With the oldest vineyards in present day England dating back to only the 1960s, English wine is still quite a young and developing market especially when compared to the rich heritage of French and Spanish vintages. However, over the past couple of decades, English wine has improved to award-winning quality, gaining a loyal following, especially as locally made produce becomes more and more popular. English Wine Week (Saturday 23rd May – Sunday 31st May) annually celebrates and highlights the best of English vintages, encouraging wine-lovers to ‘drink English’.
There are over 400 vineyards and wineries across England and Wales, with many offering wine tastings, tours, and much more, often throughout the year. A vineyard is a perfect romantic excursion during a weekend getaway, so to help you plan your next trip, we have hand-picked our top five recommended English Vineyard tours below…
Located an hour’s drive from either Jurys Inn Swindon or Birmingham, Three Choirs Vineyard is one of the leading and largest English vineyards producing not only delicious wines but also amazing beers and ciders too. Started by two farmers on half an acre of land in 1973, the now 75-acre scenic area spans across the beautiful hills and valleys of the Cotswolds, making it a relaxing haven for both vine worshipping wine connoisseurs, and couples on a romantic weekend away.
A 1 hour tour takes place daily (in all weather conditions) at 2.30pm, and costs £12.50 per person. The tour covers the history of the vineyard, the growth of the grapes, as well as the wine production process with various sparkling, white, and red wines to sample. The vineyard also offers a restaurant serving delicious, contemporary English dishes, which can include cookery demonstrations across the winter months. You can also partake in various walking nature trails around the vineyard, and of course, purchase any of their produce at the onsite shop.
Renowned for their international-award winning wines, particularly their Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Camel Valley is one of England’s favourite vineyards. Just an hour’s drive from our Plymouth hotel, Camel Valley is now in its 25th year and one of England’s leading wine-producers. It proudly boasts winner of the UK Wine Maker of the Year Award for 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012!
Two tours are available at Camel Valley between April and October: the Grand tour and tasting and the Guided tour (finishing 30th September). The Grand tour (not advised for children) costs £15 and commences every Wednesday evening at 5.00pm, ending around 6.45pm. It includes a guided tour of the vineyard and winery process, leading onto a tasting, with the aim to sample at least 5 of their vintages.
The Guided tour is a little more informal, costing £8.50 (children welcome, £3.50 per ticket) and commences every weekday at 2.30pm. It includes a tour of the vineyard and winery, as well as a complimentary glass of wine. Make sure to book as both tours are very popular and often sell out.
Anyone thinking that Yorkshire doesn’t have the ideal grape growing climate for fine wines… think again. Ryedale Vineyards is England’s most northerly commercial vineyard based at the bottom of the Yorkshire Wolds, around a 50 minute drive from Jurys Inn Leeds, has already produced some special vintages. Having only planted their first vines in 2006 with their first vintage made available in 2009, owners Stuart and Elizabeth Smith have already picked up a few awards for their Northern wines. Their Wolds View white wine and Yorkshire’s Sunset rose are both highly recommended.
For anyone interested in getting involved and experiencing the work of a vineyard, Ryedale encourages volunteers to come help pick the grapes and tend to the fields. Additionally, animal and bird lovers can also revel in the wildlife rich area surrounding the vineyards.
Ryedale Vineyards have specific dates for their popular wine tours throughout 2015, costing £10 per person. Booking is essential as places are limited, especially for a larger group. Visitors are taken on a guided tour of the vineyard and winery where chief winemaker and owner, Stuart, talks about the processes involved to make Ryedale’s wine. Depending on the weather, there is then a wine tasting in either the garden or farmhouse kitchen. If the weather is looking slightly wetter, make sure to bring waterproof or warm clothing and a pair of wellies!
Denbies Wine Estate is a cornerstone of English wine production. Started by Adrian White in 1984 at the advice of geologist Professor Richard Selley, the vineyard has now grown to a huge 265 acres - the largest in England. Having hosted various Royal family members, including the Queen in 1986, Denbies averages around 450,000 visitors per year who buy about 80% of the estate’s produced wine - showing just how popular their tours are! But as they are open all year, except around Christmas time, there are plenty of opportunities to visit and it’s only a 40 minute drive from Jurys Inn Croydon.
Due to its popularity, there are a number of Denbies tours on offer, all of which need to be booked (discounts are available for group bookings). For indoor tour there’s a choice between a ‘Classic or Sparkling Wine Tasting Experience’, or a ‘Wine and Food Tasting Experience’ (both 1 hour) costing £10-£16 per person and include a ‘virtual vineyard tour’, a walk-through the winery, and a tasting in the cellar. You can opt for a ‘Cheese and Wine Making Experience’ instead, which is a bit pricier at £89.50 pp, but comes with full refreshments throughout the day.
The outdoor tours can include a trip on the Denbies Vineyard train for a leisurely tour of the vineyard’s more beautiful viewpoints, which costs £6, or £10.50 with a glass of wine. The other outdoor tour is the ‘Vine and Dine Grape Picking Experience’ which includes a lesson in how to properly pick grapes, a detailed ‘behind the scenes’ walking tour of the winery, wine tastings, refreshments including lunch, and a Denbies vine to take away as a souvenir of your day! There are also specially available tours and bespoke itineraries for groups of at least 10 people, however, these need to be organised in advance.
Grape Vines at Bibbenden Vineyard by John Brown / Creative Commons (image has been modified)
Situated around an hour and 10 minutes from our Croydon hotel, Bibbenden Vineyards are amongst the oldest vines in Kent having been first planted in 1969 by the Barnes family. Focusing on wines, ciders, and juices, Bibbenden uses 10 varieties of vine across a 23 acre piece of land to lovingly produce their widely loved beverages. The vineyard shop sells all of their produce including their home reared ‘Dangus’ beef, as well as locally sourced honey, jams, cheeses chutneys, fudge and much more. The vineyards also lend themselves to a number of local events, make sure to check what’s on before visiting.
Bibbenden admissions and tastings are free for visitors during opening times and there are free guided tours throughout the year every Saturday and on Wednesdays between June and September. The tours start at 10 AM and take around 1 hour. Due to their popularity booking is essential. Also available are paid, booked guided tours for groups or parties of up to 15, costing less per person with each additional group member.
Thinking about trying an English wine? Take a look at our top picks of ‘The Best of British: English Wines’
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