Here's what it's like at Denbies Vineyard Hotel
PUBLISHED: 16:28 07 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:28 07 October 2019
Denbies has been at the forefront of England's wine production for over 30 years and, with the opening of a new vineyard hotel on the estate this summer, shows no signs of slowing down. Rebecca Younger spent a night among the vines
The Surrey Hills may well have only just recently been designated a new wine region but Denbies vineyard, in Dorking, has been leading the way in England's wine production for more than three decades.
Thirty-three years since the first vines were planted in 1986, the 627-acre estate - still England's largest single-site vineyard with 265 acres of vines - has opened the country's first vineyard hotel.
Locals may well be aware that a small, seven-bedroom B&B had operated on the estate for a number of years but the new carbon neutral hotel has added another 10 bedrooms into the mix, along with a new orangery restaurant, bar and two outdoor cabanas with uninterrupted views across the vines.
"It's been a much bigger project than we originally thought," managing director Chris White tells us as we relax in one of the cabanas and tuck into a smorgasbord of local meats and a glass of Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Noirs 2013, which has just picked up gold at the 2019 WineGB Awards.
"The vision was born about three years ago but it feels like it's been a long time coming," Chris adds. "One of the biggest things is that we're carbon neutral - the whole place is run from Tessler batteries and solar power and we've got electric car points going in soon too."
Plans have also been approved for a health and wellbeing centre, which is hoped will open early next year, offering yoga classes, physiotherapy and complementary health treatments - it's clearly not a destination purely for oenophiles.
My fiancé and I had arrived at Denbies an hour or so earlier, the hotel's manager, Peter, patiently awaiting our arrival in the hotel garden. We were shown to one of the suites on the first floor of the new wooden-clad building - an extension to the original B&B building, which remains the hub of this bijoux hotel complex.
The room is spacious but simple in its design so as to not detract from the views; dark wood furniture and apple green and pink soft furnishings mirror the natural colours of the vineyard outside, while vintage-style prints depicting the Surrey Hills by local artist Louise Dunckley adorn the walls.
Our pre-dinner drinks in the cabana made for a spectacular start to the evening. Each seating up to 10 people and fitted with integrated bluetooth speakers and heaters for chillier nights, the two garden cabanas sit at either side of the hotel garden and can be used by hotel guests (and hired externally) for drinks and dining experiences. A ha-ha helps keep the hotel garden private from the rest of the vineyard and its seven miles of public footpath while ensuring hotel guests and diners enjoy uninterrupted views across the vines.
The new Orangery Restaurant wasn't open for dinner during our stay but that gave us chance to enjoy yet more remarkable views of the vineyard (this time panoramic ones) from the Gallery Restaurant on the third-floor of the main winery building. The menu here is heavily focused on local produce with dishes, such as Surrey lamb with Denbies mint jelly, beef from Surrey Life's 2019 Pride of Surrey winner F. Conisbee & Son in East Horsley and Norbury Blue Cheese, which just happens to go perfectly with a glass of Denbies Noble Harvest.
Having already sampled quite a few award-winning tipples throughout the evening, I was actually quite pleased the enomatic wine dispensing machines, which allow guests to help themselves to samples of wine with the touch of their room key cards, hadn't yet been installed or I may have been nursing a rather sore head the next day!
At breakfast the following morning we managed to enjoy the new orangery restaurant, its fully glazed bi-fold doors again helping to maximise the view as we ate - a full English with local Hill House Farm sausages for Mr P and a vegan option of muffin with spinach, avocado and cashew pesto for me.
Then it was off for a 'Secret Vineyard' tour with wine specialist Eva, during which we uncovered hidden spots among the vines that even some of the staff are yet to have visited (I don't want to give too much away but ask about the special tree).
Having been around for over 30 years there's always a danger that Denbies could lose its appeal among the many younger English vineyards deservedly vying for attention. But with experience on its side and, it appears, plenty more tricks up its sleeve, this vineyard feels like its still very much the leader of the pack.
Room rates start from £155 for a double room and £195 for a suite and include breakfast: denbies.co.uk
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