Between 1.5 and 1.7 million vines will be planted in the UK this year. But there can’t be many that enjoy such a beautiful spot as those at Lympstone Manor, chef Michael Caines’ creamy-white country house hotel on the shores of Devon’s Exe estuary.
“The great vineyards of Europe are all located on rivers – the Médoc châteaux of Bordeaux on the Gironde, wine estates along the Rhône, Loire, and Rhine rivers, the great port vineyards of the Douro,” says Caines, “Why not the Exe estuary?”
Sloping gently down to the water’s edge, these 4.2 hectares of vines will eventually produce a sparkling wine to accompany Caines’ modern British cooking (cooking that won him two Michelin stars, as well as an MBE, when he was head chef at Gidleigh Park). But they’re just one part of a huge restoration project that’s now under way on the estate, which was once owned by the Barings of Barings Bank. Famous in the 19th century for its sweeping gardens and exotic trees, Lympstone Manor became a member of Relais and Châteaux in September 2017.
Head sommelier Marko Mägi (formerly of Le Gavroche) has amassed a fine selection of around 600 bins with the emphasis on good burgundy and bordeaux, but he’s also got some interesting left-field picks: in the private wine room I taste a mineral Pinot Noir from Patagonia that’s made by Bodega Chacra, from the same family that owns Super Tuscan Sassicaia.
Later on, over an eight-course dinner we take a deep dive into the wine list: a divine crab raviolo in a puddle of silky broth comes with an aromatic white blend from Languedoc “first growth” Mas de Daumas Gassac; rack of tenderest lamb is lifted by a glass of vibrant, rosemary-spiked Sangiovese from Tuscan estate Montesecondo.
Some of my favourite wines came with dessert: two honeyed Vouvrays from Domaine Pichot – one made in 2016 and one in 2005 – were an extravagant partner for a sharp green apple sorbet topped with vanilla mousse. I also loved the 2016 Moscato Rosa from Franz Haas – a deep-red sweet wine with a taste of tea roses, which was paired with a cherry ice cream.
Lympstone Manor is high-maintenance: it’s all elegant creams and greys, with deep feather sofas, thick carpets and sparkly chandeliers. But there are dashes of fun, too – our room had a little terrace with an open‑air bath and fireplace. There is a croquet lawn, heli-pad and a fire-pit. Down the line the hotel plans to host harvest dinners and vineyard tours. I spent a morning exploring the vineyard with estate manager James Matyear. But the vines also look pretty good from the terrace at sunset, with a glass of wine in hand. And in that sense, you could say, they are already bearing fruit.