Enjoy a picnic in the grounds of new Suffolk vineyard
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Suffolk is undeniably one of the flattest places in the UK. But it’s not without a few rolling hills - many of which, in recent history, have been transformed into vineyards. With a terroir similar to the wine-growing regions of northern France and Germany, and enjoying more days of sunshine than many other parts of the country, the county...alongside Norfolk, Kent, Surrey, Sussex and the West Country, has become part of what’s a thriving, growing industry. Awards are being won. Slowly but surely, English wine is becoming part of the global conversation.
Joining the party this month are the Scarff family, who will open Burnt House Vineyard next week (with launch event open to the public on Saturday, August 6).
Tucked along a quiet country road in Combs near Stowmarket, the site of 46,000 vines is best viewed from a hilly outcrop to the east, where the vastness of the whole site can be appreciated.
When I visit, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, tempered by a cool breeze after the sweltering heatwave (during which tarmac was laid at the vineyard’s new tasting facility), Catherine Scarff is in high spirits, ready to take on her next adventure.
She's been gearing up for wine making since around 2017. Alongside working for a record label in London, the young entrepreneur, over the last few years, has studied with WSET and taken multiple courses at Plumpton College, in viticulture, wine-making and all aspects of the wine business.
The new tasting room is her baby, while brother James takes care of the farming side of things.
And the set-up is delightful. Planted on a gentle slope, leaning towards an ancient oak tree. Tiny grapes, soaking up the sunshine in preparation for this year’s harvest, hang tightly to the vines. Butterflies dart amongst the intercrops. It’s a truly peaceful location.
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“My great great grandad started the farm at Combs,” Catherine says. “It’s been passed down – we're the fourth generation,” she adds, mentioning dad Stuart and mum Jill, who are also very much involved in the vineyard.
“We grow a variety of combinable crops. So, wheat and barley. In the past we grew strawberries. There was an electrical appliance business here, and even a frozen food company at one point!”
It was dad Stuart who first thought wine could be a good diversification for part of the land. “He’s always had a passion for wine,” Catherine explains with a smile. “It was one of the options we discussed in 2017 and we just decided to go for it. We planted in two stages. The first half up to the oak tree in 2017 and then the rest in 2018. We’ve got a small vineyard at the back of mum and dad’s farm house too.”
Bacchus grows in abundance at Stuart and Jill’s, while the classic combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay have been planted at Burnt House – the makings of English fizz.
Initially grapes were distributed to other companies, with the farm operating as a commercial grower. But now the time has come, says Catherine, to look sharp and label up their own bottles.
“We bottled out 2021 Bacchus which is really really nice. And we’ve also got some of our own sparkling wine in the cellars aging (ready late 2023 or early 2024). I want to expand this year with a sparkling rose and some more stills – maybe a still rose.”
Currently wine is made for Burnt House by two respected companies in Sussex and Kent. And local people have been drafted in to work in the grounds, alongside James, Catherine and her apprentice from Plumpton.
Catherine can’t wait to open to the public this weekend, a week before the official opening.
The modern, cedar-clad, slate-roofed tasting room (designed by Whitwell in Bury St Edmunds) sits just beside the vines, with a pitched ceiling, and wrap-around windows and doors allowing light to flood in.
There’s a bar, and a kitchen, with hopes for pop-up suppers and events in the business’s future.
“I’m so excited to see this come to fruition,” says Catherine. “It's nice seeing something you’ve worked so hard on, have nurtured and helped grow turn into something you can hold in your hand. I can’t wait to share it with people.
“When they come to the open day they can look around and see what we’ve been up to. We’ll have tours and tastings from 12noon all day. Lots of people have been driving by and stopping, asking what we’re doing. Now they can find out.”
After the launch, visitors will be able to book picnics of locally-sourced cheeses, breads, sausage rolls and more, to enjoy on the terrace of the tasting room, or out amongst the vines.
Tours will be £25, including a tasting of Burnt House’s Bacchus and (until their own sparkling is ready) two other English sparkling wines from producers the vineyard has grown for. A picnic for two with a bottle of Bacchus is £70, or upgrade to sparkling wine for an extra £10.
Find out more at burnthousevineyard.co.uk