Visit a Sussex Vineyard
Visit Sussex recently asked us to write a guest blog post for them on vineyards in Sussex that are open to visitors. Here’s a copy of that article…
There is more and more talk these days about the increasing quality of English wines and Sussex is right at the heart of this exciting development. From world class sparkling wines to small production still wines, there are lots of vineyards open to visitors. You can taste and buy the wines direct from the cellar door, walk the vines and even have a meal. If you want to learn more about wine-making, quite a few offer winery tours as well.
If you have not come across English wines before, just a couple of things you need to know – firstly never, ever, ever, say “British wine”. This term means wine made in the UK from imported grapes and is very much frowned upon by those making wine from locally grown grapes.
Another useful fact is that English sparkling wine is made in exactly the same way as champagne – a time consuming process which means that it takes several years to get from grape to finished wine. Many Sussex wines use the traditional grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; some examples of this English fizz even beat wines from Champagne in blind tastings. Other sparkling wines may use one or two of those grapes, perhaps blended with lesser known varieties suited to our climate, producing wines which express the English terroir – a combination of soil, weather and other environmental factors.
For the all-round visitor experience, Bolney Estate near Haywards Heath offers award winning wines – their sparkling and even their red wines have gained much respect. There’s a café open Tuesday to Saturday where you can have a personal wine tasting and you can book tours there, too. Right over to the west of Sussex near Hastings, you have Carr Taylor, another vineyard open pretty much every day of the year for exploring and buying wine – they have an excellent vineyard trail for children, too. Very close by is Sedlescombe, open every day to showcase their organic and biodynamic wines.
Highdown Vineyard on the outskirts of Worthing is a newer member of the pack, they are already starting to demonstrate quality wine production and have a barn with a shop. There’s also a tea room with local produce popular with visitors and locals alike for lunch and open 6 days a week – who needs a ploughman’s when you can have a vigneron’s lunch, accompanied by a glass of their wine?
Nutbourne Vineyards near Pulborough won the best UK wine award 2013 from the UKVA for their “Nutty” sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay grapes. They are open 5 days a week from May to September for tasting and self-guided vineyard tours. Upperton Vineyards near Petworth are open for tasting and purchase every weekend year-round. Court Garden Vineyard at Ditchling offer vineyard tours and sparkling wine tours most Saturdays throughout the year, too. Just down the road are Ridgeview whose Cellar Door Shop is open weekdays in Winter and 6 days a week the rest of the year; tours can also be booked.
Tinwood Estate is near Goodwood and their Tasting Room is open every day. Rathfinny Estate is a brand new vineyard only just planted; they won’t be producing wine for a year or two yet, but their new shop The Gun Room on The Tye in Alfriston is well worth a visit.
Breaky Bottom Vineyard south of Lewes is open by appointment for tastings and purchase, but most of us are a bit shy to just call up a vineyard if we haven’t previously tried the wines. One of the best ways to discover new producers is during English Wine Week, usually the last week of May when many vineyards will have special events and extra tours. There’s also the English Wine Centre near Alfriston.
At any vineyard you choose to visit, you’ll be impressed by the passion and hard work that goes into making wine in our inclement climate as well as by the quality of wine produced. Please just remember that they are all working vineyards; the people you meet are often the owners themselves who will take a little time off from their duties to talk with you about the wines and offer a taste or two. The time they take off is rarely begrudged – they wouldn’t be working in a vineyard if they weren’t passionate about it and most love to share that passion, but do remember that they are running a business, so try not to take up too much of their time if you have no intention of buying. I defy you, though, not to find some wines you love, their flavour enhanced by seeing the grapes growing and hearing the stories behind them.
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Use our map to find your local vineyards, a great place to meet that friend you've been meaning to catch up with, somewhere to hold your next business meeting...