7 of the best vineyard tours in Kent
PUBLISHED: 13:33 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:33 26 September 2018
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
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 Selfridges 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.
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.
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,” says Julian, “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 the 2014 Pinot Reserve (2018), Ortega (2014 and 2015), Gribble Bridge rosé and white (2013), Gribble Bridge rosé (2014) and Pinot Reserve (2010)
Gribble Bridge Lane, Biddenden TN27 8DF. 01580 291726
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.
Chapel Down has also recently ventured into spirits with a gin produced with distilled Bacchus grape skins and infused with juniper, elderflower, lavender, orange peel and more. The Chardonnay vodka is produced with distilled Chardonnay grape skins.
The winery offers tours from March 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 £15 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 £50 per person.”
Small Hythe Road, Tenterden TN30 7NG. 01580 763033
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.
“People are now coming to Kent for [sparkling wine]; 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 £11 per person. Wines include Barnsole 2016 Dry Bacchanalian, Barnsole 2015 Red Reserve, and Barnsole 2015 Classic Sparkling Wine
Fleming Road, Staple, Canterbury CT3 1LG. 07772300511
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 (£25 per person) and a tasting room is open all year which can be visited without appointment.
Its wines include the Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs (Twenty Thirteen), Gusbourne Brut Reserve (Twenty Fourteen) and Gusbourne Rosé (Twenty Fourteen)
Kenardington Road, Appledore TN26 2BE. 01233 758666
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.
Awards for Woodchurch wines include those from Decanter, IWSC and International Wine and Spirit Competition.
Wines include the Woodchurch Classic Cuvée (2014), Woodchurch Rosé (2014) and Woodchurch Blanc de Blancs (2013)
Susan’s Hill, Woodchurch TN26 3RE. 07796693935
Located in an idyllic village near Sevenoaks, the Mount Vineyard offers award-winning still and sparkling wines. Bought by Simon and Lissa Greenwood in 2011, it spans 28 acres with 10 of those under vine and with eight different varieties of grape.
Visitors can enjoy tours from June to September and tastings or Wine Wednesdays where guests are shown around the estate before tasting the wines in the gardens or tasting room.
Visitors can drop in all year round to sample the wines by the glass and with a cheese or charcuterie board if desired.
Its wines include the Rosé Sparkling (2012) and the Flint Key (2015).
The Mount’s wine range also includes its dry sparkling Organic Pinot Gris (2013) and Cellar Key (2016)
Church Street, Shoreham, nr Sevenoaks TN14 7SD. 01959 524008
Set within rolling hills, this stunning estate surrounded by ancient woodland and with 50 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 Brut Rosé. Still wines include Nannette’s English Rosé, Skye’s English White and Hush Heath Pinot Noir.
Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst TN12 0HT. 01622 832794