A day at Balfour Winery - a sparkling gem in the Kent countryside
What I loved about it:
Balfour Winery is all about enjoying good food, good wine and good company in the Garden Of England. Offering a relaxed yet luxurious experience surrounded by stunning views, it’s the most idyllic spot to enjoy a stroll through the Kentish countryside followed by a delicious sharing platter and glass of sparkling wine. As a family run business, there are nods to its roots and loved ones throughout the vineyard and estate, giving it a really personal, boutique feel. I definitely recommend visiting for a very special day out!
Value for money (out of 10):
I feel the warmth of the sun on my face and hear the call of a cuckoo in the distance as I sip my chilled glass of sparkling wine and take in my spectacular surroundings. I’d been invited to visit the award-winning Balfour Winery to learn more about the company, explore the estate and sample some of the delicious food and drink on offer. It’s safe to say that it did not disappoint!
Located on the outskirts of Staplehurst, Balfour Winery is the creation of wine lovers Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn, owners of the 400-acre Hush Heath Estate which the winery is part of. Though the land has been owned by the family for 3 generations, it wasn’t until the early 00’s that the couple made the decision to turn their hand to winemaking with a view to making a pink English Sparkling Wine to rival those from Champagne.
With the first vine planted in 2002, this year marks Balfour’s 20th anniversary – and what a 20 years it has been! No less than 5 years after that first plantation, the team’s Balfour Brut Rosé became the first English wine to win a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge, and they went on to provide the official English wine of the 2012 London Olympics. The rest (as they say) is history. What started off as a passionate hobby has become one of Kent’s biggest success stories and it’s thriving day by day. Now boasting 7 vineyards, along with an array of beautiful apple orchards, an on-site winery and a growing number of affiliated pubs and hotels, it’s fair to say that they are doing well. In addition to their signature wines, they also now produce beer, cider and juice, and offer tours, tutored tastings and masterclasses throughout the year.
The sun is shining as I arrive at Balfour Winery on a balmy Friday in late April. As I step out onto the terrace of the on-site restaurant (aptly named ‘The View’), I’m met with a sea of uniform vines against a backdrop of rolling hills, meadows and oast houses. If there was ever a more quintessentially Kentish vista, I have yet to see it!
Inspired by the views, my host and I make our way to explore the ancient woodland that surrounds the winery. At this time of year (April / May), they are carpeted by a swathe of vibrant bluebells which look absolutely magical as the light streams through the trees. It’s the most peaceful spot for a stroll and a wonderful way of getting back to nature, with the sound of birds in the trees and easy access trails to follow. I am lucky enough to hear a woodpecker during my visit, but the estate is also bursting with an array of wildlife, including fallow deer, barn owls, bees and buzzards, which the team cares for and protects.
Sustainability, conservation and biodiversity are a key focus of the winery and wider estate, with all of the wines made as vegan and recycled glass used in their bottles. Guided nature walks also run throughout the year, allowing visitors to explore the woodland and learn about the team’s approach to its upkeep and conservation. Owner Leslie, I understand, is a strong advocate for this and remains keenly involved.
It’s clear from the outset that family really is at the heart of Balfour Winery, both in name and ethos. Though expanding and developing in its status as a luxury brand every year, it still very much feels like a family-run business, with nods to their loved ones everywhere you look. From Nanette’s Vineyard named after Leslie’s mother and Jake’s Beer & Cider named after their son; to Leslie’s Reserve Gold and fragrant scented candles named after each of their children (as well as the dog!) the Balfour-Lynn family is all around.
As we return to ‘The View’, taking in the blossoming apple trees and more gorgeous views en route, we settle onto one of the al fresco tables and order one of Balfour’s Estate Sharing Platters. Served from midday to 5pm (or 4pm during the Winter months), the platters comprise a mouth-watering selection of local, seasonal produce including meats, cheeses, patés and salads, accompanied with warm breads and chutneys. Diners can mix and match to create either a 6, 9 or 12 item platter to suit their tastes and party size.
After much deliberation (it all sounded so good!), we opt for a 9 item platter including brown crab paté, Bowyers brie, Kentish new potato salad, roasted padron peppers, air-dried beer sticks, grilled asparagus and smoked salmon mousse. It arrives beautifully presented and bursting with flavour. The care and attention put into the dishes is palpable, and it feels like a real celebration of Kent and Sussex produce. My personal favourites were the brown crab paté and new potato salad, both of which I could have happily ordered seconds (or thirds!) of if I’d had space!
Food seems to be as important a factor as the wine at Balfour, with their Dining Club evenings proving hugely popular and an impressive additional string to their bow. Hosting four-course dinners curated by Head Chef Dan Austin on select Saturdays of each month, the Balfour Dining Clubs include wine pairing and offer guests an exclusive, intimate experience at the winery. They also offer a Wine & Dine Experience on Thursdays and Sundays providing guests with a luxury all-day tour along with three-course lunch, expertly paired with the vineyard’s wines. Please see the Balfour Winery website for upcoming dates and more details.
The star of the show, however, has to be the wine itself. I was driving so limited to what I could have, but did indulge in a small glass of Leslie’s Reserve Gold, which was outstanding. Light, fruity and less sharp than the traditional Brut, it has a softness and sweetness, making it the perfect aperitif for a Summer’s day. With ‘The View’ staying open until 9pm on Fridays throughout the Summer, I definitely recommend treating yourself to a glass (or bottle!) as you watch the sunset across the vines!
Before leaving, I pay a visit to the Balfour shop to pick up a few treats to take home. Again, there is plenty to choose from, from the exclusive Winemaker’s collection to the beautiful blush of Nanette’s rosé, but I eventually settle on a bottle of Leslie’s Reserve Rosé, along with some cans of Jake’s beer and cider as a gift for my Husband. I’ll no doubt be back to sample more in the future though!