7 of the best vineyard tours in Kent

Chapel Down Bacchus Vines

Chapel Down Bacchus Vines - Credit: Archant

With the same growing conditions as those in the Champagne region of France, Kent is at the heart of the UK’s wine-growing industry. Words by: Marijke Hall. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

Enjoying a vineyard tour at Biddenden

Enjoying a vineyard tour at Biddenden - Credit: Archant

It’s no secret English wine is emerging as a top contender among the world’s best. More frequently people are reaching for a bottle of home-grown sparkling wine over Champagne and English vineyard owners are seeing success at industry awards and in international markets once dominated by their continental counterparts.

But it’s Kent that has become the beating heart of the UK’s wine-growing industry, not least because of its south-facing chalk soils and temperate climate – the same growing conditions as those in the Champagne region of France.

Already French Champagne houses have their sights on the area, with Taittinger buying land near Chilham, between Canterbury and Ashford, to produce its own brand of English sparkling wine.

But established vineyard owners have been wise to Kent’s potential for years and are already starting to reap the rewards from their top-class produce.

The county now has more than 50 vineyards with some of those laying claim to award-winning wines sold in high-end outlets including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfriges as well as supermarkets such as Waitrose.

Others are known for their tour experiences, bringing international visitors to the region specifically to visit the vineyards and sample the produce.

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Many are still in their early stages, others quite small, but these seven are among the ranks of some of the best in the country.

Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down

Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down - Credit: Archant

Biddenden Vineyards

Kent’s oldest family-run vineyard is run by Julian Barnes, his wife Sally and son Tom. It spans 23 acres of south-facing slopes located in a sheltered valley outside the beautiful village of Biddenden, with 11 different grape varieties producing white, rosé, red and sparkling wines.

“We probably didn’t choose the site from a vine-growing perspective,” saysJulian, “but we looked at diversifying from growing apples. Out of six or seven varieties we found Ortega seemed to do particularly well in terms of flavour. It produces an off-dry, fruity wine. Its fruitiness tastes a little bit sweeter than it actually is.”

Julian encourages people to visit the estate. “It’s important to get people here so they can learn where their food comes from, get a better feel for it and a better understanding. October is harvesting time so it’s a good time to come.”

Tours can be self-guided or there are private and group tours available which include talks and tastings, plus food platters if desired.

Biddenden’s award-winning wines include Ortega (2014 and 2015), Gribble Bridge rosé and white (2013), Gribble Bridge rosé (2014) and Pinot Reserve (2010). See also pages 64-6.

Gribble Bridge Lane, Biddenden TN27 8DF

Visit www.biddendenvineyards.com or call 01580 291726.

The Mount Vineyard

The Mount Vineyard - Credit: Archant

Chapel Down

Chapel Down boasts more than 100 acres of vineyards and produces a range of sparkling and still wines. Near Tenterden, the vineyard is one of the best known in the county and UK and it supplies big names such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver as well as famous institutions including the Royal Opera House, the Turner Contemporary and No 10 Downing Street. Managing director Mark Harvey says: “We believe our Kit’s Coty vineyard on the North Downs of Kent is the finest vineyard in England.

“It sits in the sheltered lee of steep chalk hills that rise above, keeping cool northerly winds at bay while its expansive southerly aspect ensures the vines capture sunshine all year long.”

As well as still wines, it produces award-winning sparkling wines which have been recognised at prestigious competitions including the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2016 and the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2016.

The winery offers tours from April to November and welcomes 50,000 visitors each year.

Mark said: “We have been awarded a Trip Advisor of Excellence for our tours, which include a guided tour of the vineyards and winery followed by a tutored wine tasting, all for just £10 per person. We also offer a series of gift experiences, which include a three-course lunch in our restaurant together with extended wine tastings, from £60 per person.”

Small Hythe Road, Tenterden TN30 7NG

Visit www.chapeldown.com or call 01580 763033.

Hilary Green and Victoria Ash

Hilary Green and Victoria Ash - Credit: Archant

Barnsole Vineyard

Barnsole is a boutique vineyard in the picturesque village of Staple, between Canterbury and Sandwich. The land has been farmed since ancient times and the owners, husband and wife team Phillip and Sally Watts, say its location delivers the perfect geology and climate, helping produce high -quality grapes to make award-winning wine.

Phillip says: “My wife and I acquired the vineyard in 2012 but it was established in 1993. We have just issued our first sparkling at the beginning of May and we are very encouraged by it.

“People are now coming to Kent for it; this is the place to be over Champagne. It’s all about ‘brand English’ – all premium quality. “One in 10 used to reach for a bottle of Champagne now one in 10 are reaching instead for a bottle of English sparkling wine. There’s a bit of a buzz about it and it’s really gaining traction.”

Barnsole offers tours and prides itself on being one of the few vineyards you can just wander into. Choose a mini tour or a more structured one, or if you’re a bigger party, come and have a picnic in the grounds and try the wines.”

The full one-hour guided tour with the winemaker includes a talk and tastings for £7 per person. Wines include Barnsole 2013 Dry Reserve, Barnsole 2014 Red Reserve, Barnsole 2014 Kent Classic and its 2013 English sparkling wine.

Fleming Road, Staple, Canterbury CT3 1LG

Visit www.barnsole.co.uk or call 07772 300 511.

Gusbourne Estate

This beautiful estate spans 40 hectares and is planted with classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Dating back to 1410, owner Andrew Weeber took over in 2004 with the vision to “create English sparkling wines that would stand up alongside the very finest offerings from across the globe.”

More than a decade later he has done just that, scooping a number of accolades including six gold medals in the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2015.

Andrew said: “You’ve got to remember that Kent is in the Garden of England and England is full of good farmers. Once they put their mind to producing something, they’re usually quite good at it. Viticulture is continuing to increase and this is good for jobs and for tourism in the area.”

The winery offers tours by appointment and a tasting room is planned, to open in spring 2017.

Its wines include the Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs (Twenty Twelve), Gusbourne Brut Reserve (Twenty Twelve) and Gusbourne Rosé (Twenty Twelve)

Kenardington Road, Appledore TN26 2BE

Visit www.gusbourne.com or call 01233 758666

Woodchurch Wine Estate

Established in 2009, this little vineyard run by Graham and Donna Barbour has made its mark, despite being a relative newcomer. The couple released their first wines only last year and already having two awards under their belt.

They put some of that down to location. “Set on hills looking south over Romney Marsh to the English channel, our land has the perfect geography and climate to produce the highest quality grapes and the finest English sparkling wine. Our wines are hand crafted to express the characteristics of each season,” says Graham.

You can visit the estate (tours by appointment), including tastings and a walk through the vines to learn about the growing process.

Earlier this year, the estate saw success at the International Wine and Spirits Competition, with medals for its Class Cuvée and Rosé (2013).

Wines include the Woodchurch Classic Cuvée (2013), Woodchurch Rosé (2013) and Woodchurch Blanc de Blancs (2012)

Susan’s Hill, Woodchurch TN26 3RE

Visit www.woodchurchwine.co.uk or call 07796 693935.

The Mount Vineyard

Located in an idyllic village near Sevenoaks, the Mount Vineyard offers award-winning still and sparkling wines. Bought by Simon and Lissa Greenwood (above) in 2011, it spans 28 acres with 10 of those under vine and with eight different varieties of grape.

Visitors can enjoy a variety of different tours, from private tours and tastings to Wine Wednesdays where guests are shown around the estate before tasting the wines in the gardens or tasting room.

Groups can have a private tour, for a minimum of eight people, or throughout the summer until early autumn visitors can drop in with no appointment to sample the wines by the glass and with a cheese or charcuterie board if desired.

Its award-winning wines include the Rosé Sparkling (2010) which scooped a silver at the International Wine and Spirit Competition 2014 and the Flint Key (2013) which won accolades at the same awards and at the International Wine Challenge 2015.

The Mount’s wine range also includes its white Pinot (2013) and Cellar Key.

Church Street, Shoreham, nr Sevenoaks TN14 7SD

Visit www.themountvineyard.co.uk or call 01959 524008.

Hush Heath Estate and Winery

Set within rolling hills, this stunning estate surrounded by ancient woodland and with 36 acres of vines is a perfect setting to sample delicious wines.

Owned by Richard Balfour-Lynn, who has lived at Hush Heath Manor since the 1980s with his family, it has become one of the leading wineries in the county.

And tours are a big part of what it offers with visitors travelling to the area especially to see the estate.

Richard said: “We’re getting a lot more people visiting the vineyard. They stay in the area, they go to our pubs, The Goudhurst Inn (Cranbrook) or the Tickled Trout (West Farleigh).

“The full tour can take about four hours, people can order picnic boxes. It’s very much a day out. Or people can just pop in, have a lovely walk around and taste some of our wines.”

Experts at the estate are also happy to host impromptu tastings for visitors.

Hush Heath does a range of award-winning sparkling wines including the Balfour Leslie’s Reserve and the Balfour Rosé.

There is also the critically acclaimed Balfour 1503 in pink and white. Still wines include Nannette’s English rosé, Skye’s Chardonnay and Hush Heath pinot noir.

Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst TN12 0HT

Visit www.hushheath.com or call 01622 832794.