LAST year, grapes overtook strawberries and blackcurrants as the fastest-growing edible agricultural crop sector in England (according to Defra) and the majority are grown here, in Kent. The county’s fertile soil, low rainfall and warm climate (the warmest in the UK, according to 2023 stats from the Met Office) have proven hugely advantageous for the county’s wine producers and, if you count East and West Sussex as separate counties, Kent has more land under vine than any other in the UK.

However, it’s not just the quantity of wine made here that is on the up – Kent’s wines are regularly pitted against those made in some of the world’s finest wine regions and are winning awards. Indeed, in a blind tasting carried out last summer by Tenterden wine producers, Chapel Down, 60 per cent of French drinkers preferred Kent sparkling wine to their native Champagne!

So, what should you be checking out on the Kent wine scene this English Wine Week?

Balfour headwinemaker Fergus Elias at the launch of the South East Wine Map launchBalfour headwinemaker Fergus Elias at the launch of the South East Wine Map launch

The boundary pushers

While England has become world-renowned for its sparkling wines, an increasing number of wine producers have been recognised for their still winemaking abilities.

The Bacchus grape has been grown in England since the 1970s when it was brought here alongside other Germanic varieties, such as Müller-Thurgau and Reichensteiner. However, Chapel Down ( has been at the forefront of driving forward its new-found reputation as England’s signature still variety.

The company has also experimented with grape varieties not usually grown here, such as the Spanish grape, Albariño. In 2015, the brand released the first commercially-produced single varietal Albariño to the UK market and head winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire and his team release this and other wines produced from experimental plantings in the best years under the brand’s ‘Discovery Series’.

Balfour Winery (, in Staplehurst, also has plantings of Albariño and is set to launch its first bottles to the public this month during English Wine Week.

'I have extremely high hopes for Albariño in England, Dad [Owen Elias] planted it for the first time a little over a decade ago and I have been itching to work with it since then,' says head winemaker, Fergus Elias. 'It’s very rare as a winemaker to have the opportunity to make an ‘early iteration’ of a new variety to a region so it’s a genuine privilege and career highlight.'

When it comes to red, aside from still wine being made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (grapes traditionally used in English sparkling wine), there has been an increase in plantings of Gamay across the UK in recent years. However, Julian Barnes, from Biddenden Vineyards (, first planted the grape here in 1985 and produces this Beaujolais-style wine when vintages allow.

'A love of the wine and process coupled with a limited growing knowledge at the time, meant any success with Gamay was a long time coming,' he admits. 'However, gradual climate change and some special years in 2003, 2009, 2011, 2018, 2020, 2022 have allowed some amazing vintages.'

Tom and Elisha CannonTom and Elisha Cannon

The rosé warriors

Running a vineyard is an expensive business so a growing number of English producers have adopted the negociant method, which involves purchasing grapes from established vineyards, and using a contract winemaker, to enable them to make wine.

This is how Brenchley couple, Tom and Elisha Cannon, realised their dream of making an English still rosé that would meet the tastes of the UK public – Britain is the third-largest consumer of rosé wine in the world.

'We could see the early demand and success that was being achieved in the English sparkling wine world and that, together with our entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to create something that would belong to Tom and I, led to the decision that rosé wine – and particularly English rosé – was the future of wine,' explains Elisha, who previously worked in London as a lawyer, while Tom was a portfolio manager for a venture capital firm.

The pair sought guidance from Wine GB (the national association for the English and Welsh wine industry) before they enlisted the services of Canterbury-based contract winemakers, Defined Wine, to release their first Folc rosé in 2020.

Rather than focus on one area for their grapes, the Folc team, which has since grown to eight people, source them from the best family-run vineyards in Kent, Sussex and Suffolk to ensure consistency in quality and taste year after year.

The strategy has worked and Folc ( has been named the highest scoring still English rosé at the International Wine Challenge – “the pinnacle of our successes to date,” says Elisa.

Jenni MiddlehurstJenni Middlehurst

The new kid on the block

One of England’s newest vineyards sits on the Kent and East Sussex border, in Groombridge.

Jenni Middlehurst moved to the area from London with her husband, Rhys, in 2022 to pursue her dream of planting her own vineyard.

The 34-year-old has taken a break from her corporate job in financial services, to tend to the 750 vines, which were planted across half an acre of land at their new home last year.

'I have a degree in microbiology and have always had a keen interest in science and technology,' she explains. 'I’d wanted a vineyard for a long time as a playground to trial things out and be creative, but I didn’t really think it was possible for another 20 years. However, we found a house with a tiny bit of land that needed clearing, on a south facing slope that we thought would work well and, in May 2023, we planted 250 vines of Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier and Gamay.'

Jenny, who also has a masters degree in oenology and viticulture, a diploma in wine and runs wine tasting business Grape Nights (, chose these varieties because they will allow her to make a variety of different still wines including a white, red, rosé, skin contact and, potentially, a natural wine.

'We will steer away from making English sparkling due to length of time it takes to make it, the storage required and because there are already a lot of big players,' she adds. 'My top tip for anyone thinking of planting their own vineyard? Start small and have a strong vision. I think it’s important to know your style of how you want to grow the grapes and how you want to make the wine.'


The luxury luminary

In 2022, Gusbourne in Appledore hit headlines for launching the most expensive English Sparkling Wine on the market. At £195, you might think this 2014 vintage prestige cuvee – named 51 Degrees North after the co-ordinates of the Gusbourne Estate winery – would be a one off but the brand has released a second vintage of the wine from 2016.

In another benchmark for the English wine industry, earlier this year Gusbourne released England’s first agrafe sparkling wine. Agrafe, which means ‘staple’ in French, is a way of closing a sparkling wine so it's aged on cork from the outset, instead of the bottle being closed with a crown cap during the ageing process.

While many may baulk at yet another hefty price tag (this one comes in at £85 per bottle), there’s also a chance to get real value for money during English Wine Week at two exclusive events. On June 15 the Award-Winners Tasting and Lunch (£115pp) offers guests the opportunity to taste some of Gusbourne’s most highly-awarded wines, including extremely rare wines that aren’t usually on general sale, and throughout English Wine Week there will also be a five A Tale of Two Terroirs Tasting Lunches (£100pp) where visitors will explore different wines from Gusbourne’s Kent and Sussex terroirs side by side.

The new South East Wine Map features 14 Kent vineyards. The new South East Wine Map features 14 Kent vineyards.

More than just wine

Kent’s vineyards have become about much more than just wine and while many host traditional tours and tastings, others are thinking outside the box to deliver a different type of visitor experience. In March, WineGB South East (the member association for vineyards in Kent, Sussex Surrey and South London) helped launched a new South East Visitors Wine Map to help make touring the areas vineyards easier.

The map features 14 Kent vineyards with details of the different permanent facilities they offer, from restaurants at Balfour Winery, Chapel Down and Squerryes, to those with accommodation, such as Woolton (glamping), Brissenden (camping) and Brabourne (lodges).

There are also pop-up events held at vineyards throughout the year. As well as hosting cinema nights in partnership with Rebel Reel Cine Club, Westwell Wine Estates ( in Charing, near Ashford, hosts a regular produce market (this month’s is on June 8), where visitors can stock up on produce from Kent artisans such as Ro-gro, Docker, Cheesemakers of Canterbury, Pleasant Land Distillery, Sea Sisters and Fox and Bloom while enjoying locally-brewed coffee, a picnic and, of course, plenty of Kentish wine!


3 Kent wines to try this English Wine Week

Chapel Down Chardonnay Chapel Down Chardonnay

Chapel Down Chardonnay, £15

Challenging consumer perceptions of Chardonnay, which were marred in the 1980s by an abundance of heavily-oaked new world styles, this fresher style provides clear evidence of why England should be making more still Chardonnay. Crisp acidity is balanced by a creamy texture – it’s perfect with grilled chicken and asparagus.

Folc RoseFolc Rose

Folc Dry English Rosé 2023, £19.99

The fourth vintage of this stunning wine was launched just in time for the start of rosé season, in a new bottle to reflect this crisper, fresher, brighter expression of Folc.

Delicate pink in colour, it’s both refreshing and succulent with flavours of strawberry, cranberry and a slight zestiness. The perfect picnic accompaniment.

Gusbourne Pinot NoirGusbourne Pinot Noir

Gusbourne Pinot Noir, 2022, £40

Summer might not always seem like the time for red wine, but this soft and elegant Pinot Noir is a prime example of how good English red wine can be. It’s brimming with dark berry and cherry, and with an earthy smokiness synonymous to this style of wine, it’s the perfect pairing for a barbecue.


Tune in!

If you fancy finding out more about the stories of those behind some of Kent’s vineyards, check out The English Wine Diaries podcast (, where you’ll find episodes with Chapel Down, Balfour Winery, Biddenden Vineyards, Woolton Vineyard and more! Search ‘English Wine Diaries’ wherever you stream your podcasts.