Staycations are the 2021 holiday. And although we might be missing out on some exotic booze from foreign climes, there’s plenty to get excited about in ol’ Blighty – particularly when it comes to visiting English wineries.
From dinner among the vines to fizz flights and afternoon tea picnics, English wineries are bringing their A game for visitors. And you don’t even need to get on a plane! Hurray!
For readers in the South East, there are now so many vineyards that you could easily do a week of day trips or even boujie your way around boutique hotels – many of them even owned by wine producers.
Anyway, here are five of our favourites to get the fizz flowing:
A few miles in-land from the Sussex coast, Rathfinny is a giant among English wine producers. For an adventure (and to work up an appetite), get off the train at Seaford and walk for about 1.5hrs across the Downs to the winery.
There’s plenty on offer and guests can plan the ultimate food and wine getaway with packages including bed and breakfast in the Flint Barns. There’s a plate to suit all tastes – with wine tasting and dinner in either the gastro pub-style Dining Room or the Michelin Plate Tasting Room restaurant.
Summer al fresco dining options include picnic boxes, an antipasti bar and wine and nibbles on the Tasting Room balcony.
New for 2021
All menus are brand new, created by estate head chef, Chris Bailey who has come up with “contemporary dishes inspired by freshest, seasonal British produce”.
Two new Sussex Sparkling vintages: the second release of the house-style vintage 2017 Classic Cuvée and the new limited-production release of the 2017 Blanc de Blancs.
Balfour, located on the Hush Heath Estate, is a destination for lovers of a nature walk. You can take a stroll through the 400-acre estate, which features vineyards, apple orchards and ancient oak woodlands, or join an expert-led tour and tasting experience. The Balfour Brut Rosé is a good bet for enjoying on the terrace – and the shop even offers a magnum for the 2016, perfect if you’re having six people round to the garden, say.
This is a great place to take friends who aren’t necessarily big wine fans. The estate also features Jake’s Drinks – a collection of beers and ciders made using local ingredients. For example, the ciders are made with 100% juice from the Kentish dessert apples Russet, Cox and Bramley.
Balfour also owns a few pubs across Kent and Sussex, many with hotel rooms. Why not make a weekend tour of it?
This is England’s first commercial vineyard of the modern era, planted in 1952 – and the treat for visitors here is the underground cellars, cut straight into the chalk. MoM recommends a sparkling afternoon tea tour for two, which includes a tour and tasting as well as a picnic and a glass of Classic Cuvée Rosé. Or if seafood tickles your tentacles, the vineyard will feature an oyster and fizz bar later in the summer.
Champagne fans should try the Première Cuvée – this Non Vintage is a blend of 73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier.
New for 2021
Dine in the vines! Hambledon will be hosting a series of al fresco dining experiences over the summer, centred around English fizz and Hampshire produce, including
smoked chalk stream trout, cheeses and charcuterie.
And as luck would have it, the vine rows are 2.2m wide, so with tables in alternate rows, you are naturally socially distanced. (As someone who prefers to be naturally socially distanced, this is music to my ears.)
Situated in the Kent countryside, near Tenterden, Chapel Down will be opening for vineyard tours again from 19 May 2021. There will be a variety of experiences on offer from guided tours, wine tastings, masterclasses and food and drink experiences combining a meal in The Swan restaurant.
New for 2021
“We’re in the process of releasing five new 2020 vintages of some of our best-selling wines, all of which will be available in store to sample along with others from our award winning range,” says Chapel Down’s Guy Tresnan, retail and export director. Wowsers, FIVE!
This Devon estate is one for cheese fans. We recommend the Guided Tasting, which includes four wines and two cheeses – as well as a tour through the different wine making processes at Sharpham. Cheese comes from the Sharpham Dairy, which is famous for Sharpham Brie, made with fresh milk from the creamery’s Jersey herd.
New for 2021
Sharpham Summer Sparkling Wine has just landed for summer. It is a blend of estate grown Dornfelder and Pinot Noir red grapes from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Sharpham calls it “a lost batch” that was rediscovered while moving to the new winery at Sandridge Barton in 2020.
That must’ve been a happy discovery.
The wine is described as “soft and spritzy with fruit salad, peach yogurt and strawberry characteristics”. Summer in a bottle.
See you for a scone in the vineyard
The great thing about English wineries is that they have grown up realising the importance of visitor experiences. This makes them well equipped to offer wonderful days out with world-class wines. And if ever there was a year to support them, as well as find fun things to do in the UK, this is it.