Hanging out the Bunting at Frithsden
What better way to spend a bank holiday than with friends at an English Vineyard? Looking for somewhere equidistant between north London and Milton Keynes, Frithsden Vineyard near Berkhamsted looked to be the ideal spot for a May Day meet up – not too far, not too big, offering a warm welcome for children and a brace of wines to try. Perfect.
Frithsden is a small vineyard on a sloping plot at the foot of the Chilterns in Hertfordshire, planted with Phoenix, Solaris and Rondo vines and a little Seyval Blanc. There is also a single Kerner vine growing against the side of the small on-site winery, a remnant of the original vineyard planting from 1971 which was cleared in 2001 and re-planted with 6,000 vines in 2006 by Simon and Natalie Tooley. Simon is responsible for the vines and wine-making and Natalie takes care of business, including the on-site gift shop and the regular foodie events.
On arrival we were met by Natalie; Simon was at the nearby Aldbury May Fair and the vineyard, with its bunting, pots of colourful pansies and a flower-pattern china tea service on the cafe table has a summer fete feel. A self-guided tour and tasting costs £3 for adults (it would be great if this was refunded against any wine purchase) and each visitor gets a good quality A5 sized trail leaflet with information about the vines. There is no activity sheet for children but they do go free and ours had a great time picking dandelions and daisies, collecting pine cones and looking at the chickens and turkey. Although one of the group was very disappointed that the vines were nothing like the ones Tarzan swings on, the children loved playing table football in the covered area next to the shop and got stuck in to the paper and pens thoughtfully provided to keep younger visitors occupied while the adults sampled the wines.
The 2013 Phoenix hadn’t been bottled yet so it wasn’t possible to compare it to the Solaris. The latter, almost colourless in the glass, like an elderflower cordial, is from vines planted in 2006 and had a good mouth-watering acidity and hints of lime, great for a hot summer day. No red is produced at Frithsden and the Rondo grapes we saw in the vineyard are used for the Rosé. Deep pink in colour, the rosé had a touch of sweetness and a full flavour of strawberries and cream which I really liked. Then Natalie proudly (and rather protectively) showed me the last of the 50 bottles of 2012 Frithsden Fizz sparkling Seyval Blanc, all of which sold out within days of the vineyard re-opening for 2014. The fizz was bottled with a crown cap because the winery doesn’t have corking equipment (all the wines are screw capped) and I’d have loved to have had a taste. I’ll have to get my visit in earlier next time and will certainly be back to try the Phoenix.
The wines are obviously very popular (200 of the 600 rosés bottled in late March have already been sold) and there was a steady stream of people popping in to pick up a bottle or two. As well as being available at the cellar door, the wines are sold at local farmers’ markets and at Parliament Hill and Queens Park farmers’ markets in London, Dalling & Co deli in Kings Langley and the excellent Alford Arms pub, just down the hill. Output has varied over the last few years, from 6,000 bottles in 2010 to just 900 in 2011, when frost had a major impact, but demand clearly outstrips supply.
Frithsden charms with its scale and its boutique elements. Much thought and passion clearly goes into the overall vineyard experience, not just the wines, with well designed and produced leaflets, map and website. Combined with a visit to Berkhamsted’s 11th century castle or the nearby National Trust Ashridge Estate, it’s a worthwhile place to stop for afternoon tea.
And the best thing about our visit? Getting home and asking the children what the best part of their day had been and it not being running around the castle, playing frisbee or the pub lunch, but the walk around the vineyard. Right answer!
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