Budding oenophiles who fancy pairing first-rate views with a glass of fine wine need look no further than the South Downs or the rolling Kent countryside, thanks to Best of England’s new multi-vineyard tours. “This is a great time for English wine, with many brands winning awards and consistently beating the established champagne houses in blind-tasting tests,” says Best of England founder Simon Ridgwell.
Each tour takes in three wineries and features tutored tastings and guides to the renaissance of English wines. The Sussex itinerary (£149, March 17 and 24; from 9am to 6pm) kicks off at one of the UK’s oldest wineries, the 39-acre family-run Bolney Estate, which has been producing wines since 1972, and follows with a trip to Ridgeview to taste its delicious sparkling Blanc de Blancs and learn about its rosé made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier using the saignée method of “bleeding” colour from dark-skinned grapes.
Rather than having to negotiate a Sideways-style drive, transport is provided throughout the tours, including a visit to one of a variety of gastropubs or restaurants, such as The Salt Room on Brighton’s seafront, for lunch.
Post-lunch, the Sussex tour concludes with a jaunt to the picturesque Rathfinny vineyard, near Alfriston on the South Downs. With 600 acres of vines and a production target of 100,000 cases a year by 2020, it is one of England’s largest vineyards and will release its first Sussex Sparkling in 2018. Tastings will take place in the Gun Room, said to have been used as a weapons store by the Duke of Wellington, and will include Rathfinny’s still wine made from a blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.
The Kent tour (£149, April 14, 21 and 28; from 9am to 6pm) will head to the Staplehurst area to visit Hush Heath, a producer of celebrated sparkling wines, including stylish pink fizz Balfour Brut; then to Gusbourne, winner of two Platinum Gold Medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2016, to taste its elegant Blanc de Blancs; and end at Rye’s Oxney Organic Estate, which planted its vines in 2012 and is certified by the Soil Association.
“The Kent and South Downs vineyards are some of the most beautiful in the world, on a par with those in the wine districts of California and South Africa,” says Ridgwell. Cheers to that.