Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, Cremant… whatever your tipple of choice, nothing quite beats a nice glass of bubbles. The buzz about English wine is nothing new and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the odd
glass bottle of English Sparkling over the years but it’s only recently that I’ve had the chance to spend time visiting and even staying at a few of southern England’s most beautiful vineyards.
The Local One
Stanlake Park, Twyford, Berkshire
What happens when you blend an Italian, an Argentinian and an Estate in the Berkshire countryside, absolutely steeped in history – Stanlake Park of course. I must confess that until I moved to the area, I hadn’t heard of it, but thanks to a blinder of a tip from a fellow allotmenteer – an Aussie who happens to be growing vines – it was bought to my attention and I happily booked in for a tour and tasting (masks are of course the sign of the times). The Estate’s managing couple, Nico and Natalia have travelled the world working in the wine industry and Nico, Stanlake’s chief winemaker, began his English winemaking journey at the famous Nyetimber.
Stanlake Park has a rich history and today the winemaking takes place in a 17th Century Reformation barn. Visitors can expect an informative and entertaining tour with Natalia and a visit to the wine bar and cellar shop is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the Berkshire countryside.
The Staycation One
Oxney Organic Estate, Rye, East Sussex
Located in the picturesque High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Oxney Estate is the largest single-estate producer of organic English wines. Not only can visitors enjoy tastings and tours but depending on the size of the group (and considering all Coronavirus restrictions), guests can also stay – either at Vineyard House on the vineyard itself -as I did, or for larger groups, down the road at The Oxney Barns.
The Vineyard House is on Little Bellhurst Farm which is part of Oxney Organic Estate, certified as organic by the Soil Association. Bellhurst Farm featured in the Doomsday Book and Vineyard House is thought to be Jacobean so you can expect a lot of character – timber beams, wonky floors, an enormous fireplace. The farmhouse and farm had been in the same family for nearly 100 years and following renovation by the vineyard co-owner Kristin Syltevik, was launched as a holiday cottage in 2019.
Wine-tasting aside, there is plenty to keep you busy in the local area; the charming cobbled streets of Rye and miles of sandy beach and dunes at Camber Sands – as beautiful in winter as it is in summer and definitely a lot quieter, well worth a visit whether you’re a wine lover or not.
The Very Famous One
Nyetimber, West Chiltington, West Sussex
Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, you name a fancy shop – or any shop or supermarket with a decent wine stock for that matter – and you can bet your bottom dollar, or in this case, pound, that they will sell Nyetimber and for very good reason. It’s the English Sparkling Wine that blasted onto the world stage and has stood tall as a genuine contender to Champagne, winning numerous awards and critical acclaim. You can visit the vineyard for tastings on specific open days throughout the year and can even get married there.
The View of France One
Chapel Down, Tenterden, Kent
Ok this isn’t strictly true but bear with me…
I first tried Chapel Down at the Lighthouse Champagne Bar in Folkestone, a lovely little spot tucked into the Folkestone Lighthouse at the tip of Folkestone Harbour Arm, where you can soak in sea views and enjoy champagne and more importantly English Sparkling by the glass or the bottle. The list of bubbles to chose from is extensive – as you might expect from a champagne bar that is quite literally straddling the border of France and England, but my decision was made easy when the informed and enthusiastic barman gestured to the rolling green at the top of the cliffs behind us and said “the vineyard is over there”…
And so, in my opinion, a cold glass of Chapel Down on a hot summer’s day (and yes we do get some of those) is definitely one of the finer things in English life.
The London One
Forty Hall Vineyard, Enfield, London
No celebration – lock down or otherwise – is complete without a glass of fizz and in 2020 I discovered a very special one – Forty Hall Vineyard’s 2018 London Sparkling Brut. Yes, you read that right – a sparkling wine from London.
Forty Hall Vineyard is a 10 acre community vineyard in Enfield, north London – the first commercial scale vineyard in the city since the middle ages and it’s also a social enterprise. Social enterprises, the sweet spot between traditional business and the charity sector, are fully functioning, profit generating businesses with the difference being that profits are reinvested back into communities and causes. This Vineyard, part of a larger – 170 acre – organic farm and community food hub owned and operated by Capel Manor College, is largely run by volunteers and the wine is made organically by Will Davenport, a British winemaker who first started growing vines in Kent in 1991. The aim of the vineyard is to bring wine production to the heart of the local community and to champion quality, sustainability, health, wellbeing and community involvement. With the backdrop of the equally impressive Forty Hall & Estate, a Grade I listed Jacobean Manor House, what’s not to love about a glass of Britain’s finest that does a bit of good too.
Many of England’s vineyards rely on tours, tastings, weddings and events, so the current situation will have no doubt put pressure on them. But you can help support English winemakers and the burgeoning English wine industry, simply by choosing a bottle of English Sparkling for your next celebration fizz. Trust me, you won’t regret it.