English wine is enjoying a boom, and Sussex is at the centre of the explosion. The rippling hills of this corner of southeastern England are freckled with vineyards, and they’re rapidly gaining a global reputation for producing some of the world’s best wines. Culture Trip’s local insiders share their tips on where to find the best of the bunch to inspire your next visit.
Ridgeview Wine Estate rocketed Sussex to wine stardom when it was the first-ever English winner of Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2018. Its sparkling wine also gained royal approval when it was served at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Keen to try it for yourself? Visit in summer when the hills of the surrounding South Downs National Park turn bottle-green – it’s the perfect backdrop for a wine tasting al fresco, accompanied by a hamper stuffed with locally produced goodies. Recommended by local insider Clare Scott
Family-run Bluebell Vineyard Estates sits, as its name suggests, next to a bluebell-filled wood in Sheffield Green. It actually used to be a pig farm but made the transition “from swine to wine” in 2005. Now, it’s home to a tangle of over 100,000 vines that grow some of the UK’s most highly regarded sparkling wines. After sipping your way through a tour, make the most of the surrounding floral forests by taking a ride on the heritage Bluebell Railway steam train just a few hundred metres down the road. Recommended by local insider Clare Scott
Proving that bigger doesn’t always equal better is the Albourne Estate. The boutique vineyard spans approximately 11ha (26 acres), but this allows owner Alison and her team to retain a meticulous, hands-on approach. The wines are carefully hand-blended on-site, and each bottle label is embossed with a detailed painting of one of the local animals that have been spotted among the grapes. You’ll have to make a booking to join one of the in-depth guided tours, but if you don’t manage to reserve a spot, you can always take a bottle of England’s first-ever frizzante for the trail and explore the sloping hills solo. Recommended by local insider Clare Scott
This ancient chalk land estate was first named in the Domesday Book back in the 11th century, but it became a serious player on the international wine stage after planting its first grapes – a trio of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – in 1988. You can learn more about the production process of its award-winning sparkling wines by booking one of the two-hour tasting tours. However, for sheer opulence, you can’t beat the four-course wine dinners hosted in the sleekly refurbished white barn, with food cooked by legendary chef Michael Caines MBE. Recommended by local insider Ellie Ricketts
Oenophiles will be quick to argue that English vineyards can’t produce a decent bottle of red. Enter the Bolney Estate, which has not only risen to the challenge but has won international awards for its pinot noir. The team reveals how they’ve managed this (and more) on their vineyard tours. While you’re here, make sure to duck into the on-site restaurant, Eighteen Acre. Visit on a Sunday to tuck into a mean roast on a balcony overlooking the vineyards – best washed down with, of course, a glass of pinot noir. Recommended by local insider Ellie Ricketts
When approaching Breaky Bottom, two thoughts will cross your mind: does this track still count as a road? And is there actually a vineyard here? In a word: yes. The secluded vineyard spans just 2ha (six acres) and is the home of owner Peter Hall, who produces the award-winning wines himself and then names them after his most interesting mates. You need to make an appointment to visit, but it’s worth it to meet the man himself. You’ll leave with a case of brilliant wines and a pocketful of stories about the people who inspired them. Recommended by local insider Ellie Ricketts