It would be an understatement to say that English wine is having a bit of a moment — the industry is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sectors in the U.K., and it shows little sign of slowing. There are more than 400 vineyards and counting, sparkling wines winning international awards previously collected by the big champagne houses and the likes of Taittinger purchasing land on British soil to grow its own vines.
In addition to the fine fizz, there are complex, smooth pinot noirs; punchy white bacchus (named after the Roman god of wine and reminiscent of sauvignon blanc); full-bodied chardonnays; light, fresh ortegas; and lots of other grape varieties growing on these shores.
The best way to discover these wines for yourself is by paying a visit to the vineyards. There are places you can explore less than an hour from central London, and others you can get to and back in a day, offering self-guided and tutored tastings and tours.
Here’s but a small sample to whet your appetite.
Forty Hall Vineyard
Imagine 10 acres of organic vines set in the grounds of a Grade I-listed Jacobean manor house among verdant fields and farmland with The Shard and city on view in the distance, and you’ve got this vineyard.
A social enterprise, Forty Hall Vineyard is managed by a small team of volunteers from the local community, tending the grapes that go into the trio of single-estate organic wines — bacchus, ortega and English sparkling — produced off-site at a winery in Kent.
Head here for a self-guided tour any time of year and be sure to grab a souvenir bottle at the Forty Hall Farm Shop or stop for a bite and sip at the onsite Nice Green Café.
The scenic gardens surrounding the estate boast perfect picnic and walking spots.
Getting there from central London: Three lines make the trek to Forty Hills possible — London Overground to Enfield Town, Mainline train to Gordon Hill or London Underground to Oakwood. All three stations have an onsite cab office. Free parking is available onsite.
Where to stay: Sopwell House. A short drive up the road from Forty Hall, in leafy St Albans, this resplendent Georgian spa hotel is set upon 12 acres of Hertfordshire countryside.
Chapel Down Winery
Kent is rich with vineyards, so you could easily fit a few tours into a day, but be sure to stop by Chapel Down — it’s among the region’s best-known destinations. It’s also the official sparkling wine of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and the first English vintage to be served at the Royal Ascot horse race.
The multi-award-winner is open for seasonal guided tours and tastings, running daily from March to November (typically lasting just under two hours).
In addition, it produced brandy, beer and cider, so there should be something here to please every palate.
Oenophiles can also claim a piece of the vineyard as their own with the “lease a vine” opportunity, while the gift shop is stuffed with edible (and sip-able) trinkets to take home as souvenirs. Booking ahead is recommended.
Getting there: Trains run direct from London Charing Cross to Headcorn. From there, it’s a 15-minute car ride.
With quite possibly the largest collection of international awards for its wine, family-run Ridgeview was one of the pioneers of English sparkling when it opened more than 20 years ago. The vineyard helped put British wine on the global map after scooping the Decanter trophy for World’s Best Sparkling Wine for the Ridgeview Grosvenor 2006 (the first time it wasn’t awarded to a champagne).
Guided tours of the estate include a visit to the property’s 17-acre vineyard — Ridgeview’s remaining 170 acres are spread across various sites in East and West Sussex and Hampshire — and a look at the winery to see the production in action. Things culminate in the upstairs tasting room, which overlooks picturesque South Downs, where you’ll experience a tutored sample of a selection.
Make a half or full day of it with Best of England’s Sussex vineyard tours, which take in three wineries, including Ridgeview, lunch and afternoon tea before popping you back on the train to London Victoria.
Getting there: Direct trains run from London Victoria to Burgess Hill in under an hour. The vineyard is a 10-minute cab from there.
Denbies Wine Estate
South of London in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the largest single-estate vineyard in the U.K. Denbies Wine Estate boasts 265 acres of vines producing a variety of sips from rosé to dessert wine.
Walk more than seven miles of public footpaths through the vineyards and nosh on breakfast, lunch or dinner in two restaurants overlooking the land.
Guided day and evening tours are available throughout the year. There’s also a calendar of special events, including themed meals.
Getting there: Direct trains run from London Victoria, London Waterloo and Gatwick Airport to Dorking.
Where to stay: Make a night of it by booking at the onsite farmhouse bed and breakfast and wake up to a delightful morning spread overlooking the vines.
For a taste of life in an English country manor, the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Pennyhill Park provides a scenic respite just a 40-minute drive away.