After spending the best part of September down in South Africa, it is safe to say that my love for wines, vineyards and generally anything involving fermented grapes was at an all-time high. Being fairly new to the nuances of what makes a great wine, I was understandably set in my ways when it came to selecting a bottle to crack open; the tried-and-tested soils of South Africa and South America often providing safe choices. So, when I got an invite to head down to Sussex to explore Bolney Wine Estate, I was more than happy to broaden my horizons. After all, if I can buy British and support my local industries and economy, it’s an easy choice.
Bolney Wine Estate is located near Haywards Heath, so is just a half hour train journey from South London. It felt a little surreal hopping on a commute train to visit a vineyard; a stark contrast to the grandeur of the vineyards that littered the foothills of Constantia in Cape Town. Still, as I arrived at the vineyard ready for my tour, there was a sense of anticipation. It was the first time I would try a glass of wine grown and produced on English soil.
While the surrounding village and lodge has a very long history, Bolney Wine Estate itself is a fairly new conception. Formed in 1972, it is certainly playing catch up with other, more established, vineyards that we often visit in continental Europe and beyond. While the first few decades were tough, English wine is definitely experiencing a resurgence at the moment and the rows upon rows of vineyards frantically being stripped of their grapes was testament to the demand. Indeed, most of the popular ranges of wines produced here had all been pre-sold and the 100,000 bottle capacity was barely meeting the quantity of orders. Expansion, we were told, is in the pipeline for the next few years; more out of necessity than choice.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the tour for me was the tasting session and lunch after the tour. It was great to finally sample some incredible English wines and a personal favourite, the Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay, went down an absolute treat with the locally produced cured meats and cheeses. It was also an interesting experience to try the sparkling red produced on-site. A rarity in it’s own right, I would definitely call it an oddity rather than a treat; I just couldn’t get past the fact that it was red wine with bubbles. Still, it had good body and would be a perfect alternative to a rose in the summer. Likewise, the rest of the wines we sampled were definitely lighter in taste; great options for anyone looking for an introduction to wine.
If, like myself, you’ve yet to try out English wines then I would definitely recommend a visit to the Bolney Wine Estate. It’s probably one of the closest vineyards to the Capital and the beautiful greenery of the surrounding area is enough of an excuse to have a great day out. It’s always a good feeling to know you’re choosing goods produced on our own soil and it was genuinely surprising to find wines I love that are on my own doorstep. Throw in some beautiful locally produced food and it was a great day out. Just remember to take the train rather than the car if you really want to enjoy yourself.