A tired and overstimulated New Yorker can easily find compelling reasons to visit the English countryside. On a recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised by the rustic feel of the country without the beige minimalism, which is all too common in rural retreats in the US. There are boutique accommodations that could be the vacation home of your unmarried aunt, beautiful (but shockingly narrow) driving roads, and good wine.
The southeast of England, which includes Kent, East, West, and Surrey counties, has soils that are similar to Champagne. This means that the region is better suited to produce crisp, bright bubbles. Historical data from the Wines of Great Britain show that production is increasing. The number of vineyards has increased by 113% between 1989 and 2022. Total planted acres have also increased by nearly 350%.
Even with this growth, English sparkling still faces many challenges. It’s no easy feat to change England’s reputation as a country with a cold and sterile climate, despite the fact that the last few years were some of the hottest on record. With the fact that consumers still prefer Prosecco to Champagne as an affordable sparkling wine and the unique challenge of being a young wine region by 2023, there’s no wonder why winemakers, distributors, and hoteliers are praising wine tourism. It’s not a matter of a few more years or aspirational goals but rather a matter of urgency.
Distance is no barrier.
Hotelier Robin Hutson founded THE PIG Hotels in 2011 and has made one of the largest investments in English wine tourism. The brand site is located in Hampshire, Kent, and West Sussex and shares the same focus of “championing local vineyards.” Hutson, who founded THE PIG hotels in 2011, also invested in Sugrue South Downs Wines, a label by Dermot Sugrue. Dermot Sugrue was previously the head winemaker for Nyetimber Estate and Wiston. Hutson says that successive UK governments are not committed to hospitality and tourism. Their support of wine tourism, as being important to the UK’s incoming tourists, will be crucial for the establishment of this destination.
The distance between wineries is a challenge that no amount of money can overcome. Gareth Maxwell has been working in the English wine sector for more than eight years. Maxwell decided to launch his winemaking venture, The Heretics. Private tour operators are now offering tour services. “Hopefully, this will continue to expand as the drunk driving laws in Australia are strict.
COURTESY OF BEAVERBROOK
Wine Garden of England is an operator that offers tours to wineries and restaurants in Kent. The Pig’s Bridge Park Hotel is recommended as a place to stay on time. There are a few options for those who want to create their luxury wine country trip. In Ascot is Coworth Park with its Michelin-starred restaurant Woven by Adam Smith. Beaverbrook in Leatherhead has beautifully appointed rooms designed by Susie Atkinson. Her eye for whimsical textiles and wallpapers makes every corner feel like a discovery. Beaverbrook has 150 wines by the glass. Giovanni Tallu, the estate’s head wine buyer and sommelier, is known for securing bottles that are otherwise hard to find. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet owners and growers of the world’s finest vineyards, including Petrus and Domaine Romanee Conti. I’ve developed relationships with suppliers, which allow us to be first in line as buyers. We can secure the best varieties from their vineyards and ensure an exceptional selection of wines for our guests and members.
The promise of captive audiences
British Airways, Great Britain’s national airline, quietly works to promote the winemaking region from afar.
Sparkling Wines to Get Me Through COVID-19
Since 2013, English sparkling is available in First Class. Recently, the airline began offering a rotating selection of producers, including Digby Fine English and Wiston Estate, to Club World or Business Class passengers. The response from customers was overwhelmingly positive. Many are tasting English sparkling for the first time. And what better way to do it than from their seats on a long flight? says Tim Jackson, Master of Wine, who oversees beverage programs in BA lounges. He says that passengers of other nationalities are often surprised to learn that not only does the UK make wine, but it is also very good. It’s one of our most popular menu items.
COURTESY OF COWORTH PARK
Dinner and a show with some wine
Anyone who has visited Napa Valley or Champagne will tell you that tasting rooms, restaurants, and shopping experiences pave the road to a robust wine tourism industry. Chalk Restaurant in Sussex offers a beautifully curated farm-to-table breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bolney Wine Estate has recently opened the charming and casual Eighteen Acres Cafe, located conveniently next to a carefully curated wine shop featuring local charcuterie and spirits.
Major players from outside the United Kingdom are also taking note; Champagne Taittinger a data-component=”link” data-ordinal=”1″ data source=”inlineLink” and data type=”externalLink.” Major players from outside of the United Kingdom are also taking note; Champagne Taittinger purchased land at the Crouch Valley in Essex, a highly sought-after growing region.
What gives me confidence that England will be a great wine region is the pride and passion everyone has for what they do, from volunteers at harvest to winemakers. The satisfaction is evident in small but powerful ways. For example, a happy manifesto at Hattingley’s winery reads “Unapologetically British.” This is the idea behind the first television advertisement from an English winery, which Maxwell produced. It pokes fun at French misconceptions about English sparkling. Maxwell states that many consumers want us to create a catchy name for English sparkling, but it doesn’t sound very British. “Not to mention that everything we’ve heard so far is rubbish.”