For English Wine Week (23-31 May), we’re taking take a quick look at the great holiday opportunity presented by this booming – and slightly surprising – English industry. With attractive vineyards dotted around some of the country’s most beautiful regions, getting to know the wines of England offers a great excuse for a holiday or mini-break, not to mention a spot of tasting along the way.
A bit of background
Despite common perceptions, winemaking is far from being a new industry in England, and we’ve actually been producing wines ever since pre-Roman times. The industry, as we now know it, really began in the 1950s, and by 2013 there were 470 vineyards England and Wales, with 135 wineries producing almost 4.5m bottles between them. Interestingly, half of this production is split between just three grape varieties, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir accounting for roughly 20% each, and Bacchus just over 9%.
Why take a wine tour?
There’s no doubt that English wines of every colour and grape variety have really come of age now, and many are winning national and international awards. Visiting vineyards and meeting the personalities that manage them is a fascinating experience, and of course there’s the chance to sample the goods and buy a bottle or two. Many of the country’s best vineyards have really embraced this new strand of tourism and welcome visitors with open arms. Typically, these estates have well-stocked shops, informative tours and friendly tasting sessions, while many also have on-site facilities like cafes and restaurants.
A wonderful trip for everyone
By their nature, vineyards are often situated in beautiful locations, and this is another one of the their appeals. Many occupy idyllic rural settings amid some of England’s best countryside, perfect for kicking back and relaxing or enjoying a spot of walking or bird watching. If that’s not your thing, all are within striking distance of a wide variety of attractions and activities to suit everyone, from young couples or families with kids through to groups of friends or retirees.
Our pick of the bunch…
We’ve gathered the details of just a tiny selection of English vineyards open to the public, each one offering a range of tours, facilities and wines for sale. Don’t forget to check before you visit, as opening times, tour availability and product stock usually vary from place to place as well as seasonally. We’ve provided more useful info at the foot of this page.
Yorkshire’s not the first place that springs to mind for a visit to a vineyard, but Ryedale Vineyards offers wine tours as well as the chance for volunteers to muck in and tend the vines. This is England’s most northerly commercial vineyard, and you could combine a visit here with trips to the historic gem of York, the stunning North Yorkshire Moors or one of many pretty coastal towns and villages.
Chilford Hall Vineyard lies in rolling hills just 15 minutes south of the beautiful and historic city of Cambridge. A wide range of tour options are available here, including a Standard Tour and Tasting, Afternoon Tea Tour and Tasting or even a Tour and Tasting Experience, all depending on your preference and budget. The setting is grand and unique, and it features art and sculpture collected by the Hall’s late owner, Sam Alper.
Cornwall’s Camel Valley Vineyard occupies the sunny slopes above the river Camel. Visitors can choose from a range of tours to learn about wines that have won national and international awards. This stunning area of the country offers great coastal scenery and rural charm. For something a bit more modern, Cornwall’s famous Eden project is only a 20-minute drive away and makes a great day out for people of all ages.
In the pretty Cotswolds, Three Choirs Vineyards is one of England’s oldest vineyards. It offers tours of the vines and winery plus the chance to sample both red and white wines. The site’s shop sells local produce as well as the estate’s wines, and there’s an à la Carte restaurant too. This peaceful location makes a great base for enjoying the area’s nature trails, or for exploring the picture-postcard beauty of this most typically English region.
Biddenden Vineyards are Kent’s oldest, producing a range of red, white, rose and sparkling wines as well as ciders and apple juice. There are free tours throughout the year, and visitors get the chance to see everything from the vines themselves to the bottling line. Refreshments are available in the vineyard’s café. Kent is famously called the ‘Garden of England’ – a county of gorgeous pastoral views, romantic coastal walks and plenty of wildlife. There’s history and culture too, with castles, stately homes and the charming city of Canterbury.
Last but not least
If you do decide to visit any of the vineyards we’ve suggested – or ones not listed here – we strongly recommend that you contact the vineyard first. For more details on England’s vineyards, visit English Wine Producers – it’s a website packed full of interesting history and essential information about the country’s wine industry and wine producers.
Don’t forget – always drink responsibly and have a lovely trip.