There are now over 700 wineries in the UK and their numbers are expected to increase. With the same chalk and limestone soil as Champagne, the South East of England has the most, but the West Country has new ones too.
When, in 2017, chef Michael Caines purchased Lympstone Manor, part of the appeal was the surrounding farmland that overlooks the River Exe which he said would make an ideal terroir for English sparkling wine. More than 17,000 vines have been planted and after five years, the first vintage is expected this year. In the meantime, in addition to a Michelin starred restaurant and 21 rooms in the main house.
In September, the famous Pig collection, which operates a handful of hotels in the south of England – all with extensive vegetable gardens and sourcing within 25 miles, will open the South downs in Sussex. In a first for the group, 4,000 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines were planted. The first harvest is scheduled for 2022.
Smaller wineries tend to have less formal accommodations. Wild Escapes Fullerton Farm in Hampshire has four treehouses that overlook the Black chalk winery that cultivates Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to create organic English sparkling wine in small batches. All treehouses have hot tubs, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a refrigerator with plenty of local wine.
In an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset is Little Waddon, producing both red and white wine. Its accommodation is in shepherds’ huts, who quickly become the best friend of an emerging vineyard. Sleeker than tents but easy to move around an area.
Accommodation provides a bit of ballast against start-up costs and can be flexibly used for pickers during harvest. Hencote near Shrewsbury has both a large farmhouse for hire and wooden safari lodges. Oastbrook in Sussex has a permanent ‘Hobbit House’ available for hire. Owner America Brewer, originally from Bahia, Brazil, planted her first vines in 2018; like many new winemakers in the UK, she studied at Plumpton College near Lewes in Sussex. Oxney Estate is England’s largest organic vineyard, spanning over 35 acres near Rye in East Sussex, with cottages and shepherd’s huts.
British wine (and this is really mainly England with a few vineyards in Wales; climate change has a long way to go before Scotland can successfully grow grapes) began as a story of tenacity and eccentric determination in the 1970s and natural wine fits well in this tradition. Well rated Tillingham, near Rye in Sussex, near the border with Kent, has eleven rooms in a former hop barn (this part of the south coast has long grown hops for beer) alongside a pizzeria and d ‘a smarter tasting menu. Covering 70 hectares, this mixed farm has both fruit trees and livestock along its vineyard. With 40,000 vines planted, she produced her first harvest in 2020.