Elisabeth Else, founder of The Wine Cellar Door, GWG App of the Year 2021, guides us around the gorgeous British vineyards to explore this spring. Bottoms up to that!
While sunnier countries might be your first thought when thinking about vineyards, you may be surprised to learn that there are more than 250 vineyards that you can visit in the UK. It’s now a serious business and if you haven’t tried local wines, or haven’t tried any for a while, you definitely should.
While the south-east of England gets talked about a lot, particularly in the context of sparkling wine, our website and Wine Cellar Door app, map vineyards from as far west as the Isles of Scilly and as far north as Yorkshire.
We’ve picked just a few to give you a taste of the wine styles of the world – all from right here in the UK.
Gusbourne Estate, Kent
Gusbourne Estate, near Appledore, focuses unashamedly on quality, and yet there is nothing remotely stuffy about visiting. We’re huge fans of a self-guided tour and the routes here are extensive. From some points, you can even see the sea, which is useful to help protect the vines from frost as well as being beautiful.
A happy by-product of recent times is the addition of a wine garden known as The Nest outside the usual tasting room, as well as a garden at the top of their Boot Hill vineyard, which is open for glasses of wine and picnics in the summer.
Over Easter, Gusbourne’s normal tour programme will be under way, with lots of options. The self-guided tour and picnics are suitable for children.
Insider tip: Few vineyards are open to visitors on Sunday, so Gusbourne is a great one to go to if that’s your favoured day.
Wine for Easter: Gusbourne Rosé, a delicious sparkling wine made from the Champagne grape varieties with grapes grown in Gusbourne’s own vineyards. An incredibly versatile wine, it is delicious to sip on its own, but also goes well with a full-on Easter roast or with something more casual like home-made pizza and salad. £49.
Hidden Spring, Sussex
The present owners, David and Chris, took over the vineyard in 2015, planting over 24,000 vines across thirteen acres and looking after the winery and vineyard respectively. Over this time, the quality of their wines has steadily increased to the excellent range of still and sparkling wines produced today.
Pop into the cellar door shop between Thursday and Saturday to choose and buy your wines, or why not pre-book onto a Tour and Tasting experience? It lasts about 90 minutes and includes tours of the vineyard and winery as well as a tasting of wines from their range, all for £20 per person.
Insider tip: Lots of people discover Hidden Spring by walking along the adjacent public footpath and that’s definitely a fun way to arrive. Dogs are welcome, too. Alternatively, why not drive there and enjoy a stroll afterwards?
Wine for Easter: Hidden Spring Pinot Gris. This grape is one of the UK’s hidden treasures and really suits the climate here. English Pinot Gris is about as far from a dodgy Pinot Grigio as you can get, evoking places like Alsace or Austria; we are very lucky to have it on our doorstep. With lots of fruit flavours, this vegan-friendly wine is delicious on its own, and pairs beautifully with slightly spicy foods. From £20.
Balfour Hush Heath, Kent
A super place for a first vineyard visit, Balfour Winery has extensive opening hours and you can just drop in for a glass of wine and one of the outstandingly good seasonal sharing platters on offer. Balfour will be serving brunch over Easter, which sounds a perfect match for a small glass of fizz.
While you’re visiting, do take a stroll by yourself; the signed route is a perfect length to make you feel you’ve really been out into the country without any chance of getting lost and, of course, with the promise of a glass of wine at the end. New for this year is a monthly held Nature Tour with the estate’s own conservation specialist and ecologist, which are run in addition to the usual vineyard and winery tours. After a glass of sparkling rosé, you’ll be led on an exclusive tour of the estate not usually open to the public. You will visit ancient oak woodlands and meadows to discover how the land surrounding the winery supports incredible biodiversity and wildlife.
Insider tip: Look out for the art dotted around the tasting room. And if this is your thing, do endeavour to go behind-the-scenes on one of Balfour’s occasional art tours.
Wine for Easter: Luke’s Pinot Noir is sure to be appreciated at a proper sit-down meal – roast lamb definitely comes to mind, perhaps served with dauphinoise potatoes and peas. With judicious use of oak, this is a grown-up wine, served in Michelin star restaurants – and now available to enjoy in your own home. £30.
Hambledon Vineyard, Hampshire
Claiming the title of England’s oldest commercial vineyard, Hambledon is keeping up with the times by opening a whole new visitor facility this year. We can hardly wait, but meanwhile, what could be nicer than dining in the vines? Look out for this and for other pop-up dining options.
Tours and tastings run seven-days-a-week and take in the glorious vineyards, state-of-the-art winery, underground chalk cellars and, of course, end with a tasting. If you just want to pop in to buy a bottle, their cellar door shop is open every day, too.
Insider tip: The Be A Winemaker event, which runs about once a month, is some of the best fun you can have in a winery. After tasting different variations, you get to finish your bottle to your own specifications, even adding the cork and label yourself. The only difficult bit is waiting the six months or so until your wine is ready to drink.
Wine for Easter: Hambledon Classic Cuvée is a fantastic example of an English Champagne-beater. This wine is a perfect introduction to classic English sparkling wine; Hambledon is particularly good at ageing its sparkling wines, which is what gives those rich buttery, brioche flavours. From £33.
Gwinllan Llaethliw Vineyard, Wales
Welsh wine? Yes, absolutely. We list fourteen Welsh vineyards and more seem to be opening all the time. ‘Gwinllan’ means ‘vineyard’, by the way, which is why you’ll see it a lot if you embark on a tour of the country’s wine producers. In fact, ‘gwin’ means both ‘white’ and ‘wine’ in Welsh, so now you know what to ask for if you’d like a glass of white wine: yes it’s gwin gwin.
Llaethliw is found inland from Aberaeron, a delightful small town with pastel houses and popular with holiday-makers. The people who own the vineyard are particularly warm and welcoming; they’ll be delighted to see you any Friday from 10am to 2pm all year round. They have a good selection of still and sparkling wines and you can try the wine of the day while overlooking the vineyard. Alternatively, the wines are stocked in a good many of the food shops in the area that showcase local produce.
Insider tip: Possibly the best idea we’ve heard from a vineyard yet: walk or cycle from Aberaeron up to the vineyard, choose your wines and then have them delivered to your holiday home the same evening. Honestly, what could be nicer?
Wine for Easter: Llaethliw’s Rosé is very quaffable and perfect to sip with friends. It has a little more body than some rosés, which means it would be delicious with nibbles and a particularly good match for vegetarian food, like root vegetables and filo parcels. £16.
Chet Valley Vineyard, Norfolk
Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are all fast gaining great reputations for their wines, with still wines in particular hitting the wine press regularly. One excellent spot to visit in this area is Chet Valley. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the days to visit, have a tour with optional platter or just enjoy a picnic of local Norfolk produce.
The new winery building, which forms part of the tour, features a balcony overlooking the vines; it is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy a glass. Dogs and children are welcome here, too, so the whole family can enjoy a day out.
Insider tip: There are lots of other excellent vineyards to visit in East Anglia and Chet Valley has its own holiday cottage, so why not stay awhile? The cottage has the added bonus of many accessibility features, so everyone is made welcome.
Wine for Easter: Chet Valley Skylark is a perfect alternative to Prosecco. It’s a softer style of sparkling with a fun vibe. Easy drinking to celebrate Easter with friends, it will cope with all the vagaries of British weather from a tasty picnic to curling up on the sofa with a good film. From £26.
Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard, Cornwall
Just off the A30 outside Penzance, you’ll find Polgoon Vineyard. Another glorious area to explore in the summer, it is, in our view, equally attractive off-season, too. Guided tours are on Wednesdays and Thursdays and self-guided tours run every day, both of which need to be pre-booked. Either way, make sure you take a few moments at the top of the hill, near the Sauvignon Blanc vines, and look back over the sea. It’s quite breath-taking.
The Vine House Kitchen is an open-air eating space where crab sandwiches and other light bites are perfectly matched to the wines (do remember to wrap up warm in less clement weather). Look out for daily specials when the kitchen opens over the summer.
Insider tip: The cellar door shop at Polgoon is a treasure trove of local produce as well as the outlet for their wines. Cornish charcuterie? Cornish chocolate? They have it all.
Wine for Easter: We’ve selected the Seyval Blanc and Ortega blend as a wine that will appeal to all of the family, with fruitier notes and a lighter acidity than some English white wines. Don’t let the ‘lightly oaked’ put you off; this is nowhere near the heavy-handedness of Australian wines of a couple of decades ago. Winemaker John, despite being a burly ex-fisherman, has a light delicate touch when oaking his wines. £15.95.
We hope that’s given you a taste of what’s on offer and helps you to find some lovely wines and days out. Don’t forget to make friends with your local vineyard too, your nearest vines may be a lot closer than you think.
On your travels, do use Wine Cellar Door, the GWG App of the Year 2021, to be your guide to visiting UK vineyards. If you haven't been to a vineyard before and are not quite sure what to expect, use our filters to choose one with a self-guided tour and a café or restaurant, that will give you the best introduction.
For a map of visitor-friendly vineyards in UK, click here.
To find vineyards with a café or restaurant, click here.
To find vineyards to visit where children are welcome, click here.
For vineyards where you can take your dog, click here.
Find vineyards with accessibility info by clicking here.
To find vineyards with a self-guided tour or vineyard trail, click here.
Download Wine Cellar Door, the GWG App of the Year 2021, for Apple here and Android here.
By Elisabeth Else
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