Long gone are the days when you’d have to rely on the vineyards of France and Italy to get a decent bottle of wine. While England hasn’t always been at the forefront of wine production, it has really come up trumps over the last 30 or so years. There are now around 500 vineyards and 130 wineries stretching across the UK, producing over 5 million bottles of traditional full-bodied reds and fresh fragrant whites as well as lighter roses and sparkling wines – the latter making up over 60% of wines produced.
Kent and Sussex lead the way – the cool climate is just right to maintain the acidity needed for sparkling wines, while its south-facing limestone slopes and chalky soils make it ideal wine-growing country. The carbon footprint is also kept low, as fruits are locally harvested and produced.
Not only that, they have a great selection of ciders and apple juices, made from our plump and juicy English orchard apples. So why not clear some space in your wine cellar, and come and familiarize yourself with the best of British at these Kent and Sussex vineyards?
Is it best to go alone or take a tour?
Many vineyards allow you to just pop in and self-tour without having to book. If you want to learn more about the grape varieties and the wine-making process, it’s best to book in advance and take a guided tour. Usually finishing with a tutored wine tasting and opportunity to buy, it’s a great way to get to know the region.
Biddenden Vineyards, Biddenden, Kent
One of the highlights of this pretty Kentish village, Biddenden, is Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard. Its award-winning wines are cultivated on 23 acres of south-facing slopes, perfect sunny conditions for growing grapes.
Eleven varieties of grape are utilized for red, white, rose and sparkling wines and all are pressed and bottled on site. Take a step back in time as you meet the old cider press but don’t be fooled – the bottling line is fully modern and automated so they can always meet demand.
Tours and tastings: Self-guided with easy marked routes, private guided tours and open Saturday tours from April to September. Explore the vines and then head into the winery and back into the vineyard shop for tastings. They also produce an excellent range of ciders and apple juices so don’t forget to take home a bottle or two of the local nectar.
Address: Gribble Bridge Lane, Biddenden, Kent TN27 8DF
Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, Sedlescombe, East Sussex
Set among 22 acres of land in the glorious Sussex countryside, this set of three organic vineyards is famous for being the home of biodynamic wine. Nothing to do with superheroes sadly, this is wine produced from fruit grown and processed without using any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or systemic disease control sprays and it is certified under the Demeter accreditation system.
England’s oldest organic vineyard, all the wines it produces are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Tours and tastings: Wind your way through ancient woodland on the daily Vineyard Woodland Nature Trail and tasting in the barn. There’s also a shop where you can choose from the selection of red, white, rose and sparkling wines as well as delicious fruit wines, sweet fruit juices and hearty farmhouse ciders.
Address: Hawkhurst Road, Cripps Corner, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5SA
Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst, Kent
This family-run affair right in the heart of the Garden of England boasts over 400 acres of apple orchards, meadows and ancient oak woodlands, all with an impressive micro-climate that presides over 40 acres of vines.
Many of the wines are charmingly named after the children of the family who own Hush Heath, such as Skye’s English Chardonnay and Luke’s Tree Pure Russet Apple Juice. The award-winning Balfour Brut Rose is the one to buy if you’re not sure.
Tours and tastings: Self-guided tour and tasting – discover the mastery of English wine in the state-of-the-art winery, sample your favorites in the tasting room ‘The View’ and choose something fabulous in the Cellar Door shop. No need to book, tours take place all year round.
Address: Five Oak Lane, Staplehurst, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 OHT
Chapel Down Winery, Tenterden, Kent
Home to the largest grape press in the UK, this award-winning producer of world-class sparkling and still wines was said to be considered for the wine list at the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Whether they got on or not (we believe they did), they will be sure to gain your own royal seal of approval with their delicious wines and a fabulous cider range to boot. Most excitingly, you can take part in the Vine Leasing scheme where you can help to harvest your very own wine!
Tours and tastings: Guided tours through vineyards and winery, finishing with a tutored tasting in the Cellar Door tasting area or the Wine Sanctuary. Booking recommended. The winery also offers bespoke group tours where you can discover the charming local attractions of the Weald.
Address: Tenterden Vineyard Park, Small Hythe Road, Tenterden, TN30 7NG
Carr Taylor Vineyards, Westfield, East Sussex
Distinctively English, Carr Taylor’s excellent still and sparkling wines are described as crisp and aromatic with delicate citrus, apples and pear notes. With a claim to fame that they were the first commercial vineyard to produce sparkling wines using the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle, it’s pretty much Champagne without the prestigious name.
Indeed, their Vintage Sparkling Wine won the gold medal at the Concours European des Grand Vins in its first year, beating a whopping 1800 Champagnes and traditional method wines from around the world.
Tours and tastings: Self-guided tours where you can just turn up and enjoy the scenery – you’ll be given a map of the vineyard trail which takes you through the winery and bottling room and an opportunity to taste a few of the Carr Taylor wines. Guided tutored tours are also brilliant if you want to go with a group of wine-loving chums. Must be booked in advance.
Address: Wheel Lane, Westfield, Hastings, East Sussex, TN35 4SG
Gusbourne, Appledore, Kent
If you’ve ever had lunch at Le Gavroche or The Fat Duck and wondered where that fabulous wine has come from, it could well be from this 15th-century Kentish estate just minutes from the coast. Also stocked in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Fortnum’s, you can sample these excellent wines for yourself in the luxurious tasting room on-site.
Their debut vintages of Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2006 and Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2006 were released to critical acclaim, firmly putting them on the UK winemakers list.
Tours and tastings: Self-guided and hosted tours around the vineyards and winery where you can meet the Gusbourne team and taste some of their award-winning sparkling wines. The tasting room is open to visitors all year round, so no need to make a reservation. Book for the Vineyard, Discovery and Estate Tours.
Address: Kenardington Road, Appledore, Ashford, Kent, TN26 2BE
Bolney Wine Estate, Bolney, West Sussex
Founded back in 1972 with just 3 acres of vines and one grape variety, Bolney now has ten times the space and 8 varieties of grape, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This family-run business has won numerous awards and their state-of-the-art winery is a fascinating place to visit. The tours are excellent – we love the Sparkling Afternoon Tea Tour – and children can do their very own vineyard trail before settling back for a spot of coloring in the on-site café.
Tours and tastings: Three types of tour – the standard Taster Tour, Sparkling Afternoon Tea Tour and Grand Gourmet Lunch Tour. All include a guided tour of the estate, vineyard and winery as well as a tasting of a selection of the wines produced. Must be booked in advance.
Address: Foxhole Lane, Bolney, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH17 5NB
Oxney Organic Estate, Beckley, Kent
Part of a huge 850-acre organic estate, this award-winning winery and vineyard is just moments from the ancient Cinque Ports town of Rye. Producing a selection of organic still and sparkling wines, they only use their own grapes and have a very low intervention, natural winemaking ethos. Their still rose won the top trophy at the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition in 2016 and they continue to make outstanding contributions to the wine market.
Tours and tastings: Vineyard, Winery and Tasting Tour from April to end of October – book the Post Tour Picnic Lunch and enjoy a delicious picnic basket filled with organic Sussex produce and, of course, a couple of glasses of plonk. Pray that it’s their English Pinot Noir Rose 2018 with its hints of freshly cut strawberries and redcurrant.
Address: Hobbs Lane, Beckley, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 6TU
If you are looking for somewhere to stay when you take your next wine tour in Kent and Sussex, have a look at the superb range of self-catering holiday cottages from Bramley & Teal, all within a short driving distance of the wineries and vineyards.
Their selection of Kent holiday cottages will place you among the dusty hop fields and Oast Houses of the region, while the fantastic selection of cozy cottages, farmhouses and contemporary beach houses across Sussex are just the place to stay if you want to be close to both country and coast.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.