{"api":{"host":"https:\/\/pinot.decanter.com","authorization":"Bearer YmU3YmQ3ZGViMmE3NTkwMjczYjllMGI5ZDkwNTJhZGRlZGQ4MmUwNWYwZDNmYWE0ODVkN2Q1YTllZGFjMmVmZQ","version":"2.0"},"piano":{"sandbox":"false","aid":"6qv8OniKQO","rid":"RJXC8OC","offerId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","offerTemplateId":"OFPHMJWYB8UK","wcTemplateId":"OTOW5EUWVZ4B"}}

PREMIUM

Sussex wine tour: Your five-day itinerary

Enjoy a leisurely five-day Sussex wine tour exploring dynamic estates set in stunning landscapes, and feel the excitement of a region making a name for itself.

English sparkling wines are starting to command the attention they deserve, on restaurant lists and shop shelves, with the message hitting home that these are wines to take just as seriously as Champagne. And there’s no better way of taking a deep dive into the current scene than spending time in English wine country.

Sussex is an ideal destination – two years ago it became the first area in England (combining the counties of East Sussex and West Sussex) to gain appellation status – as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). It accounts for more than a quarter of England’s vineyard plantings, and is home to wineries large and small, new and long-established. Many are located in or near the South Downs national park or a ‘national landscape’ (what was previously known as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), and the south coast is nearby.

Sussex East and West lie within easy reach of London, and have a burgeoning wine tourism offering, promoted effectively by Sussex Modern, an independent consortium of businesses set on switching the tourism narrative away from sleepy villages and coastal retirement towns to destinations that provide a vibrant culture, high-quality wine and/or world- class art, all within breathtaking landscapes.

It’s possible to visit for just a day or two, but the developments here merit so much longer. Even this five-day itinerary, which starts in West Sussex and ends on the Sussex/Kent border in the east, omits several names that are equally visit-worthy. But it’s an exciting taster.

Illustrated map of Sussex wine tour

Credit: JP Map Graphics Ltd


Your Sussex wine tour itinerary

Day 1

Start the adventure at Ashling Park, a 10-minute drive from the historic market town of Chichester. This slick operation, UK Cellar Door of the Year runner-up in the 2023 Decanter Retailer Awards, takes both wine tourism and its wines seriously. Owner Gail Gardner’s family has lived on the estate for 30 years, and it took four years to get planning permission for the venture, as it lies within the South Downs national park. The sparkling wines – don’t miss the cherry- and marzipan-scented rosé and the limey, toasty blanc de blancs – are made at Wiston Estate, with experienced winemaker Dermot Sugrue consulting (even though he has now left Wiston and set up on his own). Taste the estate’s wines and spirits on one of the tours and tastings while soaking up the Napa-like atmosphere. The glass, steel and wood-fronted main building houses a restaurant with terrace and vineyard views, as well as a shop, tasting room and gin school. If you arrive the night before, there are five one- and two-bedroom luxury lodges on site.

A 15-minute drive away on the other side of Chichester is Tinwood. The estate’s Dutch founders made their fortune growing Iceberg lettuce, before their son switched to wine-growing in 2007, the year after he took over the reins. The sparkling wines, all vintage, can be tasted alongside tapas-style dishes from the new Vineyard Kitchen. The tourism offering is the strong suit here; as well as ‘sparkling afternoon teas’, dinners and a harvest experience, the calendar includes outdoor cinema events and yoga in the vines. Eight lodges, most new this season, enjoy views directly onto the vineyard.

Grazing platter of food

Tinwood

But visitors to the area really shouldn’t miss a stay at The Pig in the South Downs, 13km away. The Pig hotel group is aimed firmly at wine and food lovers, and despite offering chic accommodation in beautiful English country houses, it styles itself as ‘restaurant with rooms’, as the food and wine really are the main event. Opened three years ago, this particular Pig has 28 rooms, five in the main house and others dotted around the grounds. The restaurant is in a light, airy conservatory overlooking the Downs, and serves the highest-quality local produce, much of it grown by the hotel itself in its incredible kitchen gardens.

A vineyard across the road will produce its second crop this year, the wines to be made by Dermot Sugrue (Pig owner Robin Hutson is an investor in Sugrue South Downs). It’s an idyllic setting, and perfect for a peaceful stay before continuing your tour.

Day 2

Breakfast like a king before the half-hour drive to Ambriel, located north of Nutbourne, where it’s all about the wine (visits by appointment). Former barrister Wendy Outhwaite and her husband Charles were blown away by an early vintage from nearby Nyetimber in the early 2000s and decided to make their own English sparkling wine. They now own their own winery and 9.5ha of vines planted on free-draining, greensand rocky soils, on which they practise a version of regenerative viticulture. These are intelligently made, impressive wines, with standouts including the rosé, and late-disgorged Cloud Ten in magnum.

On to Wiston, 20 minutes away down the A24 towards Findon, in time for lunch at its award-winning Chalk Restaurant. The menu showcases local and seasonal ingredients, with dishes that might include Sussex pork loin with New Forest asparagus, or poached south coast cod with sea vegetables. Across the courtyard from the restaurant is the visitor centre, where wheelchair-accessible tours include a short explanation of the life cycle of the vine, a video, a winery tour and a tasting.

The courtyard outside Chalk restaurant at Wiston.

The courtyard outside Chalk restaurant at Wiston. Credit: Jo Hunt Photography

Visitors are free to explore the vineyards at their leisure. The huge Wiston estate has been owned by the Goring family since 1743, but the first vines were only planted in 2006, finally fulfilling the vision of Harry Goring’s wife Pip, who grew up in South Africa’s Western Cape and had dreamed of planting a vineyard since her arrival at Wiston in 1972. Noting the chalk soils, they decided to plant vines and released their first vintage a few years later. Their son Richard and his wife Kirsty now manage the estate, including the newly renovated Pump House – secluded self-catering accommodation with views over the fields to prehistoric hill fort Chanctonbury Ring. Retire to the cottage to enjoy the complimentary bottle of Wiston Brut NV in the fridge and prepare a simple supper.

Day 3

Walk up to Chanctonbury Ring to be rewarded with views of the Sussex countryside for miles around, before driving to Bolney, half an hour away (back up the A24, then east across country on the A272 via Cowfold). One of the UK’s oldest commercial vineyards, Bolney was family owned until it was bought in 2022 by Freixenet Copestick. Changes are afoot.

Exterior of Bolney

Bolney

Talented South African winemaker Cara Lee Dely joined in 2021, responsible for a large range of still and sparkling wines, spirits and even English white vermouth (delicious) made from leftover Chardonnay. Lunch in the informal Eighteen Acre Restaurant, which has a balcony overlooking the vines, before browsing in the impressive new shop downstairs.

After lunch it’s off to Artelium, an exciting boutique winery 16km away near Plumpton Green, owned by former tech entrepreneurs Mark Collins and Julie Bretland. Their first vintage was 2014 and they swept the board at the Wine GB Awards in 2022, with their 2015 Blanc de Blancs named Best Sparkling. The best is yet to come here: they only planted their vines in 2018, with the wine previously made from bought-in grapes. Passionate about art, they are working to expand their sculpture garden, and contemporary works of art are displayed in the cosy-chic tasting room. Regular events include seafood and sparkling nights, and art exhibitions.

Your hotel for the night, Ockenden Manor, is a 15- to 20-minute drive away in Cuckfield, just off the A272 again. Stay in the Elizabethan manor house itself for the quintessential English country house experience, or in one of the spacious spa suites, which lie in the modern spa complex, above the indoor-outdoor pool and other spa facilities. Time for a swim, steam and sauna before strolling up to the fine-dining restaurant, which overlooks the gardens.

Day 4

Dermot Sugrue is one of England’s most experienced winemakers, so any visit to Sussex should include a stop at his new winery Sugrue South Downs, at his Bee Tree vineyard (a 20-minute drive from the hotel, just below Wivelsfield Green). Book a tour and tasting in advance, and you’ll meet either Dermot himself or his winemaker wife Ana. The sparkling wines are outstanding; and ask for a taste of the serious, structured Pinot Noir sourced from Crouch Valley in Essex, Sugrue South Downs’ first still red wine (debut vintage 2022).

From there, it’s just a 10-minute drive to Ridgeview, one of Sussex wine’s most visible and longest-established names (along with Nyetimber, which doesn’t really go in for wine tourism), near Ditchling Common Country Park. Run by Simon Roberts and his Australian wife Mardi, Ridgeview sources grapes from all over the south of England, and is looking to double production over the next five years. It recently invested £4.8 million in a new winery and in its Rows & Vine restaurant; visitors can now dine al fresco in the warmer months, or indoors; walk-in wine tastings are offered at the tasting bar overlooking the vines, as well as longer tours and tastings.

Rows & Vine at Ridgeview

Rows & Vine at Ridgeview. Credit: Adam Firman

After lunch, head towards the south coast to Rathfinny, 45 minutes away, a little inland from Seaford. Driving through its vineyards to the parking area, you see the scale of the operation – it’s family owned (established in 2010 by Mark and Sarah Driver), but covers a vast area, with 93ha planted, a shop (drop-in tastings available), the Tasting Room restaurant, the Hut, an al fresco wine bar that serves refreshments for the many visitors who come just for a walk, plus separate B&B accommodation in the Flint Barns, further into the vineyards. The Flint Barns contain 10 en-suite rooms and a self-catering alternative, Rathfinny Cottage, and the Dining Room offers lunch and dinner to residents and non-residents. Book into the Flint Barns for the night, or if they’re full, head to nearby Alfriston, where The Star offers luxury accommodation in a Tudor-style, timbered building that dates from the 14th century.

Day 5

For the final day, you’re driving further east, to the Sussex/Kent border. All three wineries on today’s itinerary offer accommodation, with options ranging from glamping, a waterside lodge and a Hobbit house at Oastbrook; shepherd’s huts and self-catering options at Oxney; to hotel accommodation at Tillingham (and two bell tents). It’ll take about an hour to drive to the area from Rathfinny, and you’ll notice a change in the scenery, from rolling hills and coastal views to a flatter, more agricultural backdrop.

It’s less touristy here and the winery names may not be as famous, but there’s a real sense of energy and innovation, and tastings will eliminate any prejudices you may have around English still wines. Coming from the west, you’ll reach Oastbrook first, near Bodiam. Husband-and-wife team Nick and Brazilian-born America Brewer planted the vineyards in 2018, building a winery in 2020. Both attended Plumpton College, and do their own winemaking; on the vineyard tour and tasting, you’ll discover their passion for Alsace varieties. The still wines are exciting, among them Pinot Blanc and white Pinot Meunier.

Oastbrook’s Hobbit house accommodation

Oastbrook’s Hobbit house accommodation

A 15-minute drive away, further east again, Oxney had its first vintage in 2014. Norwegian entrepreneur Kristin Syltevik sold her tech PR firm and used the proceeds to plant 14ha of vines. Today Oxney is England’s largest single-estate producer of organic wine. It feels a special site, the vineyards in a natural amphitheatre lined by oak trees. Learn more about organic viticulture on the tour and tasting – the wines show a linear style and lovely purity of fruit – then enjoy a picnic lunch.

The final stop is Tillingham, 7km away near Rye. This is another new name, established in 2017 on a former hop farm and grazing land owned by Lord and Lady Devonport. The wines are made organically and will eventually be biodynamic, though the winery isn’t yet certified organic. There’s a young vibe here, with music playing, and a relaxed, informal feel. A staggering 21 grape varieties are grown and it’s all about experimentation here – among the line-up you’ll find a col fondo-style sparkling (refermented in the bottle, not disgorged), as well as wines vinified in qvevri. A new wine collection has just been released, made with the help of Oxney’s Italian winemaker Salvatore Leone. The restaurant has a Michelin Green Star, or you can enjoy wood-fired pizzas in the bar or outside in the Dutch Barn. If you’re staying the night, try to book the room with private fire pit, and end your evening sitting by the fire, enjoying the silence and reflecting on an unforgettable Sussex wine tour.


Related articles

London’s first urban winery buys 12ha vineyard in West Sussex

Sussex vineyard cycling: Take The Great Sussex Way wine route

Expert’s choice: Ageing English fizz

Latest Wine News