Enjoying your English Wine Week
As English Wine Week approaches, I had an email from a friend asking for recommendations on places to visit. Knowing where she lives, her particular interests and another region of the country she was planning to visit, I put together a personal itinerary. Obviously that’s not possible for everyone, so I thought I’d share my own planning process and some resources, which I hope will help you to have an enjoyable English Wine Week.
If the date has passed you by, it’s 24th May to 1st June this year; English Wine Week is always the last week of May, which includes two weekends and a Bank Holiday; most vineyards have their brand new vintages open for tasting, so a great time to visit. Note that Welsh Wine Week is the same week, too.
For me, the first thing is to check whether there are any events at vineyards not normally open to the public. Having really enjoyed their fizz, the first thing that caught my eye was an open day at High Clandon with sculpture exhibition that was written about in a local county magazine. This had to be pre-booked, so I sorted that one first.
Some vineyards have membership schemes and lots of them welcome help with the harvest. You don’t want to be travelling too far for that, so I often suggest people find out what is close to home and get involved with their local vineyard. I thoroughly enjoyed three harvests last year – at Pebblebed, Bridewell Organic Gardens and Albury Organic. Albury isn’t far from me, so I joined their club and will be going to the members’ open day on Saturday 24th.
Time for a Catch-Up?
With wine not being my day job, vineyard visits normally have to be fitted in around everyday life and most of my friends and relatives now know that a catch-up will often involve a convenient vineyard! Most of them take this extremely well and end up having as much fun as I do. Last year I visited a couple of vineyards with parents and I think we’ll do the same again. This means looking to see what’s on in the Midlands area – last year we went to Buzzards Valley and Astley Vineyards. This year I’m thinking about Halfpenny Green and if there’s an open day at Welcombe Hills, we’ll pop in there, too.
Out with the Kids?
If you’ve never been to a vineyard before, or if you are visiting with children, find one with a vineyard trail and a cafe; that introduces you to wine-making and makes a nice day out. Fellow blogger Ian recently discovered Frithsden in Hertfordshire and I went to Painshill in Surrey for the first time last week; both of these fit the bill. Sharpham in Devon is a great one for a vineyard trail and tasty bite to eat, too.
Learning about wine?
If you are studying wine, or just keen to learn more, look out for a more advanced tour or workshop. Even if home grown wines aren’t really your bag, sparkling wine is made here in exactly the same way as Champagne and there’s nothing like seeing the process in action for taking in the details. Look out for winemaker’s tours and, although not running during English Wine Week, my recent evening at Hambledon is an excellent example of an event that combines fun with learning.
Wine Merchants, Bars & Food Fairs
It’s not all about vineyards, lots of wine merchants, bars and restaurants are running events too. Farm shops and food fairs are increasingly including English and Welsh wines. The list here is too long to mention, but ones that have caught my eye include Cobbs Farm Shop in Berkshire, Leckford Estate in Hampshire, Food Rocks South Fair. There are good young wine merchants who organise events too. A couple of Devon wine bars, Le Vignoble in Plymouth and Rendezvous in Exeter have interesting events and there is an increasing number of wine bars and restaurants with English or Welsh wines on their list – to make a point of trying these if you want this trend to continue.
Find out more
The best place to find out what’s going on is to check www.EnglishWineWeek.co.uk for specific events, or to use our directory or map to search for vineyards by county or feature, then follow the link to the vineyard’s own website.
Want someone to do the organising for you?
Historically it’s been hard to make this kind of tour work, not least because of the area vineyards are spread over, but some that look good are Sussex Gourmet Bus Tours (in conjunction with Brighton Food Festival) and the new South Devon Wine Tours. A more exclusive service is provided by Arblaster and Clarke.
Over to you
I’d better stop now and let you get on with your own planning! I do hope you find some delicious new wines and have fun in the process. Let us know if you find any particular treasures. We’d love to hear about what you think makes a good vineyard visit, too.
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