Raise a glass to East Anglia’s wonder wines: 16 vineyards and wineries near you
PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 May 2017
In a survey conducted by The Grocer Magazine in 2016, English wines came an impressive fourth for quality, after those from France, Italy and Australia. The warm, dry climate and mix of sandy and clay soil makes East Anglia one of the premier vine growing regions of the UK, so to mark English Wine Week - May 27 to June 4 - we have been discovering some of the vineyards and wineries in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex.
Giffords Hall Vineyard
A family owned vineyard located in the village of Hartest in Suffolk. Planted around 25 years ago on the site of an ancient glacial riverbed, the vineyard’s sandy/clay soil produces quality grapes, high in natural sugars and acids. The range of wines includes an award winning rosé, an aromatic Bachhus and a fruity red Pinot Noir blend. Owner Linda Howard recently backed proposals for a new law obliging British embassies and consulates overseas to serve English wines at official events - Giffords Hall has already supplied a consulate in Africa. Bottles are available directly from the vineyard and from local stockists including Suffolk Food Hall, Waitrose and restaurants. Vineyard tours and tastings are available and The Cellar Door Shop (open from 11am - 4pm, Tuesday to Friday during summer) sells a range of items including candles, cards, glass and wool products.
There is also a cafe which opens at weekends during the summer.
Louise and John Chapman enjoyed a bottle of Giffords Hall Bacchus 2015 and said: “This wine is a lovely pale colour and very light and clean on the palate. We could detect a hint of honey and maybe citrus in the first sip then a lovely burst of fruit on the tongue before it left a wonderfully warm feeling at the back of the throat. Full of flavour.”
A 30 acre, family-run wine producer based on the edge of the Norfolk broads in Surlingham - an important Anglo-Saxon settlement. The name Winbirri, comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘win’ (wine) and ‘birri’ (grape). The vineyard was established in 2007 by experienced fruit farmer, Stephen Dyer, and the estate is now run by his son, Lee, who studied viticulture, oenology and wine skills at Plumpton College in East Sussex. In fact, it’s a real family affair with six family members pruning, grape-picking, pressing and bottling and an extra three employees at busy times such as harvest.
The vineyard produces red, white and sparkling wines with each step of the process taking place in an on-site winery. Winbirri Vineyards recently won the accolade of world’s best single varietal white wine at the internationally renowned Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 for its Bacchus 2015, which scored 95/100 to win the platinum best in show title. The same vintage also won the wine of the year trophy at the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition in 2016. Currently, Winbirri Vineyards produces around 50,000 bottles a year but plans are in motion for further plantings in 2017.
Tour and Tasting Experience Days take place throughout the year. Bottles are available in independent wine shops and supermarkets.
Established in 2016 by Ben and Hannah Witchell who have planted nearly 10 acres of vines and created a state of the art winery on site. Ben spent six years studying oenology (the science of wine) and has gained hands-on experience at some of the best wineries in France and California. The newly planted vines won’t be cropped until 2019 to ensure they are established as healthily as possible but until this time, Ben is working closely with growers in East Anglia to source the best grapes possible for the winery. They have just released their first vintage and the new Bacchus and pinot blanc have both been well-received by professional reviewers. Guided tours and tastings take place every Wednesday and Saturday at 10am and can be booked online. The wine is available on the website.
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis of Hadleigh said: “The Bacchus wine from Flint Vineyard is a bit of a revelation. It has all those vibrant, citrussy notes you’d expect to find in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but is made right here in the east of England! The wine is buttery smooth with a zesty bite that lingers, without ever being too sharp. It’s ripe and luscious and probably a bit too drinkable!”
South Pickenham Vineyard
This six acre vineyard was established in 1984 and originally planted for private consumption. In 2010, the vineyard was turned into a small commercial enterprise, selling up to 3,000 bottles of its own vintage each year. The vines are planted on a south facing slope in a sheltered location, in order to minimise the potential damage from late and early frost during the growing season. The vineyard grows five grape varieties, including Bacchus and Chardonnay, and the fruit is pressed, fermented and bottled at a Suffolk winery to produce a delicate, medium dry white wine. There is also a recently introduced sparkling offering. Vineyard tours will take place on August 19 and 20 and will feature a tractor trailer ride to the vineyard, vineyard tour and wine tasting with light refreshments - call 01760 756376 to book.
The wine is available through local pubs and restaurants and on the website.
Jamie Bolton of Bury St Edmunds enjoyed a taste of the South Pickenham sparkling white. “It has an apple flavour,” he said. “Very fruity. We’re supposed to say things like ‘it has notes of a B flat’ or ‘it’s definitely quaffable’ but I’ll just say that I could see myself drinking the whole bottle.”
The first vines were planted in 2010, now the vineyard - warm, well drained and largely protected from frost - has about 10,000 vines, of nine varieties, covering eight acres. Each variety flowers and ripens at different times of the summer and autumn which reduces the risk of crop loss due to bad weather. Wines include white and rosé with the still varieties made in conjunction with the Shawsgate Vineyard in Framlingham. Also available is High Spirit No.1, an artisan drink triple-distilled from the rosé wine with a vibrant cherry pink colouring and the kick of a spirit. The vineyard is open to the public, with self guided maps available from the farmshop which is open Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm. Tour and tasting sessions (afternoons) can be booked in advance and include an hour of walking and talking in the vineyard followed by the tasting of a number of still and sparkling wines with a nibble or two. Spaces are available for dates in June, July and August - full details on the website.
Bottles are available from local stores and pubs and online.
Amy Gallivan of Framlingham said: “I adore the 2014 Rosé. It’s not too alcoholic and has a freshness to it as well as a soft, jammy, fruity hint of summer berries. But it’s not too sweet so both my partner and I can drink it - he prefers a drier wine usually. Highly recommended.”
Planted in 2007, by owners John and Helen Lilley, with four European disease resistant hybrids - 2 black varieties, Rondo and Regent, and 2 white varieties, Orion and Phoenix. The vineyard extends to just under an acre and produces Congham Rosé, a dry still wine well known locally, and a Bacchus style white wine, Congham Phoenix. Both are fermented and bottled by Shawsgate vineyard in Suffolk. In collaboration with Wiston Estate in west Sussex, Congham also produces a Sparkling Rosé Brut. Next year should see the release of the vineyard’s first red wine, Congham Rondo, from the 2014 vintage.
Wines are sold locally in west Norfolk through pubs and restaurants and also in farmshops, delis and specialist shops including Walsingham Farms shops, the Cellar by the Quay in Wells, Whin Hill Cider in Wells, Drove Orchards farmshop and Satchells of Burnham Market.
The vineyard is not open to the public.
Tuffon Hall Vineyard
Castle Hedingham, North Essex
A boutique English vineyard producing award-winning still and sparkling wines from the heart of East Anglia. In 2011 owner Angus Crowther, whose family has farmed the land for generations, planted five acres of Bacchus, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. In 2015, the first two wines produced were named after the owner’s eldest daughters, Amelie and Beatrice.
Bottles are now available online or directly through the vineyard. Tasting sessions are occasionally held at the estate - check the Facebook page for details: www.facebook.com/tuffonhall/
Monk Soham, Suffolk
A small Suffolk winery producing 10,000 bottles of fruit wines and liqueurs each year. Owner Derek Jones uses a combination of traditional and modern techniques to make his range of seven wines and seven liqueurs by hand. Being a winery only, no rows of vine will be found here – fruit is bought in, mostly from East Anglian suppliers.
DJ Wines also produces a Monks Mead, made from 100% honey collected from bees which have been feeding on the heather at Dunwich and surrounding Suffolk Coastal area. It is designed as dessert wine, less sweet than a typical mead, allowing it to pair with food, particularly strong flavoured cheeses and desserts - best served cold.
Bottles are available from the website, local restaurants and farm shops, and tours/tasting sessions can be booked in advance.
Valley Farm Vineyards
Established in 1987, current owners Elaine Heeler and Vanessa Tucker bought the eight-acres of vines in 2014. The duo had previsouly worked in the public sector but after redundancy wanted a change of pace - Elaine took course in viticulture and oenology and Vanessa studied the horticulture side of vineyard management.
The estate now produces five types of quality grape and specialises in still white and rosé, sparkling white, still blush and sparkling blush wines - the 2015 Madeleine Angevine dry white wine won a gold medal at the UKVA English and Welsh wine competition. The grapes are processed at Cornish winemaker, Knightor. Visitors can take a self tour, map provided, or book a guided tour and tasting with the owners which takes around an hour. There is also an option to stay on site.
Bottles are for sale at the vineyard and local stockists.
Planted in 1988 with some 12,000 vines on seven acres, the vineyard produces an average of 12,000 bottles a year which are all sold through the shop and restaurant on site. The jewel in the vineyard crown is the Bacchus, a dry wine with the character of a sauvignon blanc, which has won English Wine of the Year and East Anglian Wine of the Year (twice). The Wyken country store also sells stylish homeware, crafts and clothes and there is a farmers’ market every Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Visitors can walk to the vineyard through a beautiful, ancient woodland with marked paths.
Martine Silkstone enjoyed a bottle of Wyken Bacchus 2015 and said: “So pale in colour and so delicate in flavour. I was enjoying the first glass so much I nearly burnt my risotto! Fortunately I didn’t as this lovely, clean Bacchus was the perfect accompaniment. Soft and clean with no lingering after-taste - one of my favourite white wines to date.”
Caroline and Tremayne Johnson enjoyed a bottle of Wyken Pink 2016 and said: “This definitely has the wow factor. We love the rich cherry colour, the choice of English name and the art on the label. So much darker than most rosé wines. It has an aroma of strawberries in the glass and a light, fruity taste with just a hint of effervescence as it hits the tongue, before it melts away. Though not usually a big fan of rosé wines, this is one we would definitely enjoy again.”
Copdock Hall Vineyard
Planted in 2013, Copdock Hall Vineyard, comprising of one red grape variety (rondo) and two white (bacchus and solaris), produced its first harvest in 2015. The site, which has half an acre of vines, is overseen by Copdock Hall Barn owner, Ian Evans, who was inspired to create the vineyard after living in Cape Town, South Africa, for four years surrounded by various wine estates.
The wine is made at Shawsgate in Framlingham and the 2015 Copdock Hall Rosé won a Bronze Award from the East Anglian Vineyards Association. The second vintage has just been released. The vineyard is open for visits and workshops in the spring/summer/autumn and in winter by appointment.
Lauren Hockney, content manager at the East Anglian Daily Times, enjoyed a bottle of the 2016 Rosé and said: “This is a dry and elegant pale pink rosé, packed with refreshing and crisp red fruit flavours.” The bottle retails at £10 and can be bought at the premises or sent in the post, incurring a small charge.
West Street Vineyard
The Mohans bought West Street Vineyard in 2009 and found the 900 30-year-old vines in need of a lot of love and care. In 2011, after clearing away the weeds and preparing the soil, the couple planted an additional 3,000 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines from Burgundy. Now their wines are winning prizes including silver medals in the UK wine competition.
The vineyard, which cover more than four acres, produces white, rosé and sparkling wines which are available in their on-site restaurant and shop. Jane Mohan says the vineyard’s philosophy is about enjoying a glass of great wine with great food and great friends.
Tasting tours are available and there are courses for people who want to learn more about wine. Tasting sessions also feature wines from other vineyards as Jane is keen to champion not only English wine but also carefully produced, little-known wines from all four corners of the globe.
Dedham Vale Vineyard
Set in 40 acres on the edge of the Stour Valley in the beautiful Dedham Vale, the vineyard produces six styles of wine along with cider and fruit liqueurs. It was established more than 25 years ago and processes all the grapes on site in a winery powered by wind and sun generated energy.
The Vineyard Shop and Tasting Barn are open for tea, coffee and tours from March through to October and visitors can take a self-guided walk through the vineyard trail or book a guided tour. There are also special events held throughout the year including a cider and wine festival in August.
Bottles are available at the Vineyard Shop and in shops and wine mechants around the UK.
Planted in 1985, Thelnetham Vineyard lies on a south facing slope in a sheltered valley in Suffolk. This hobby vineyard is owned by Neil and Nicola Gillis who live on site and have been working the estate for more than 17 years along side their full-time careers. They manage around 1,400 vines produce around 3,000 bottles a year - the two main wines being a still, dry white and a sparkling white wine. Both Paul McCartney and Prince Charles have tried the wine as the owner has worked with them in the past. As one of the oldest vineyards in the UK, many of the vines are now coming to the end of their natural lifespan and the owners are busy replanting with Seyval Blanc which is a French white grapevine. Fun fact: As the vineyard is run from the Gillis house, the cellar (where the wine is stored) is actually a Customs & Excise Bonded warehouse.
Tours aren’t available but those interested in finding out more can email the owners at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Wines are sold locally through independent shops and pubs, restaurants and hotels.
Miranda Godfrey and Dave Barrett tried a bottle of the Thelnetham Vineyard English Sparkling Wine: “Classy and fresh with just a hint of peach in taste and colour. This nicely sparkling brut is the perfect social drink and it’s lovely to drink something so delicious that was produced locally. A great alternative to prosecco or champagne. Very drinkable indeed.”
This is one of East Anglia’s oldest commercial vineyards and it produces a range of white, red, rosé and sparkling wines. It was planted in the mid 1970s and, although it’s changed hands a few times since then, the family-owned estate now boasts 20 acres of flourishing vines.
The on-site winery produces wine for both Shawsgate and other vineyards in East Anglia. Throughout the year, visitors are welcome to do a free ‘diy’ tour of the vineyard and staff will provide an information sheet and map. Picnics are welcome and there is also a children’s play area.
Guided vineyard tours and tasting events can bo booked in advance. Bottles are available online or from the vineyard shop which is open October - April, Friday and Saturday 11am to 4pm, and from May - September, Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm.
Saffron Grange Vineyard
Saffron Walden, Essex
A family-run vineyard planted on south-easterly facing, gentle slopes of shallow clay-loam on chalk - the same chalk ridge that runs through both Champagne and Sussex - creating the perfect natural environment for producing quality sparkling wines.
Plantings of 12 acres were completed in 2011 comprising of classic champagne varieties Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay as well as the cool climate variety Seyval Blanc. The site is still expanding with more vines being added this year.
The 2016 harvest will see the first commercial production of English quality sparkling wine - made traditionally and fermented in bottle to develop classic character - which will be available from 2018.
Promoting our vines...
The East Anglian Vineyards Association (EAVA) is one of the six regional associations which cover the wine growing areas of England and Wales – together they are part of the UK Vineyards Association which is the governing body and provides training, research and development, and more. The EAVA was founded in 1978 at Chilford Hall by Sam Alper, to bring togeth-er all those interested in growing vines and making fine English wines in East Anglia - today it has more than 30 members. The association aims to provide guidance for the many legal, commercial and technical issues occurring within the industry. It is committed to raising and maintaining high standards, particularly at a time when awareness and popularity of English Wine is hugely increasing. As chairman of the East Anglian branch, Guy Howard is on the national board and represents the membership of the EAVA. He says: “We deal with membership at local level and hold regular ‘waffle and walk’ events, usually at vineyards or wineries, to discuss all aspects of planting, growing, pruning, disease control and winemaking. We also hold an Annual Regional Competition - this year it is on June 14.
“East Anglian Wines are becoming more and more successful and our members hold many accolades and trophies both nationally and internationally.”