CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Experience grape picking at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking

PUBLISHED: 15:57 08 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:11 08 July 2014



Andy Newbold Photography

As they get ready for the harvest at England’s largest vineyard, Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, you too could be joining in. Andy Newbold rolls up his sleeves and discovers what it is that brings hundreds of wine lovers to this beautiful corner of Surrey every autumn

The spectacular drive up to Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking is akin to arriving in Provence, and the vineyard has long been my place to escape to when I need time out. As a result, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it was all about, but there was one aspect of life there that I was yet to experience.

Every autumn, the vineyard hosts its Vine & Dine grape picking days. Billed as the only experience of its kind in the UK, I wondered what might encourage paying and eminently sensible members of the public to step into the shoes of a harvest more normally associated with weary travellers in other countries. It was time to find out. 

Grape to bottle

And so it is that on a bright early morning, the first chill of autumn in the air, I find myself gathered together with a motley crew of other enthusiastic oenophiles, tucking into bacon butties (well, you need sustenance for grape picking, you know).

In actual fact, the Vine & Dine experience days offer far more than just grape picking. Started in 2006, they allow members of the public the chance to experience the whole process of winemaking – from the grape to the bottle (now you’re talking...).

First up, though, we begin by meeting some of the regular pickers from the vineyard team who explain what to look for when selecting the bunches (the better the grapes, the better the wine). Lessons hopefully learned, the group heads off into the vines for two hours of grape picking, and we’re on our way!

It’s not until you start wandering through the trails that you start to grasp the size of the UK’s largest single estate vineyard. It’s huge and it needs to be – there are 14 different wines in production here with a turnover of over 450,000 bottles per year from 265 acres of vines! That’s a lot of grapes!

These are also vines that have placed Denbies on a pedestal among the best of British and, in fact, the world.

Earlier this year, their Noble Harvest 2011 won gold at the International Wine Challenge in the dessert wine category and the Chalk Ridge Rosé 2010 was named best rosé in the world at the same competition in 2011. In fact, Denbies’ wines have even been enjoyed by royalty (Prince Charles has walked these fields) and also at 10 Downing Street.

This knowledge certainly adds to the excitement of the Vine & Dine experience: you could well be picking grapes that prove to be future award-winners. 

Getting a taste

Once the hard work is out of the way, the soon-to-be seasoned oenologists leave the fields to watch their harvest being loaded into the presses. Then, it’s time for the first taste of the ‘must’ – grape juice that is going or about to go through fermentation, to you and me.

At this point, we’re still a long way from the finished bottle that ends up so perfectly complementing your meals though. Fortunately, a walking tour of the winery takes us through the next stages of the process before visitors settle down for a typical workers’ lunch – a good old ploughman’s accompanied with a glass of Denbies’ finest, of course.

Stomachs full, it’s on to many people’s favourite part of the experience: the tasting of the various Denbies’ wines on offer in the cellars – ranging, on this occasion, from the country’s best-selling English wine, Surrey Gold, to the elegant notes of their Chalk Hill rosé and the mouthwatering Redlands.

At the end of the day, as the grape pickers leave, they are presented with an estate- grown vine to take away and plant at home – I wonder how many of them go away with dreams of replicating the achievements of Adrian White and his family, who created the vineyard after purchasing the Denbies Estate back in 1984.

With a particularly fine yield predicted for this year, thanks to the warm and sunny conditions this summer, which are expected to lead to an exceptionally 
high quality of wine, there’s perhaps never been a better time to get hands-on among the vines.




Vine & Dine Grape Picking Experiences are available at Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking RH5 6AA from Monday to Saturday throughout October. The cost is £53 per person with a group rate available on request. For more information, call 01306 876616 or visit their website at




Best Surrey wine and vineyards - Albury, Denbies, Godstone, Greyfriars and Painshill




A bluffer’s guide

to wine terminology


Bacchus: The Roman god of wine, known as Dionysus in ancient Greece; a hybrid white grape from Germany. A Denbies favourite.

Fermentation: The process by which sugar is transformed into alcohol; how grape juice interacts with yeast to become wine.

Maceration: The process of allowing grape juice and skins to ferment together, thereby imparting colour, tannins and aromas.

Must: Crushed grapes about to go or going through fermentation.

Oenology: The science of wine production; an oenologist is a professional winemaker; an oenophile is someone who enjoys wine.

Press: The process by which grape juice is extracted prior to fermentation; a machine that extracts juice from grapes.

Pruning: The annual vineyard chore of trimming back all the plants from the previous harvest.

Sommelier: Technically a wine steward, but one potentially with a great degree of wine knowledge as well as a diploma of sorts in wine studies.

Vintage: A particular year in the wine business; a specific harvest.

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 16:06

Education expert Dr Ryan Hinchey, Coordinator of College Counselling at ACS International School, with campuses in Cobham, Egham and Hillingdon, answers your questions

Read more
Yesterday, 11:34

Surrounded by reservoirs and located on the banks of the famous river from which it takes its name, Staines-upon-Thames (as it is now called) is a town working to reshape its future and celebrate its picturesque riverside setting

Read more
Mon, 16:30

She may have recently moved to the seaside, but Surrey still holds a uniquely “precious” place in the heart of legendary children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson – not to mention the crucial role the county played in bringing everyone’s favourite and newly-returning feisty foster-kid to life

Read more
Mon, 11:59

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (23, 24 and 25 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search