Many of us have become interested in wine. Yes, drinking it and pairing it. Remember the days when we in the UK drank just a few different wines? It wasn’t that they were so good that they became popular; truth to tell, it was all we had. Red or white from ‘various countries’. They were not different bottles from various countries but often bottles made with a blend of grapes from various countries and vineyards. Rosé came in the guise of Mateus Rosé in its distinctive flat bottle. OK, I admit it, I still have a taste for that retro classic; I guess it’s familiarity.
Things have changed. We are more discerning and we are interested in not only what’s in the glass but where it came from. If it’s delicious then we want to learn more. One might discover that the crisp sparkling white in our glass actually comes from a vineyard in England! It’s documented that Christopher Merret used the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, 40 years before it was claimed that Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon had invented the process which came to be called the Champagne method.
Best of England is a young and vibrant company which publishes English county guides, and now they have vineyard tours to offer visitors from the UK and across the globe. The company has quality at the heart of both books and tours. They research so you don’t have to, and they offer well-tailored trips to delight the novice wine buff as well as those with a more professional wine interest.
An English vineyard tour with Best of England is a tasting delight. One can opt for a short tour with afternoon tea, which might sound like something of an oxymoron but what better backdrop for a classic afternoon tea could there be than a lush vineyard …and a glass or two of something chilled, sparkling and reviving!
For those who are looking for an intense 3-vineyard experience then Best of England has a tour to satisfy that want. One will see how these wines are made, from growing vines to corking and labelling the final product. Visitors will meet the winemakers and hear their individual stories, and there will be an opportunity (of course) to sample the wines.
Bolney have been making wine since 1972. Their wines are well-regarded and can be enjoyed in this family-run winery. The estate is 39 acres and has a café offering gourmet lunches, as well as tastings.
Ridgeview is another family-run vineyard, outside the picturesque village of Ditchling. It has outstanding views over the dramatic South Downs Ridge. They produce award-winning sparkling wines using traditional methods.
Rathfinny Wine Estate is found in the Cuckmere Valley and three miles from the sea. The vineyard is 600 acres and over the past three years they have planted 72 hectares of vines; by 2020, they will be one of England’s largest vineyards. All the buildings here have been constructed with locally sourced materials, using sustainable technologies such as photovoltaic cells and wastewater recycling. Rathfinny Estate have worked with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority to open the ‘Rathfinny Trail’ so that visitors can arrive by foot or by bike.
All of these established and thriving wineries show different philosophies of production and growing, giving an impression of the progress made in English viticulture over the past decade.
Best of England make wine education fun and accessible, whether you are novice or professional. They arrange everything for a stress-free day of tasting in the most delicious fashion. Just turn up at the railway station and leave the arrangements to this imaginative company.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018