Winning tip: Take a train to the vines, Kent
Hugged by purple fields of lavender, the picture-postcard village of Shoreham in Kent is home to The Mount, where you can sample eight varieties of wine from 13,000 vines including pinot noir, rondo, regent, regent, bacchus, seyval blanc, phoenix and siegerrebe. The tiny station at Shoreham is easily reached from London Blackfriars and Sevenoaks and means you can journey through the Darent valley (home to Lullingstone Roman villa and the nearby World Garden) by train, arriving as the Victorians once did. Wine tasting tours, stone-baked pizzas, platters for lunch and the best light sparkling wine can be enjoyed in this verdant hideaway.
Winery in a windmill, Cambridge
Gutter & Stars is Cambridge’s first urban winery, housed in the basement of a windmill less than a mile from the city centre. The launch of its inaugural small-batch wine took place in May: the first, a bacchus called I Wanna Be Adored, sold out in four days. A pinot noir followed, Hope is a Good Summer, in August – again selling out almost as soon as it arrived. A chardonnay is expected to be ready in November, with a winter rosé right behind it, described as “bonkers but brilliant”. Like a limited-edition vinyl, they sell out fast!
Fizz and fromage in the South Downs
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs near the pretty village of Ditchling, Ridgeview vineyard is our go-to place for any excuse to celebrate. The simple but indulgent sharing platters of English cheese with tantalising names like Lord of the Hundreds and Molecomb blue, all locally produced, complement the reasonably priced selection of award-winning sparkling wines. Choose your own favourite by sharing a taster flight (£9/£15) or book a tour of the vineyard (£15pp) and spend a lost afternoon learning about this wonderful family-owned piece of France in the heart of the Sussex countryside. I would like to go six times to taste all the styles of wine.
Stay on site in the Cotswolds
We stayed in Stroud at the Woodchester Valley vineyard last year and had the most wonderful time. The accommodation was lovely, on two floors with a large kitchen incorporated within a living room with stylish furnishings and a washroom on one level, then upstairs to a very large bedroom and bathroom – both modern, clean and beautifully decorated. We had the wine tour and tasting (from £18pp), which was excellent, and were able to purchase wines but never felt obligated to do so (we did as some took our fancy). Loved the walk into Stroud along the cinder path.
A vineyard with a view, West Yorkshire
Holmfirth vineyard is a fantastic place to visit. Situated on the Pennines in West Yorkshire, it offers magnificent views. You can have a vineyard tour with wine tasting and then enjoy a lovely lunch or afternoon tea in the restaurant while enjoying the scenery – the vista changes with the seasons too. Holmfirth also offers accommodation – apartments with one to three bedrooms, designed to be carbon neutral with power provided by a wind turbine – and is a beautiful wedding location. Well worth a visit.
Vino in the valley, Cornwall
If you favour a slice of Italy without leaving the UK, look no further than Camel Valley vineyard in Bodmin. This is a small, award-winning family business nestled in picturesque hillside at the bottom of a winding road. Our tour (£18pp) was given by the founding father, Bob; it was relaxed and informative, and he explained the winemaking process from start to finish and the history of the vineyard. After your tour, you pick a spot on the sun terrace to admire the glorious views while sampling a selection of Camel Valley produce. An absolute joy on a summer’s evening.
A sparkling visit, Surrey Hills
On the low slopes of St Martha’s Hill, home to a beacon church that guided pilgrims and now receives many weekend walkers, stands the gorgeous Chilworth Manor and its vineyard. The immaculately managed rows of vines yield the champagne-style grapes that make two sublime rosés, one of them sparkling. With Surrey wine increasingly well known, Chilworth Manor is a secret charm known only to the inquisitive walkers of the Surrey Hills and the local inn, which benefits from its harvest. The wines and tours are sold out for this year – details for 2022 should be released soon.
Plonk yourself in Monmouthshire
The small, family-run Parva Farm vineyard in Tintern, in the Wye valley, was well worth a visit. We popped by as we were passing and were warmly welcomed. Judith took great pleasure in sharing the history of the vineyard and the grapes as we tasted a few wines. Perfect! We bought a couple of bottles to remind us of our holiday. We loved the small gift shop and the plant stall, and there’s an attractive garden with a picnic area. While we were there several groups turned up to do the self-guided vineyard tour – just £2.50, and it comes with a free wine tasting.
Sip with oystercatchers, Devon
Pebblebed is a real Devon gem. The vineyard still has a community feel and you can help harvest the grapes through the autumn. I suggest a beautiful circular walk starting in Topsham, much of which is boarded pathways taking in the RSPB reserve, Darts Farm and the vineyard before returning to the town, where on the cobbled quay you can enjoy Pebblebed wines alongside the salty smell of the Exe estuary and the calls of oystercatchers at a dedicated cellar bar. The sparkling wine is the best.
Organic winery, East Sussex
I’m no wine snob and my interest is enthusiastic more than anything, but Tillingham, near Rye, blew me away – the wine tour (£35) was informative and funny and gave a wonderful insight into an organic low-intervention winery. Its wines and ciders were completely different than anything I’ve tasted before, in a good way – some are stored in Georgian qvevri clay pots underground. On top of the wine tours, the winery also has pigs and chickens roaming the grounds, a pizza barn, hotel rooms and an incredible canteen restaurant (worth the trip alone – it hits the sweet spot between big city style and farm character). It all adds up to one big wholesome experience and we absolutely LOVED it.