is doing a roaring trade producing excellent sparkling wines. The winery is based in a rambling old barn straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, with an on-site café.
Raise a glass: Langham beat French champagne houses to win the International Wine & Spirit Competition Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2020.
Details: Tour and tastings from £10 (langhamwine.co.uk); the nearby Oak At Dewlish has rooms from £90 a night (oakpub.co.uk).
TASTE OF CORNWALL
Drink it in: Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall. It was founded by ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo in 1989
Lots of bottle: Offerings at Camel Valley
Camel Valley was founded by ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo in 1989. It’s now run by Bob’s son, Sam, and its reputation has soared since winning the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Raise a glass: The Sparkling Rosé has won gold at eight out of the past ten International Wine Challenge Awards.
Details: Tastings from £12 (camelvalley.com).
Excellent wine-growing is creeping north, as artfully shown by Coddington Vineyard, a small but exquisite estate near the Malvern Hills.
Enjoy a tour and a tasting of three wines with nibbles and a bottle of wine of your choice. Or order a light lunch in the pretty gardens.
Raise a glass: With a nose of elderberry, nettle and lime, its award-winning Bacchus white wine is popular.
Details: Tour and tasting from £30 (coddingtonvineyard.co.uk); stay in the two-bedroom Grade II-listed cottage or in the Vine Lodge log cabin from £320 for a weekend.
Three Choirs Vineyards, pictured, which is deep in the Cotswolds, was first established in 1973
Fabulously located deep in the Cotswolds, Three Choirs Vineyards is one of the UK’s longest-established (first planted in 1973).
Dip in for a tour and tasting, organised on Saturdays and Sundays (£15 pp), then stay for a meal at the restaurant, which serves tapas.
Raise a glass: Its Pinot Noir Rosé Sparkling is aged for more than two years and has a ‘strawberries and cream’ finish.
Details: Tours with tastings from £15; a room overlooking the vineyard costs from £145 (three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk).
Yes, they even make wine in Yorkshire! The family-run Yorkshire Heart Vineyard & Brewery based in Nun Monkton is as much about events as wine, and offers a brimming calendar of summer activities. Drop into the Cellar Door for a tasting, or book a romantic ‘wine picnic’ for two. Evening events with meals are also organised.
Raise a glass: The Hearty Festival (August 20 to 22) has seven bands plus activities — tickets from £15 pp.
Details: Picnics with a bottle of wine cost from £40 (yorkshireheart.com); on-site camping and glamping options from £15 a night.