The best vineyards to visit in and around Kent
Rolling hills, alfresco dining and a chilled flute of sparkling wine in hand… Whether you’re a proud connoisseur or just enjoy the occasional glass of something special, there is something uniquely sophisticated about a day sipping wine amongst the vines. If this sounds like your perfect day out, I have good news for you – you can put your passport away, as these sights can be found in our very own ‘Garden of England’.
The past few decades have seen the South East really make its way onto the map as a destination for producing fine wines. Sharing similar soil, terrains and climate as many of the prime grape-growing spots in France, the Kent and Sussex countryside is now bursting with sun-kissed vineyards to rival those of Tuscany or Champagne.
With many wine estates offering on-site fine dining experiences, vineyard tours and tutored tastings in and around Kent, you’ll be spoilt for choice as to which to visit. Here are some of my personal favourites to whet your appetite.
Chapel Down Winery, Tenterden
Located near the picturesque market town of Tenterden, Chapel Down is one of the industry leaders in English wine. Though most famous for their sparkling and still wines, they also produce gin, vodka and beers at their beautiful vineyard.
Chapel Down currently offers a range of tour options – from a 2-hour guided tour, including a tutored tasting of six wines, to the newer ‘Explorer Experience’ tour which focuses on the sparkling wines and includes a light lunch. Other options also include their ‘Walking With Wine’ tour and ‘Cheese & Wine Experience’. More details can be found via the website.
If visiting for any of the tours or tastings, I recommend treating yourself to a meal at their award winning on-site restaurant, The Swan, too. They boast a delicious three-course meal which is very reasonably priced.
Rathfinny Vineyard, Alfriston
You don’t get much better views than those from the top of Rathfinny in East Sussex! Located on the outskirts of the cobbled streets of Alfriston, the Rathfinny Wine Estate was established in 2010 with a vision to create world class sparkling wine in Sussex. The first 50 acres of vines were planted in 2012 and you can now visit for wine tastings, vineyard tours and delicious food.
I visited for their Harvest Tour last October and would thoroughly recommend it. However, they offer a range of tours and tastings throughout the year, as well as two or three course lunches from Wednesday – Sunday in either their Tasting Room Restaurant or Flint Barn Dining Room. If you’d prefer to just explore at your own leisure, there is also the 5km Rathfinny Trail which will reward you with some incredible panoramas across the South Downs on a clear day.
Dating back to 1410, the Gusbourne Estate in Appledore is a historic location in itself. In 2004 the estate was bought and turned into a vineyard producing an array of critically acclaimed fine still and sparkling wines.
As well as their standard vineyard tour which includes a tutored tasting, Gusbourne also offer their ‘Discovery Tour’, which treats guests to some special wines and seasonal sharing platters to complement the wines. If you’re looking to push the boat out further, they also host an ‘Estate Tour’ which comprises a full afternoon, extended tour and tasting, along with a three-course meal and taste of some limited-edition wines.
During the Spring and Summer months, Gusbourne also welcomes guests for a picnic amongst the vines which sounds idyllic!
Biddenden Vineyards, Biddenden
Famed as Kent’s original vineyard, Biddenden Vineyard is a family run estate producing award winning wines, ciders and juices. Recently celebrating their 50th anniversary, the vineyard spans 23 acres in the beautiful Weald village of Biddenden. It boasts 11 varieties of grape, producing white, rosé, red and sparkling wines.
Biddenden Vineyard offers relaxed, self-guided tours and tastings throughout the Summer months, as well as private tours for groups of up to 8. They also have an on-site shop selling their own award-winning wines, ciders and juices, along with a range of local cheeses, condiments, beers and gins.
Balfour Winery, Staplehurst
Another great producer of English sparkling wine in Kent, Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath Estate is famed for its award-winning wines, along with Jake’s beer and cider. A family run estate near Staplehurst, there is a strong focus on the preservation of wildlife, orchards and woodlands on the estate, along with its production of high class wines.
You can do a self-guided tour of the vineyard and estate by just picking up a map at the cellar door. Alternatively, Balfour runs guided tours all year around, as well as hosting their special Dining Clubs and Tasting Masterclasses. Their on-site restaurant, The View, certainly lives up to its name offering spectacular panoramas, and serves a fresh, seasonal menu full of local produce.
Bolney Wine Estate, Haywards Heath
First planted 50 years ago, Bolney Estate is well known as one of the oldest vineyards in England, and are self-proclaimed pioneers in the industry. Spanning over 36 acres on the edge of the South Downs, Bolney is a beautiful spot to visit in West Sussex, producing delicious red, rosé and sparkling wines.
Bolney offers a wide variety of tours and tasting experiences, pairing the estate’s wine with local meats, cheeses and even afternoon tea. Enjoy breakfast or lunch at their amazing Eighteen Acre cafe overlooking the Sussex countryside or visit the Vineyard Shop which is open daily between 9am-5pm.
Bluebell Vineyard, Uckfield
Set in the heart of the Sussex countryside, Bluebell Vineyard was created on the site of a former pig farm, and was turned ‘from swine to vine’ in 2005 when the first plantings took place. They now produce a range of critically-acclaimed still and sparkling wines, and are proud to be the only vineyard in the UK to have Merlot planted, and produce two wines from the variety – their Hindleap Ruby and Ashdown Boundary Block.
Living up to their name, the beautiful estate boasts a magnificent woodland full of bluebells in Spring. Visitors can take this all in on one of their three self-guided vineyard and woodland trails, which all begin at the Tasting Room. For something slightly more formal, they also offer tours and tastings on select dates, as well as events throughout the year.
This May, they will be hosting a jam-packed Monaco Experience weekend, overlooking the vines. Spread across two days, the event will be complete with a charity casino night, sparkling wine, classic car show, a live showing of the Formula 1 finals, BBQ and live music. See their website for more details.
Ridgeview Wine, Ditchling
With panoramic views across the South Downs, Ridgeview is a spectacular spot to sip a glass of fizz. Located in the charming Sussex village of Ditchling, Ridgeview has been producing world class sparkling wine for 25 years.
Ridgeview’s cellar door is open Thursday-Monday for drop-in sales and collections, and they currently host their ‘Classic Tour & Tasting’ over weekends and bank holidays. This tour involves an insight into the craft of winemaking as you wander through the vineyard, followed by a tasting of some of the estate’s sparkling wine.
Their Wine Garden is set to reopen in Summer 2022, where you can enjoy small plates and sharing platters whilst sipping some of the wine produced on site!
Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, Robertsbridge
Overlooking the striking Bodiam Castle, Sedlescombe vineyard near Robertsbridge in East Sussex is England’s oldest organic wine estate. Creating an award winning range of wines as well as fruit juices and ciders, they pride themselves on the fact that all of their produce is either organic or biodynamic, as well as being suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Sedlescombe offers tours and tastings between Wednesday – Sunday throughout the Summer months, as well as wonderful nature trails to take in the wildlife, countryside and organic vines. They also have a lovely on-site cafe, catering well for vegan, dairy free and gluten free dietary requirements.
Nestled in the heart of the North Downs, Squerryes Winery is a family-run estate near the pretty market town of Westerham. Bursting with history, the Grade I listed Squerryes Court has been home to 8 generations of the Warde family, spanning 300 years.
Since planting their first vines in 2006, they have gone on to produce a range of award-winning vintage sparkling wines. On Friday – Sunday during the Summer months, enjoy a tour of the vineyard, learning more about the history of the house and estate, followed by a tasting. Private tours of Squerryes Court can also be arranged separately.
Serving local produce, The Bottle Store Restaurant, is also open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch whilst soaking up the beautiful surroundings.