"It's not much but it's ours"

Saturday, April 18, 2009


A few weeks ago I was put in touch with Ben Furst of English Vine Tours by his brother in law and my good chum, Paul Smith.

After a number of years running a small, independent wine merchant in Lewes, Sussex, Ben and his wife decided to concentrate on promoting tourism in the area and particularly visits to the growing number of vineyards along the South coast.

When Ben was kind enough to invite me to join him on one of his tours I was a little dubious. The stunning Nyetimber apart, my only experiences of British wines had been, shall we say mixed, wines that, to quote Python should be best “laid down and avoided”

But, I thought it might be an interesting addition to EATING FOR BRITAIN and, at the very least a nice day out near the coast and so, early on Saturday morning, I rocked up at Lewes station after catching a murderously early train from Victoria.

Ben’s tours are very civilised and small with just eight of us on this occasion and, after a welcome breakfast at a local hotel, we climbed into Ben’s people carrier for the short trip to our first port of call, the vineyards of Carr Taylor close to Battle

Carr Taylor has been going for nearly forty years and over the years their wines have won numerous international awards, particularly for their sparkling wines. We joined a tour that was just about to get underway and although I have visited enough vineyards in the last few years, it was good fun, the process well explained and definitely worth doing. At the end, we all decamped to a small tasting room for a sample of most of the Carr Taylor wines.

Like other producers on The South Coast, the grapes Carr Taylor use are predominantly those found in German wines like Kerner, Muller Thurgau and Huxel and they are blended to make some surprisingly elegant wines like the signature Alexis and 1066. However, it is the sparkling wines that really catch the taste buds and their sparkling Brut is well worth seeking out.

After a quick and pleasant lunch, it was on to the next vineyard, across the border into Kent. Biddenden is possibly better known for its excellent cider, but now has over 22 acres of vines, again using mainly German varieties. Unlike Carr Taylor, they make single varietals rather than blends and the truth is, on the tasting we tried after Ben gave us a tour of the vineyards, the results are not that great, which shows that although English wines have come on by leaps and bounds, they still have a long way to go before they will be taken as seriously as some of them deserve.

Despite the slightly disappointing visit to the second vineyard, it was still a very enjoyable day out and well worth considering. Ben is charming, knowledgeable and very passionate about promoting English wines and it shows in his relationship with the producers we met. English Vine Tours offer quite a range of options including days where you can mix a visit to a vinyard with an afternoon of art or an afternoon at the races, a potentially lethal combination.

A good day, but then, I came away with a bottle of wine and, quite frankly, any day that ends that way is a good day

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Blogger Dan said...

I've generally had some pretty good experience of English wine - Chapel Down Vineyards in Kent - Bacchus Reserve and Biddenden Vineyard - "Ortega" are two wines I'd recommend to anyone.

In fact, if the suns shining - you can do a hell of a lot worse than jump in the car - visit some vineyards in Kent for a wander and a taste (No swallowing if your driving oooer!) and perhaps pop into pretty Royal Tunbridge Wells for a mosey around the shops.

Monday, April 20, 2009 9:37:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen said...

I love vineyard tours; have only been on one in England though - Denbies which claims to be the largest English vineyard.

The tour was interesting from the point of view of seeing the interior of the winery while fermentating and maceration was actually underway. There were loads of stainless steel tanks of white wine, but the entire red wine production of the vintage was fermenting in an open-topped plastic container.

The lady giving the tour was clearly just doing it for tourist purposes though and glossed over some things and didn't give much information in others - a bit of style over substance I thought.

And they had a "multimedia experience" type of video in the beginning which they went on about at great length, calling it unique, etc. It was a 360 degree video display, which meant that you had to crane your neck to see what was happening most of the time.

Monday, April 20, 2009 3:13:00 pm  
Blogger Douglas Blyde said...

There's an English wine tasting at Lords, this Thursday, BTW.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:11:00 am  

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