The wine industry in England is relatively young, with the oldest vineyards being planted in the 1960s. But the tradition of making wine has existed here for far longer; by the eleventh century, most monasteries across the country were making their own wine. Viniculture, however, declined due to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century.
Presently, England has over 500 vineyards. A majority of these are in the southeast, where the climate is similar to that of the Champagne region in France and perfect for growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. England now has a range of white, rose, and some red wine varieties. It is most popular for its Champagne-style sparkling wine, giving you quite a variety to carry back home in your VinGardeValise®.
Today, we are off to Sussex, one of England’s favourite regions. It is just an hour away from London and blessed with 150 kilometres of coastline and enchanting countryside as far as the eyes can see. Here, we will visit five wineries that have made their mark on the global scene with their award-winning wines.
A large part of Sussex is occupied by South Downs National Park, while the rest of the area is dotted with stately homes, castles right out of a fairy tale, exquisite gardens, and over seventy vineyards and wineries. After your trip to the wineries, if you are thinking of extending your stay here, that might be a great idea as there is plenty to do and see.
Many of Sussex’s vineyards are open to the public and offer the chance to try their wines before you buy them. When you visit each of the five wineries listed below, make sure you carry your VinGardeValise® with you. Bask in the sunshine in these picturesque wineries, and don’t be shy to enjoy their fine English wine.
Ridgeview Wine Estate
The Roberts family established Ridgeview Wine Estate in 1995. Located at the foot of the South Downs in the village of Ditchling near Brighton, the winery produces bottle-fermented sparkling wine. They have expanded their production by partnering with other growers in the area. Over the last fifteen years, the wine estate has won several awards, including the best sparkling wine in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2010. Their trademark
MERRET™ honours Englishman Christopher Merret, who presented a paper to the Royal Society in London in 1962, documenting the process of making traditional method sparkling wines, which the winery follows today to create imaginative blends.
Ridgeview Winery is the official provider for Downing Street receptions. When President Obama attended the Queens’ official Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Buckingham Palace, their sparkling wine was served at the state banquet.
The state-of-the-art tasting room above the winery offers stunning views of the South Downs National Park. A unique feature of the winery is its winemaker-led tours where one can try its rare archive wines.
To quote Mike and Chris Roberts, the owners,
“To me, it was obvious that sparkling wine was the way to go because what you get here in Sussex (and in Champagne) is fully ripe grapes with great flavour, but which aren’t high in alcohol, as this prevents fermentation, which creates fizz. Because we get cold nights even in summer, English grapes have super-acidity – the hallmark of a good sparkling wine”
Enjoy their complimentary tasting at their Tasting Room, where you can also buy their wines. You may need to book in advance. Ask for their 100% single estate Chardonnay “Ridgeview’s Blanc de Blancs” from their original vineyard.
TripAdvisor rating: 4.5 stars 52 reviews
· Membership club
· Exclusive winemaker-led tours and tastings
· Food and wine tours
· Private bookings available
· Corporate event hire
· Complimentary and paid wine tasting
· Platters of local charcuterie, cheese, salmon, and breads during the tasting
· Disabled access available
· Tour and tasting gift certificates available for sale online
· Closed for Christmas and Easter
Ridgeview Wine Estate
East Sussex, BN6 8TP
Phone: 01444 242040
Languages: English, Portuguese, and limited French.
At the foot of the South Downs National Park, next to Goodwood Estate, and just ten minutes from Chichester, Tinwood Estate has been producing English sparkling wine in collaboration with Ridgeview Estate since its first planting of vines in 2007. Their range includes The Estate Brut, the Blanc de Blancs, and an exquisite Rosé.
Their tasting room has a large patio area and is a fun and relaxed place to try their range of wines, with stunning views of the sunset. Take their vineyard tour, walk around their vineyards, and meet the winegrowers for a first-hand account of winegrowing and the journey of their wines from vine to glass.
According to their website,
“The idea of planting a vineyard came from my final year dissertation at university back in 2005. Its aims were to examine the viability of planting a vineyard on an English Farm. As part of this I visited many of the vineyards in the UK (there weren’t many at this time) and it became clear that the style of wine which had the most potential was sparkling. In 2006 we became partners with the award winning Ridgeview Wine Estate and the vines were ordered shortly thereafter.”
You will particularly enjoy the harvest experience where you can join them to handpick the grapes and learn what makes their wines so special. The tour includes a trip to the cellar and tractors, followed by wine sampling in the picturesque Sussex countryside, so that you can decide which of the three you want to bring back home in your VGV®.
TripAdvisor rating: 5 stars, 153 reviews
· Gift vouchers
· Event tickets
· Vineyard tours and tasting room
· Grape picking/harvest experience
· Wine tasting includes 3 glasses of sparkling wine and a tour
· Online wine shop
· Cheese platter and canape selection
· Special event booking
· Special midsummer wine & chocolate tastings
· Onsite lodge
West Sussex, PO18 0NE
Phone: 01243 537372
Language: English, Dutch and Portuguese
Bluebell Vineyard Estates
Established in 2005 and spread across seventy acres, Bluebell Vineyard Estates stretches across East and West Sussex, and is perhaps the prettiest winery on this wine trail. Nestled in woods covered with bluebells on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, this family-run award-winning vineyard will take your breath away. The site, originally home to Large Whites, Landrace, and Blue Cross Pigs is now home to more than 100,000 vines producing premium Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Seyval Blanc wines.
They use traditional methods to craft their unique vintage wines made exclusively from grapes grown in a single year. In their Hindleap English sparkling wine range, all of which are vintage and estate-bottled there are six different cuvées.
Throughout the year, the vineyard welcomes visitors for informative tours, tastings, self-guided walks, and picnics. The tours take visitors through the process of winemaking accompanied by a tutored tasting of their award-winning wines in their Tasting Room.
Their 2011 Blanc de Blancs was recently awarded the Food Match Trophy at the Sommelier Wines Awards 2016.
The owners of BlueBell Vineyard Estates have this to say.
“We believe our wines can rival the best sparkling wines in the world. And it’s not just us who think so – our range of ‘Hindleap’ sparkling wines has been awarded over sixty national and international awards in just 5 years, confirming our reputation as one of England’s leading producers.”
Take plenty of pictures in this idyllic setting and be sure to fill your VGV!
TripAdvisor rating: 5 stars, 24 reviews
· Wine tasting and vineyard tours
· Vouchers for tours and tastings
· Gift packages
· Weddings, private, and corporate events
· Online wine shop
· Self-guided walks and picnics
Bluebell Vineyard Estates
East Sussex, TN22 3RU
Phone: 01825 791 561
Rathfinny Wine Estate
Established in 2010 by husband-wife team Mark and Sarah Driver, Rathfinny Wine Estate is located near Alfriston in the South Downs of Sussex, just three miles from the sea in exceptionally charming landscapes. It is a RIBA nominated state-of-the-art winery poised to become one of the largest single vineyard in Europe. Currently one million bottles of Sussex sparkling wine per year from its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Riesling are grown on the 250-hectare estate.
Their estate tours start and finish at their Cellar Door, the Gun Room, which used to be the gun store of the Duke of Wellington. It is now a retail outlet for the wine estate, as well as being the Heritage Centre for Alfriston and the Cuckmere Valley. The guided tour includes a walk through the vineyards followed by their famous Winemaker’s Lunch or Afternoon Tea, which you can enjoy from their Tasting Room with breath-taking views. Unless you are out walking on the Rathfinny Trail, access to their estate is by appointment only.
Mark Driver, one of the owners of the winery, says,
“The Rathfinny project is not just about making wine: we are committed to supporting the wider ambitions of the English wine industry, and that means nurturing the skills required to fulfil its potential.”
Their first Sussex Sparkling wine is slated for release in 2018, but you can taste their Cradle Valley label still wines, which are light, crisp, and usually made from a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc and occasionally Chardonnay. Their Cellar door, the Gun Room, sells their wines along with gifts and wine accessories made by local artists.
TripAdvisor rating: 4.5 stars, 42 reviews
Our vision is about more than just producing outstanding sparkling wine. We want Rathfinny to contribute something special to this beautiful part of the South Downs.
· Exclusive estate tours with wine tasting
· Tour Gift Certificates and tickets
· Private bespoke tours and educational trips
· Winemakers lunch and afternoon tea tours
· Onsite accommodation
· Rathfinny Trail
· Private event booking
· Shop and café
· Heritage Centre
· Dog friendly
· Closed for Christmas and New Year
Rathfinny Wine Estate
East Sussex, BN26 5TU
Phone: +44 (0)1323 871 031
Language: English, French, Spanish, and Polish
Barnsole Vineyard is located in the scenic country village of Staple, between the historic city of Canterbury and the enchanting cinque-port town of Sandwich. The first Pinot Noir vines were planted across Barnsole in 44 AD, along the winding lane alongside river Stour, near the crumbling walls of the Roman Fort of Richborough. Today, the boutique winery continues the viticultural tradition by growing Pinot Noir with other varieties to make its premium quality English wines. About 20,000 bottles of hand-crafted wine are produced each year.
While fruit for sparkling wine is whole bunch pressed, the fruit for still wine is crushed or destemmed, depending upon the style of wine. Visitors can explore the vineyard and enjoy a free tasting of the still wines. There is a one-hour tour for a small fee, which includes a sampling of the sparkling wine if available, a talk about the history of wine in the region and the winemaking process used in the winery, and a trip through the vineyards.
According to their website:
“We employ the classic French trellising system ‘double Guyot’ with rows and vines spaced 2 metres apart, positioning the fruit zone close to the ground to aid the ripening of the fruit. Our philosophy is to tread softly in the environment. We endeavor to leave no trace of our time as custodians of this tranquil place. We enjoy the company of hares, badgers, foxes and many British birds – all of which are welcome to share the bounty of this land.”
Taste and buy their award winning estate grown and bottled English wines right at their cellar door.
TripAdvisor rating: 5 stars, 31 reviews
· Free mini-tour and tasting
· Paid guided one hour tour with pre-booking
· Wine sales from winery door
· Visits for specific hours in winter and summer
· Open in the evenings by appointment only
Barnsole Vineyard Limited
Fleming Road, Staple, Canterbury,
Kent CT3 1LG
Phone: 07772 300 511
Languages: English, German
That concludes today’s Sparkling Sussex UK Wine Trail.
After filling your VinGardeValise® with delicious sparkling wines and spirits, take a little holiday to enjoy the British countryside. Sussex is just a short commute from London and can be your ideal wine tour and holiday getaway, with its dramatic coastlines and vibrant culture. Follow its walking trails and cycling routes or explore adventure activities, unspoiled beaches, Victorian seaside heritage, arts, and culture. You definitely don’t want to miss the traditional Sussex Cream Teas at its cafés. Bring home memories and do share them with us!