Smart new visitor facilities at Bolney Vineyard
Time was when English wine was a bit of a joke. Now, French vineyards are buying up plots of our land as global warming looks set to push the South of France beyond optimum wine producing conditions while improving ours.
Among the early pioneers of English wine production were Janet and Rodney Pratt who founded the Bolney estate near Haywards Heath backd in 1972. Their daughter Sam Linter is now Bolney’s winemaker. The estate has run tours for a while and had a small on site café but just last week it unveiled a smart new open plan shop and cafe that makes the most of the setting, so I went along to have a look.
The space, which is also available for functions, opens up onto a balcony with lovely views over the vines that is top spot for a bit of sun-worshipping, glass in hand. There has already been interest for wedding parties.
I took a tour with Alicia who explained the wine process to us, answered our questions and told us how they care for the vines, which produce roughly three bottles from one cane. We spotted a couple of pheasants and a group of rabbits on our way but Alicia explained that buzzards often patrol overhead, keeping down smaller birds most likely to damage the vines.
And if frost strikes, who you gonna call? Frostbusters! The poor manager is woken with an automated phone call when the weather dips below a certain temperature and she has to race down and fire up the Frostbuster machine, driving it among the vines with a giant Bunsen burner like affair on the back pushing out warm air.
If you’re lucky you may catch a tour at a time they’re expelling the ice plug from the neck of bottles of sparkling wine that have been frozen to capture the sediment. I saw this process once in Eastern Europe and it’s great fun. It is sparkling wine that is most commonly grown in the UK as it suits our conditions. English vineyards have been winning awards for years and even beating Champagne in blind taste tests. Sussex wines are now served in swanky restaurants and British Airways first class.
Among Bolney’s most popular wines is a Bachaus – using a German grape to produce ‘an English Sauvignon Blanc’ but from its south-facing slopes with a mix of limestone, clay and green sand, unusually for the UK Bolney produces a wide range of wines. It has not only its own fizz and regular whites and even my favourite – reds. In fact, Sam told me, it is the biggest red producer in the UK. I and another visitor were very impressed by the Pinot Noir we tried and I ended up buying two bottles.
You can combine an afternoon tea in the new café area with a tour or a tasting and there are several summer events planned in the new facilities. First up is a fish night on 17 June then summer evening vineyard tours and tastings will run on selected dates from July to September.
There are also floristry workshops coming up in July and pop-up dining with Michelein starred chef Maxwell McKenzie. There’s plenty of parking so you can easily pop in to simply pick up some bottles for presents or a dinner party. And if you want to indulge but can’t agree on who will be designated driver it’s good to know it’s a taxi ride away from Haywards Heath station.
Bolney Wine Estate, Foxhole Lane, Bolney, RH17 5NB, 01444 881 575, bolneywineestate.com