Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Visit Essex revels in bumper grape harvests and celebrates ‘Gin on the side’

ESSEX has become the fifth1 largest grower of grapes in the UK and the largest producer in the Eastern region. Wine is one of the UK’s fastest growing industries and last year saw a bumper crop, thanks to warmer climes, a wet summer and a hot September. In fact, 20-22 million bottles of wine were produced, up 60% from the previous highest yield in 2018.2 The Eastern region harvested 10.23 tonnes of grapes per hectare, doubling the previous highest yield in 20223.

With the rise of vines in Essex, Visit Essex is keen to promote the quality of the county’s wines, which are now served in top hotels and restaurants. Vineyards have also become a place for tourism, accounting for 32% of total vineyard income in the East. The rise of cellar door sales, wine tastings, plus the use of venues for weddings and events has seen the sector soar. 

Lisa Bone, Strategic Tourism Manager at Visit Essex, explains: “In Essex we have the perfect climate and geology to grow vines. Vineyards are popping up all over the county, it’s transforming our rural landscape and making it even more attractive to visitors. It’s great to see how entrepreneurial our winemakers and distillers have become to enhance our tourism offering.”

Vineyards in the north west of Essex benefit from the same chalk seam that runs through the Champagne region of France. The result is delicious, award-winning sparkling wines, like those produced at Saffron Grange vineyard. The vineyard has received many accolades for its wine, including a Bronze Decanter World Wine Award in 2023 for its Classic Cuvee Brut, 2019.4 They also offer a range of events for tourists to enjoy, plus tours and tastings.

Tourist attractions are also investing in the liquor trade with a growth of gin as a new side line. Hedingham Castle has just launched its very own gin, DeVere Finest Gin. Jason Lindsay, owner of the castle, came up with the idea during lockdown. He said: “I had an epiphany during lockdown, realising how amazing the castle would look on a square bottle. At the same time, we were all too aware that we had to create a top-class gin.”

Jason teamed up with Thames Distillers in London, infusing their base gin with handpicked linden flowers, harvested from lime trees that grow on the castle’s ancient ramparts during a window of just two weeks in the year.5 The result is a bespoke, unique creation. 

To discover more about the county’s award-winning vineyards and distilleries, head to www.visitessex.com

To visit Essex by train, Greater Anglia provides a comprehensive service across much of Essex. The Stansted Express offers routes to Stansted with stops along the Essex/Herts border. Saffron Grange vineyard can be reached via the Stansted Express train to Audley End station, whereas Hedingham Castle is just a short journey from Braintree station, via Greater Anglia from London Liverpool Street. To purchase tickets, visitwww.greateranglia.co.uk.

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VINEYARDS IN ESSEX

Wine tastings and tours

Saffron Grange Vineyard 

Saffron Grange is a spectacular vineyard located in Saffron Walden and sits on the same chalk that runs through Northern France. The unique soil formation combined with the climate and topography makes perfect conditions to produce award-winning wines. Saffron Grange won a 2023 Wine GB Silver award for their Classic Cuvee 2019 and a Bronze award for their Pinot Noir Rose 2020. Tours and tastings take place regularly. Tickets are priced from £25 per person and are now available for the 2024 season. Tours run on Thursdays and Saturdays from April to September. 

Crouch Ridge Vineyard

Set on gentle south-facing slopes overlooking the River Crouch, Crouch Ridge Vineyard will host tours and tastings on select dates from May to September 2024. From £15pp, you can do a self-guided wine tasting to sample three of their wines. For a more detailed wine tasting, led by a trained sommelier, Crouch Ridge also offers Silver and Bronze wine tasting packages (from £25pp). The Grand Tour & Tasting takes place on selected dates from May to September for £35pp, with a guided gentle walk around the vineyard, learning about the vines and wine-making process, followed by a wine tasting. Or, for something different, go all out with a private vineyard buggy tour and sparkling picnic at £300 for two people, plus two souvenir glasses. There are also a range of party packages and self-guided or guided tastings to choose from. 

Clayhill Vineyard

Also overlooking the River Crouch and valley, Clayhill Vineyard benefits from sunny climes, relatively low rainfall and proximity to the river to produce tasty wines. Tastings and tours of the vineyard are available during the summer months. Contact the vineyard directly to book: booking@clayhill.co.uk.

Bardfield Vineyard

Set within a rural estate in north Essex, Bardfield Vineyard puts on vineyard tours, tastings and lunches on the first Thursday of the month from May to September. For £30pp, you’ll receive a personally guided tour through the estate, information on the work undertaken on the vineyard and a chance to taste their four varieties of wines, followed by a ploughman’s lunch. You can also organise a group visit by appointment and self-guided trails are available to explore the estate independently.

New Hall Wine Estate

One of the oldest commercial vineyards in the UK, New Hall Wine Estate has been growing vines and producing wines since the 1960s. Their Barons Lane range won Silver and Bronze awards at the Independent English Wine Awards in 2023. To try New Hall’s award-winning wines, visit their cellar door shop, where you’ll get complementary samples and special offers. 

Things to do

Saffron Grange Vineyard

Saffron Grange will be hosting Seafood Sundays alongside Saffron Fish Co this year. There will be delicious seafood platters, crayfish rolls and locally sourced oysters. The vineyard’s award-winning sparkling wines will also be available to sample from the Saffron Grange Tasting Room. Seafood Sundays will take place on 30 June, 28 July, 25 August and 29 September. There’s no need to book; just head to Saffron Grange vineyard between 11am and 4pm on these dates.

Tuffon Hall Vineyard

This family-run vineyard in the heart of East Anglia was awarded Wine GB’s still rose of the year in 2023. The modern, boutique vineyard produces wines that are used in top London hotels and the vineyard thrives with activity during the summer months. The vineyard’s annual ‘Jazz in the Vines’ event will return on Saturday 24 August. Enjoy an afternoon of live music, a variety of street food, plus locally sourced oysters, artisan ice cream, and don’t forget to sample their award-winning wines!

Clayhill Vineyard

Enjoy unrivalled views over the River Crouch at Clayhill Vineyard; from the glazed balcony, you can see the vineyard winds down to the estuary. Families can sit over coffee and cake, or a glass of wine, and take in the views. Visitors can wander between the vines and binoculars, provided in the café, can keep little ones amused; see if they can spot the wildlife that thrives in the area!

Crouch Ridge Vineyard

Five course tasting evenings, private dining experiences and two-course seasonal lunches are all available for visitors to enjoy. All food is freshly produced and sourced locally: freshly caught fish and shellfish is sourced from local fisherman, meat poultry and vegetables from local farmers, cheese from a local dairy farmer and jams and chutneys from local fruit farmers. This summer, enjoy a delicious dinner paired with the finest Essex wines, and sit on the barn terrace to take in the views down to the River Crouch. 

Bardfield Vineyard

Go on a self-guided trail through Bardfield Vineyard’s estate, with information sheets provided at the vineyard shop. Take in the stunning views of the vineyard, as well as walled gardens and beautiful alpacas. For a unique experience, you can call ahead and ask to feed the alpacas!

New Hall Wine Estate

New Hall’s Open Estate Days are back for 2024. On 15 June and 6 July, New Hall will open its doors and give guests the chance to learn about the wine-making process, stroll around the self-guided vineyard trail or try locally sourced food and drink. Plus, take part in barrel-top tastings of their award-winning wines. No need to book tickets; turn up on the day and enjoy a summer’s day among the vines!

Places to stay

Great Lodge at Bardfield Vineyard

Stay at the luxurious Great Lodge at Bardfield Vineyard in one of the three converted barns, where visitors can choose from bed and breakfast or self-catering options. There are three accommodation options: the Rose Barn, the Cart Lodges and the Stables. Relax in a cosy room with comfy double beds, stunning wooden floorboards and a contemporary rustic design, with floor-to-ceiling windows. Prices start at £60 per night with a two-night minimum stay.

Hall Farm Cottages at Crouch Ridge Vineyard

An exquisite barn conversion containing luxurious self-catering flats, Hall Farm Cottages, stands on-site at Crouch Ridge Vineyard. Each cottage offers spectacular views over the River Crouch and the vines, as well as two bedrooms, a spacious open-plan lounge and kitchen area, plus outdoor seating with a barbecue. Prices vary by season; high season runs from 1 April to 30 November and low season from 1 December to 31 March. A stay in one of these self-catering cottages starts at £150 per night.

Tuffon Hall Farmhouse at Tuffon Hall Vineyard

Tuffon Hall’s six-bedroom converted farmhouse provides accommodation for up to 12 guests. The house contains three large bathrooms, a bright and spacious country kitchen and a cosy sitting room with a log burner. The property is conveniently located on-site and is well-stocked with all the necessities for a relaxing stay, including Sky TV (with movies and sports) and a full range of utensils and cooking equipment. Guests receive a large welcome hamper upon arrival with cupboard essentials and extra treats, including a bottle of award-winning Classic Cuvee, and visitors can upgrade the stay to include a vineyard tour and wine tasting experience. Farmhouse stay prices start at £1128 for two nights (two-night minimum stay).

Cellar door shops

Crouch Ridge Vineyard

In 2019, Crouch Ridge opened their Wine Barn, where people can visit to sample their wine before buying or enjoy a wine tasting experience. Crouch Ridge offers a range of their wines available for purchase online or in the shop. From their Premiere Cuvee to their Crouch Ridge Pinot Rose 2021, and even their very own gin, Crouch Ridge offers a range of drinks that can be purchased through their cellar door shop.

New Hall Wine Estate

Learn more about New Hall’s award-winning still and sparkling wines, enjoy free samples before you buy and see special offers available at their Cellar Door Shop. The shop provides a cosy atmosphere to enjoy barrel-top tastings and chat to expert winemakers about their wines. 

Missing Gate Vineyard

Established in 2018, Missing Gate Vineyard is a family-run vineyard in the Crouch Valley. They currently produce Bacchus, a favourite for the region, as well as Pinot Blanc and they are one of the few vineyards in the UK who produce Sauvignon Blanc. Missing Gate Rose has just been added to the collection. You can ‘Taste, Click and Collect’ their wines from their Missing Gate Vineyard Trailer on-site. They have a lovely outdoors tasting area, where you can buy their wine and try it out while you soak up some sun. Or you can take it home to enjoy. 

Tiptree Jam (gin)

Tiptree tea rooms were set up by the Wilkin family, who have been making quality preserves in Tiptree, Essex, since 1885. As well as their world-famous jam, they also have a range of gins, distilled in Essex with a bespoke blend of botanicals including coriander, bay leaves and Tiptree Blood Orange Marmalade. The gin can be purchased on their online shop or at their locations across the county.

DISTILLERIES IN ESSEX

East Coast Distillery

Located just off the estuary in Landermere, East Coast Distillery is a small batch gin distillery that uses locally sourced and foraged botanicals to create its unique gin. Their gin celebrates the north Essex coast, as well as the nautical history of the area. Head to East Coast Distillery for a tour and tasting, take a gin making class, or try out one of their delicious cocktail recipes on their website.

Meadow Oak Distillery

This award-winning distillery in Stebbing produces a range of spirits that promote and support bio-diversity and encourage nature to thrive. Their first gin, “Heartwood of Oak Moor Meadow”, launched September 2022, encompasses their nature-orientated values, with carefully selected botanicals – eleven of which are found in the landscape of Oak Moor Meadow. They host regular open days for people to enjoy their gin, plus tours, tasting and a gin school.

Brentwood Brewing Company

Brentwood’s history of brewing and malting stretches back to around 1700 and Brentwood Brewing Company continues that tradition. They make good quality real ales, with a tap room where you can find four draught beers and a range of bottled Brentwood and Elephant School beers. They also put on tours and tastings, plus a brewery open day on every second Saturday of the month.

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