A Magical Mystery Tour of Surrey Hill’s Vineyards
THE GUIDE 2 SURREY – AUGUST 2016
We joined English Sparkling Wine Tours for their first-of-its-kind tour and tasting experience that peels back the fascinating layers of Surrey’s growing wine industry…
How did it take this long? As a food and drink writer for Surrey I was already aware that the county’s vineyards and vintners were making huge waves in the larger world of wine, a world that had at one time scorned the very idea of quality English wine.
But it has taken Mike Keeble, an accountant by trade and a true oenophile, to take up the reins and lead groups of fellow wine lovers in the first comprehensive tour and tasting experience of its kind to peel back the fascinating layers of Surrey’s growing wine industry.
We joined a group of ten others for the English Sparkling Wine Tour which began – where else?- at Denbies grand wine estate near Dorking. Here we watched a history of Denbie’s 30-year journey to become one of the premier producers of English wine followed by a talk and walk through the gleaming, state of the art production facility where, in a good year, Denbies can produce some 400,000 bottles.
Our guide, Anne, led us to a basement level illuminated by chandeliers, where the soft light bathed huge engraved barrels made from trees brought down by the great storm of 1987. Here the tasting began and we sampled wines from across Denbies celebrated range, from the refreshing, summery Whitedowns to the award-winning Greenfields 2011 with notes of baked apple and citrus.
Throughout the tour, Mike manages to both integrate with the group as well as gently informing us as we go, asking questions of our guides we may not have thought to ask while adding insights and fascinating facts of his own.
After Denbies, we were taken to view a vineyard at the other end of the scale, High Clandon Estate. A mere one-acre vineyard compared to Denbies 265 acres, High Clandon very much falls into the ‘boutique’ category of vineyards, where Bruce and Sybilla Tindale have poured their love for wine into only 1,250 vines, manicuring each one by hand.
But what they share with Denbies, and all other vineyards in the South East of England, is the unique terroir: the happy confluence of climate and geology that allows for growing grapes ideal for producing sparkling wines that rival the best of the Champagne region in France. Indeed, as we learnt, this is possible because the bedrock of porous clay and limestone runs beneath both regions, laid over countless millennia.
A definite highlight of the day, the couple’s effusive passion for viticulture and pride in their vineyard that has produced several award-winning wines in its short history was plain to see. In the rose-bordered vineyard itself, we learned about their painstaking approach to producing their wine, then out on the patio, with views stretching away to the London shard and Wembley Arch, we tried High Clandon’s Queen’s Jubilee (2008), Magna Carta (2010) cuvee, both astonishing Brut-like sparkling whites of wonderful complexity. It’s no wonder that, in 2015 alone, they won Gold in the international Wine Challenge 2015 and Gold in the Sommelier Wine Awards 2015.
Bruce and Sybilla Tindale of High Clandon
You can learn a lot about wine in a just few minutes with Bruce and Sybilla (such as my new favourite wine adjective ‘pétillant’ or ‘pétillance’: thanks Sybilla!) which made it hard to peel ourselves away from their warm hospitality. Nevertheless lunch beckoned (if only to line our stomachs) and Mike couldn’t have chosen a better pub to eat at than the Queen’s Head in Clandon. By now our group had easily warmed to each other and we had fun learning more about each other and comparing notes of the morning we’d had so far while falling on sharing platters of delicious charcuterie and mezze.
Sated, we boarded the bus again to take in another vineyard, one that offered another unique contrast from those we’d visited earlier. Albury Organic Vineyard take a fascinating approach to wine production using biodynamic methods. Owner Nick Wenman took us on a walk through his vineyard, and introduced us to vineyard manager Alex and the vineyard’s perky terrier Attila.
Over samples of three superb sparkling wines and a rosé, we learned that while some of Nick’s biodynamic methods may sound odd (following the cycles of the moon; burying the horns of pregnant cows, then digging them up, liquidising them and spraying the vines) it hasn’t stopped the vineyard from winning serious acclaim; being listed by top Michelin star chefs Angela Hartnett and Tom Kerridge and joining the Queen on her jubilee barge in 2012.
Albury Organic Vineyard
The final stop was just around the corner, with a visit to Silent Pool Distillers, producers of the renowned Silent Pool Gin. I can’t deny that an invigorating jolt from a shot of that sublime gin was what was needed after several hours of steady wine tasting, but it was equally as absorbing to learn about the distillery’s methods and to gaze upon the towering, shiny copper glory of their German-manufactured still.
An interesting diversion to end on then, but the day was still all about that exceptional wine produced up in them thar Surrey Hills. “We’ve always been apologetic about our wine here in the UK,” said Mike, “but we should recognise that we’re actually world class.”
Thanks to English Sparkling Wine Tours, wine lovers now have the perfect opportunity to experience those world class wines and the passionate characters behind them that make Surrey the powerhouse that has put English Wine on the world stage. So if you’re a business, a club or society, or just a keen connoisseur, these tours are ideal for group bookings and are a hugely enjoyable day out.