Picture the scene. You wake up, bleary-eyed after a night of great food and great wine to the sound of birds chirping merrily, the faint hum of a beehive in the distance and the sweet smell of lavender. As the sun streams through the window, you rouse from your slumber to peer outside and are greeted by rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see, a cloudless sky meeting the horizon. Where am I? Obviously somewhere in the Mediterranean. Spain, Italy, Greece? What about England?
Not so long ago the idea of an overnight break at an English vineyard would have seemed fruitless – your options were limited. But those days are long gone. It’s amazing to see how far the English wine industry has come in a relatively short space of time. Today, the UK has some 800 vineyards that cover 3,800ha, with a 70% increase recorded in the past five years alone, according to Wine GB. In 2020, sales of wine produced in the UK rose by 30% to reach 7.1 million bottles. As recognition grows, producers are moving beyond the making of wine to offer an array of experiences that include VIP tastings and tours. Some have gone a step further by offering on-site accommodation – estates that promise a ‘grape escape’ to tingle the tastebuds and soothe the senses.
Also read: Best English wines to try
There’s no doubting that wine tourism took a battering in 2020 and into 2021. Revenue generated from visitors took a nosedive and in some cases was completely decimated amid successive lockdowns. But 2022 looks to be the year global wine tourism recovers, and England’s thriving wine tourism sector can rival the best of them.
The following vineyards offer not only great wines, but the option to book a quintessential English vineyard escape. All of them are unique in their own way, but with one important factor in common – your room could not be closer to the vines.
Denbies is among the UK’s largest and most accessible vineyards with public footpaths running through its 650-acre estate owing to Denbies hillside having been entrusted to the National Trust. Anyone can take a stroll through its 107ha vineyard which scales a south-facing slope with views to Box Hill. It’s planted with everything from Chardonnay and Ortega to Bacchus, Pinot Gris and Dornfelder, thanks to the vision of owner Sir Adrian White CBE DL – founder of British engineering company Biwater – who bought the estate in 1984 and planted its first vines. The on-site Denbies Vineyard Hotel is a true home away from home, if your home happens to be a 19th century restored farmhouse. It offers 17 en-suite rooms with views across the vineyard as well as a Vineyard Restaurant and bar. The hotel is made up of the original farmhouse, built in the 1850s and renovated in 2018, and The Brokes, a newly constructed wing. Modern meets rustic, the team has worked hard to retain the original character of the farmhouse, making it a cosy yet luxurious retreat. Adjacent to the hotel is a wellbeing centre offering massage, reflexology, pilates, yoga and Tai Chi classes.
Doubles from £160 per night, Denbies Wine Estate
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic spot to ‘get back to nature’ than at Oxney Organic in Kent, which offers two pint-sized pads nestled within its Kent vineyard. The Dobson and Hunt Shepherd’s Huts are both located mere feet from its vines, tucked away within a private paddock that features a designer fire pit, BBQ grill and deckchairs. Each hut sleeps 2 and is as cosy as can be with white painted walls, a log burner and French doors that open out onto the vineyard. Cosy up in bed with your favourite book and a glass of wine while looking out across blocks of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. There’s also the charming Vineyard House, which dates back to Jacobean times and is set next to the vineyard. It sleeps 6 and has been refurbished in a modern Nordic style while retaining its traditional features. Larger groups can book Oxney Barns, which sleeps 14 and is a short walk from the vineyard. As for wine, Oxney claims to be the largest single-estate producer of English organic wine, with its 14-hectare vineyard accounting for 20% of all organic grapes grown in the UK. Expect sparkling and still wines, including its Classic cuvée made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and its organic Chardonnay, unfined and unfiltered with plenty of citrus zest, nuts and toast.
Huts from £100 per night for a minimum of two nights, Oxney Estate
Rye, East Sussex
Rest your head in a former hop barn, lovingly restored by Tillingham to comprise 11 stylish rooms with views across its Victorian farmstead and vineyard. Last summer it added two luxury Bell Tents on site, which are bookable from May through September. One of a new generation of wineries (its first wines were launched in 2018), Tillingham’s vineyards are ensconced within a 70-acre estate that also includes a fully operational farm and ancient woodlands. It’s got a real farm-to-table vibe about it, offering seasonal food at its on-site restaurant, while its wines are both natural and biodynamic. Highlights include its traditional method sparkling made from Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. More unusual is its Quevri White, made from a blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Auxerrois. Pinot Blanc is whole-bunch-pressed and fermented in large Qvevri, large earthenware fermentation vessels used in ancient Georgian winemaking. Chardonnay and Auxerrois undergo skin contact for four days before being fermented in Qvevri with a small percentage of skins. The resulting blend represents a unique English wine rooted in ancient methods. Rooms are available Wednesday to Sunday and include breakfast. Wine tours run daily and are pre-bookable.
Doubles from £196 per night, including breakfast, Tillingham
Chichester, West Sussex
Art Tukker took over his family farm in 2007 when he was just 21, having convinced his father to let him replace the family lettuce fields with vines. Fast-forward 15 years and Tinwood (pictured top) now has 26 hectares (65 acres) of vines and benefits from three luxurious cabins with views across the vineyard ‘towards the setting sun’, promising a pretty magical setting. And when we say luxury lodges, we really mean it. Each one comes with a 2-person jacuzzi bath, walk-in shower, outdoor barrel sauna, private decked terrace, king-size bed, complimentary Nespresso coffee machines and a fully stocked wine fridge. If you’re feeling energetic you can take a courtesy mountain bike for a spin. But personally, I’d rather make a beeline for Tinwood’s tasting room, which has been recently revamped and now boasts a fab patio terrace overlooking the vineyard. Tinwood produces three sparkling wines; a Blanc de Blancs, Brut and Rosé, made with a classic trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The estate is also just a stone’s throw from the Goodwood Estate, famous for its racetrack and 1920s themed Goodwood Revival events, great for classic car lovers.
Lodges available from £185 per night, Tinwood Estate
Alfriston, East Sussex
Flint Barns offers five-star B&B accommodation in the heart of Rathfinny’s vineyard, located on a south-facing chalky slope in England’s South Downs. Peaceful, cosy and comforting, you can expect uninterrupted views of the surrounding vineyard from all 10 of its en-suite bedrooms, housed within this restored farmhouse. There’s also an enclosed courtyard and restaurant, which serves up a menu of gastro-pub style food. Founded in 2010, Rathfinny’s first vineyard was planted in 2012 and today covers 93 hectares, mostly with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It specialises in Traditional Method sparkling wines made from hand-harvested, whole-bunch pressed grapes, matured on lees and with a low dosage. Driving its ambition is Mark and Sarah Driver, respectively an ex-hedge fund manager and former solicitor turned lecturer. The couple is passionate advocates for Sussex Sparkling wine and long sought after PDO designation. Its approval has been mired in red tape since it was first proposed in 2016. Still, that won’t stop us from raising a glass.
Double rooms from £100 per night, Rathfinny Estate
Planted in 1973, Three Choirs is one of the oldest commercial vineyards in England, set deep within the Cotswolds. Starting out as a fruit farm, its first wines were produced in 1976 by wine retailer Alan McKechnie. His humble fruit farm has since grown to comprise a 30-hectare vineyard planted with Pinot Noir, Bacchus, Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc, as well as a restaurant, shop and tasting room. Weekend guided tours and tastings are available to day-trippers from just £12.50 per person. But the jewel in its crown is its boutique accommodation, which includes eight ‘vineyard view’ rooms at its main building and three luxurious lodges, hidden within the vineyard. The lodges are truly special. Glass-walled, wooden-framed, with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and 180-degree views across ‘willow tree-fringed ponds surrounded by vines’ – it’s like a scene out of Wind in the Willows. Each Lodge sleeps two and benefits from a private veranda, roll top bath and king size bed. The team also offers a ‘Residents Only’ winery tour and tasting which takes place at 4 pm every afternoon, while its on-site Brasserie is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Double room from £165 per night, Three Choirs Vineyards