Best of British: Vineyards
Did you know there were 139 vineyards in England and Wales when Henry VIII ascended the throne? For reasons no one quite knows, production dipped off as the centuries rolled on.
Happily, it’s again on an upward trajectory, and Sharpham is one of the estates at the fore. Having been farmland for more than 1,000 years, the 500 acres were turned into a vineyard almost 25 years ago.
“We’re a family-run winery,” says assistant vineyard manager Charlie Brown. “We create numerous styles of wine, all of which are expressive of the unique terroir Devon has to offer.”
The “Sharpham Experience” tour is a fantastic way to get a flavour of the estate. During a delightful four hours, visitors wander around the 18th-century house, amble down to the river Dart and enjoy a delectable lunch—including, of course, their superb wine and cheese. Don’t forget to buy a bottle from the cellar door shop before you leave.
London Cru, London
Now this technically isn’t a vineyard, but we feel it deserves a mention because it’s London’s first (and currently only) winery.
Central to the operation is winemaker Gavin Monery, who sources the best grapes from around Europe. He ensures they’re hand-harvested, refrigerated and transported to the London Cru site in Earl’s Court—all within 36 hours.
“The key thing with this project has always been quality,” says Gavin. “The growers we work with are among the best in their regions.”
They’re on a mission to ignite a passion for vinification in the public too, with regular tours of the historical headquarters (which are actually a former 19th-century gin distillery). You can even try your hand at the “Winemaker for a Day” special events, but be warned—tickets sell out quickly.
Established less than a decade ago, Winbirri’s awards are piling up fast. The winemakers picked up two silver and three bronze medals in the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Awards in 2014, and countless trophies and gold medals in the East Anglian Wine of the Year Awards in the same year.
When visiting for one of their “Tours and Tastings”, it’s easy to understand why they’ve been such a success.
Head winemaker Lee Dyer is brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge and deliberately doesn’t give a set timeframe for the tour so guests can ask as many questions as they please.
After walking through the vineyards and learning all about the hi-tech equipment in the winery, the experience is completed with a sumptuous selection of wine tasters—all topped off with local platter cheeses and cured meats.
Ryedale Vineyards, Yorkshire
Situated near the village of Westow, these are the most northerly commercial vineyards in Britain. Split over two sites, there are over 10,000 vines covering ten acres in total, alongside an acre of orchards that produces fresh fruit, juice and, of course, cider.
A vineyard tour is held here approximately once a month, and they’re extremely popular with locals (as well as tourists passing through). Visitors are rather charmingly advised to “bring wellies and appropriate clothing” so they can traverse the northern countryside unsullied.
In fair weather, the wine tasting takes place in the garden, but if it’s raining, everyone piles into the farmhouse kitchen. After a few hours in the fresh air, Ryedale’s Shepherd’s Delight rosé slips down very easily.