Guest Wines on tour in The Avon Valley and The West Country
As keen advocates of English Wine, we spent a month this summer on a planned tour of Wine Estates stretching from Cornwall right along the south coast to Kent all set in fantastic weather (check out best wineries to visit in Kent and Sussex). Moving away from hobbyist winemaking of the pre-1990s, many of today’s English wine estates offer tours, tastings, events, holiday accommodation and work experience as well as quality wine.
It was a warm and sunny morning when we arrived at Three Choirs Vineyard (established in 1973). We decided to take one of the walks around the vineyard, which gives you a great feel of the size of the Estate and there are currently 75 acres of vines to explore. There is a tour daily (Monday-Sunday) at 2.30pm if you are interested in learning more.
In the shop, a couple of bottles were open for a free tasting and you can choose 5 from the selection available for £6. We particularly liked the Willow Brook 2009 (Schonberger and Siegerrebe: an off dry white, slightly floral and spicy with hints of lychee and nice body) and duly purchased a bottle to take on our travels.
There are also several holiday lodges nestled amongst the vines, which provide an idyllic and peaceful setting for a getaway.
We arrived at Eastcott Vineyard, near Okehampton, to a warm welcome from Hilary and Richard Waller. They left their life in the city to set up a vineyard in 2007 and now not only tend a 6 acre vineyard and make award winning wines, they host tours and tastings and manage three holiday cottages, converted from the old barns on site. It’s a truly beautiful spot and our stay in the ‘Cabernet’ cottage really felt like home from home.
As the bedrooms are on the ground floor, they are lovely and cool later in the day, especially in the heat we experienced during that week. The bed was also very comfortable, so we slept soundly and solidly every night! If you are after a holiday to remember in the West Country, we couldn’t recommend a stay on Eastcott's Vineyard more.
Eastcott makes both dry and sparkling wines, white and rose, we particularly enjoyed the Brut 2009, made from 100% Seyval Blanc, and the Brut Rose, a blend of Seyval Blanc and Rondo.
They host Vineyard Tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with an informative and interesting walk and talk tour of the vineyard followed by a closer look inside their shiny new and very modern winery. You can also book onto one of the tutored wine tastings, which give you a more in depth chance to taste the whole range of 6 wines.
Most evenings, we relaxed in our lovely cottage or, took advantage of the evening sunshine, lazing on a blanket in the orchard, with a well deserved glass or two of chilled Eastcott wine. We certainly enjoyed our experience of the Devonshire vineyard lifestyle. We were even adopted by the neighbour's cat, Mrs Tinks.
Less than an hour’s drive from Torquay and The English Riviera, is Sharpham Vineyard, set in the glorious Devonshire Dart Valley countryside, with its fields of Jersey cows whose milk go to make Sharpham's award winning cheeses. The views from the drive into the Estate are quite breathtaking, enhanced by wood sculpted artwork that appears along the road and around the Estate.
We arrived to a buzzing vineyard cafe and bar, with people enjoying lunch alfresco (what? In England?) sampling local produce washed down with a glass or two of Sharpham's wine.
A range of tastings and tours are available, starting at £6.95 you can visit the vineyard on a self guided walk and taste one wine or try three wines with two of Sharpham's cheeses, which is better value at £8.95 and takes place each hour on the hour. Alternatively you can attend a full 2 hour tour with tastings for £19.95 or half day events at £65.
We tried a few of their wines by the glass, including a couple of reds, and particularly liked the Bacchus 2011 (English countryside in a glass, nettles, hawthorn with a fresh citrus zing, rounded mouthfeel).
On prior recommendation, we procured a round of Sharpham's Brie, creamy and rich, which we thoroughly enjoyed over the next few days on baguettes with locally grown tomatoes for lunch.
Old Walls Vineyard is situated in the picturesque village of Bishopsteignton. Navigating our way there through the narrow high hedged Devonshire lanes was a bit of a challenge especially when faced with a car approaching from the opposite direction.
This family run boutique winery and cafe is set against the very steep slopes of the vineyard, certainly the steepest English vineyard slopes that we have seen so far on our travels.
The full range of wines was available to sample for free in the cafe as well as purchase by the glass. Whilst tasting a few of the wines we had the pleasure of meeting owners, Ken and Lesley Dawe and were tempted by the Rose, Chantry White (Auxerrois) and Chapel White (Reichensteiner).
Lucy and Ben Hulland at Huxbear Vineyard, Chudleigh were happy for us to visit them (by prior arrangement). They shared with us their inspirational story of giving up their 'day jobs' to head South from Manchester, learning how to make wine at Plumpton College and purchasing land to plant a vineyard.
They now have over 9000 vines to look after, which Ben impressively does himself. They have a selection of German varieties for a white blend, but their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for future production.
It was a true pleasure to meet a young couple who have changed the direction of their lives and committed to the land. They have achieved a huge amount since 2007.
Topsham is a quaint harbour town on the River Exe estuary where you will find the Pebblebed Wine Cellar. We were not able to visit the vineyards or winery themselves but a visit to the Wine Cellar is the next best thing.
All Pebblebed wines were available to purchase by the glass as well as by the bottle, which gave us the opportunity to try the full range. The food on offer was simple but tasty, meat and cheese platters or thin based pizza, we elected for the latter - tomato and mozzarella oh so good!
Every Wednesday, Camel Valley Vineyard runs a Grand Tour at 5.30pm and we were lucky enough to book onto one on an especially warm and sunny day in July. The tour was hosted by non other than the owner himself, Bob Lindo, a very entertaining guy who kept the rather large tour crowd amused with stories as well as informed about his wine and the English wine scene in general.
The sun was still shining and the heat was on, so the chilled wine that was served was most welcome! We tasted five wines as part of the tour price while Bob talked about each wine, proudly showing off his International Wine Challenge awards as well as drawing the crowd's attention to the fact that HM The Queen also likes a tipple (or could that be quaff?) of Camel Valley fizz. Bob is currently also the only producer in the country to have a PDO site rather than the generic PGI that is tagged to all of England - times are indeed a'changing!
The Cornwall 2011 (made from Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay) and the Bacchus Dry 2011 were amongst our favourites of the day.
Furleigh Estate, tucked away in the Dorest countryside at Salway Ash, has been transformed from a dairy farm into a vineyard and modern winery set upon 85 acres of land. Rebecca Hansford and Ian Edwards pride themselves on dedication to their craft. They make both still and sparkling wines, some of which, are limited release.
The Estate is open on Fridays and Saturdays, between 11am and 4pm, and a tour takes place at 2pm on both of these days. On our visit, the tasting room was busy with a coach load of visitors, who had been on a tour of the vineyards and winery and were now sampling Furleigh's range of wines on offer. However, this did not prevent co-owner Rebecca coming over to welcome us and spend a little time chatting about their estate and wines.
Furleigh’s Classic Cuvee 2009 (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier: Persistent mousse, fruity with brioche aromas, elegantly balanced with long finish) won the International Trophy for English Sparkling Wine at this year’s International Wine Challenge and having enjoyed a bottle back at our cottage in Devon, we were suitably impressed by it and felt it worthy of such an award.
Written by: Ruth and Kelvyn Guest, you can follow Ruth and Kelvyn's tastings and travel on their Guest Wines blog.
At Winerist, we are excited to be working with English wineries now! Contact us if you would like to arrange a winery visit, day tour, or all-inclusive experience.