Denbies Vineyard in Surrey (Photo: Lawrence, CC BY NC ND 2.0)
Denbies Vineyard in Surrey (Photo: Lawrence, CC BY NC ND 2.0)

In one week I’ll be in England! I’ll be exploring London, the Cotswolds, Somerset and Surrey for two weeks with my pals Lauren and Gail!

While I’m excited to check out historic cideries and breweries, I’m really excited to see what the ever-growing English wine scene is like. Lucky for me, there is a lot of sparkling wine to taste, and many still wines which use interesting varietals like Bacchus and Seyval Blanc.

In lieu of my England trip, here are five English wineries, near where we’ll be staying, I really want to visit! 

Sarah Stierch and Steven Spurrier in 2016
Me with Steven Spurrier. What a real honor to meet him!

It all started with Steven Spurrier

My obsession with English wine all started with Bride Valley, the winery owned by the legendary Steven Spurrier.

Last year, Lauren and I had the pleasure of being among some of the first in the US to taste Bride Valley’s estate sparkling wine at an event at Raymond Vineyards celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris. The wine was quite nice – a real delicate, lovely and dry sparkler that makes for a prefect aperitif on a warm day.

After meeting him, I began obsessing about English wine….which is why the first winery I’d love to visit is…

Vineyards of Bride Valley in Dorset, England
Vineyards of Bride Valley in Dorset, England (Photo by Brendan Buesnel, courtesy of Bride Valley Vineyard)

Bride Valley

In 2008, Spurrier and his wife, Arabella, started growing Burgundian root stock (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) on their farm in Dorset, which is known for it’s chalky hills and rocky soil similar to that of Champagne. In 2011 they picked their first harvest and sold their first release in 2014.

Currently, they offer two sparklers: a vintage Brut Reserve made of 50% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Noir, which they describe as a “sparkling wine for all occasions,” and a vintage rosé, named Bella (Aarabella’s nickname!), which is primarily Pinot Noir with a touch of Chardonnay.

From what I have discovered with a bit of research, Bride Valley‘s appointment only tastings include a tour of their vineyards and a tasting at their garden greenhouse. If you’re lucky, Mr. Spurrier might even be there!

Nyetimber Wines in West Sussex, England
The historic Nyetimber Estate, where Nyetimber Wines are produced, dates back to the 11th century (Photo courtesy of Nyetimber Estate)

Nyetimber Vineyard

Nyetimber Vineyard was recommended by Windee Smith, the co-owner of the Panel. Described as a “pioneer” in English sparkling wine production by the famous Berry Bros & Rudd, Nyetimber has been growing grapes since 1988 with the goal of making a sparkling wine that is completely on par – if not better – than Champagne.

Nyetimber’s estate is historic in many ways: it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book published in 1086 and the fourth wife of Henry VIII, Anne Cleaves, lived there. Today, they produce five estate sparkling wines, all which are reasonably priced, including single vineyard offerings.

Unfortunately for me, Nyetimber’s historic estate is only open twice a year to the public, by reservation, which is generally June and September. I won’t be there then. Thankfully, the Manor House, where we’ll be staying for a time, serves Nyetimber (so not all hope is lost!).

Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, England
Denbies Wine Estate is one of the biggest wine producers in the UK (Photo courtesy of Denbies Wine Estate)

Denbies Wine Estate

A tour of English wine isn’t complete without a visit to Denbies Wine Estate, one of the largest producers of English wine in the country and one of the largest family-owned wineries in Europe.

They make a large selection of wine, and lucky for me, they’re located in Dorking, about 20 minutes from where we are staying in Surrey. They make white, rosé, red and sparkling. Their whites using interesting varietals like Bacchus, Ortega, Siegerrebe, so suffice to say, I’m intrigued.

Denbies also produces two types of rosé that I am interested in: their Rose Hill Rosé and Chalk Ridge Rosé, which both use German Pinot Noir varietals. The 2010 Chalk Ridge was named the best rosé in the world by the International Wine Competition, so yeah, take that English wine haters!

The winery offers tons of tours and tasting experiences, including a vineyard tour by train and two decent restaurants, including one in a historic conservatory. Heck, there is even a brewery on site, too. Tastings start at £10.50.

Fenny Castle Vineyards
Sloped Pinot Noir vineyards at Fenny Castle Vineyard. You can see the Glastonbury Tor in the background on the hill. (Photo courtesy of Fenny Castle Vineyard)

Fenny Castle Vineyard

Fenny Castle is my kind of winery. Small production and deeply interested in sharing the science and heritage of winemaking with wine lovers who visit their Wells estate. Their main vineyard faces the Glastonbury Tor, a historically and mythically significant hill, which gaurentees that Fenny Castle’s wines are magical.

Owners James and Gill Cumming dreamt of building a vineyard near the Tor, and in 2011 they planted their first grapes. Today, they produce Ortega, Bacchus, and Pinot Noir-based sparklings, including rosé. I’m curious about the Ortega, which is often blended into sweet Riesling. Fenny Castle makes a barrel fermented and stainless Ortega.

Another cool thing about Fenny Castle: they produce sparkling cider, which I absolutely love (just like I love my sparkling mead!). They’re open daily and vineyard tours are available by appointment, starting at £10.

Made
25+ year old Madeleine Angevine grapes at Wraxall Vineyard (Photo courtesy of Wraxall)

Wraxall

We’re calling Shepton Mallet a homebase for a number of days and low and behold we’ll be right down the street from Wraxall Vineyard. It’s original vineyards were planted in 1974, making it one of the oldest modern vineyards in the region. However, by the nineties, it fallen into disrepair. Almost all of the original vines were lost and in 2007 the sad vineyard was purchased by Jacky Brayton and Brian Shirley.

Today, the property thrives with happy vines. Wraxall still maintains one of the original plantings, Madeleine Angevine, which is a white grape from the Loire Valley. They also grow Bacchus, Pinot Noir, and Seyval.

They produce sparkling and still varietal wines, including a Pinot rosé and a Somerset Dry white blend, which they describe as being a “crisp dry white wine with a big taste and lots of Somerset attitude!” Sounds right up my alley! They offer 1 1/2 hour long tours of the vineyard and winery and tours are by appointment only, starting at £10.

What other wineries or English wines should I check out when I’m in England?