English sparkling wine tours are Surrey's latest attraction
PUBLISHED: 18:52 15 August 2016 | UPDATED: 18:52 15 August 2016
With a new sparkling wine tour having just launched in Surrey, Matthew Williams gets a taste of what's involved (strictly in the name of research, you understand...)
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2016
As regular Surrey Life readers will know well, our county’s sparkling wine is on the march and often competing at the very top table of international awards. It was perhaps only a matter of time then before some clever so-and-so connected the dots on the map, and realised that people might travel from far and, well, near to enjoy a day of scenic celebration amongst our Surrey’s thriving vineyards.
So it is that we find ourselves at Guildford station, meeting the Shere-based oenophile and former accountant, Mike Keeble, who has just launched English Sparkling Wine Tours.
Meeting up with our group for the day, we pile on-board our minibus to the opening destination of our tour. Unsurprisingly, things kick off at England’s largest single-estate vineyard, Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, and its sprawling 265 acres. It’s here that we are first reminded that the chalk slopes of the Surrey Hills are the same as those in the Champagne region of France. Fortunate for us all, it seems.
A whistle-stop run through their 30-year history, in their recently-updated cinema room, is followed by a tour of the winery and a tasting in their atmospheric basement – complete with decorative show barrels created using wood salvaged from the 1987 Great Storm.
Next, we’re back on the road and off to a vineyard at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The boutique-as-it-gets one-acre High Clandon is run by the irrepressible Sibylla and Bruce Tindale – it’s basically a small corner of their back garden. It’s not quite any back garden, however, stretching out from their spectacular home and with uninterrupted views all the way to London. What started as a bit of a hobby, remains a hands-on project today but is now picking up international awards. They’ll be celebrating their latest vintage in September, following the marriage of their son. Of course, it’s not Champagne, but they’d also argue it’s not English sparkling wine. They call it Quintessence. However you label it, it’s a fabulous product and their repartee is sparkling.
Pub pit stop
A relaxed lunch at the fittingly quintessentially-English The Queen’s Head in East Clandon is followed by a quick spin down the road to Albury Vineyard – and arguably the most intriguing of the day’s destinations. Intriguing because, while they face the same challenges as the others (largely the changeable English weather!), they’re also a biodynamic vineyard.
If you didn’t know (and we didn’t), this means everything from pruning the vines with the phases of the moon to stuffing manure into cow horns, burying those horns over winter, then stirring a small amount of the fermented manure in rainwater and spraying it over the vineyard. Seriously.
Owner Nick Wenman, vineyard manager Alex Valsecchi and guard terrier Attila are on fine form as they explain some of the stranger goings-on in their search for the perfect drop. Their very first wine, Silent Pool Rosé 2011, was chosen to be served on the Royal Barge as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, so they’re obviously on the right track.
Finally, and this may be a curve ball for a wine tour, but it would be madness not to take the short stroll over to Albury Vineyard’s neighbours, Silent Pool Distillers. Here we discover it’s not just Surrey ‘bubbles’ that are flying off the shelves. Silent Pool sold more than 10 times the amount of their signature gin they’d planned for last year (only their first, even if it feels like they’ve been around for generations). That’s set to double to 90,000 bottles in their second year!
Suffice to say, a day touring some of the best that Surrey has to offer is an extremely pleasant way to spend a few hours. Even for those in the know, it’s an intriguing glimpse into how the world is now getting an increasingly in-demand taste of our county.
• Aimed at the groups market (think corporate, society or club days out), a trip with English Sparkling Wine Tours costs £145 per person. See englishsparklingwinetours.co.uk
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