On the Vineyard Trail
The great grape harvest: never was there a more perfect time to raise a glass to the future of Kentish wine
Autumn. A change in our year that Keats famously referred to as “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” in his eponymous poem. This opening line, forever since quoted to depict bountiful harvests and the readying for winter, is one which so perfectly paints the month of September here in The Garden of England. As well as fruits, arable crops and vegetables, Kent has long since added grapes to its produce repertoire, and is now officially crowned Wine Garden of England, too.
With over 50 individual wineries and thousands of acres of countryside that sprawl with luscious vines, September is certainly a busy month for Kent’s vineyards. In what is set to be the county’s most popular harvest to date, with the rise of awareness and interest in Kent’s wine industry from the public growing stronger by the day, wine connoisseurs and vineyard lovers alike will be able to revel in all the glory of the season. This September, tours, tastings and open vineyards will welcome visitors with open arms – and a glass of sparkling or two – ready to toast the harvest of 2023 and of course, the beautifully maturing future of Kentish wine.
But what exactly is it that makes Kent so special when it comes to growing grapes for vino? With plenty of sunny south-facing slopes, a renowned chalky soil (our chalk is now no longer solely famous for making up the White Cliffs) and a warm climate, Kent is simply the perfect place for growing grapes. Word on the industry grapevine, Kent is now a rival to European vineyards, which some have predicted will become too hot to make good vintages in the coming years. In preparation for this, 2021 saw acclaimed Champagne house Taittinger purchase land in Selling near Faversham, and this year, leading English wine brand Chapel Down signed an option to acquire part of Highland Court Farm in Bridge for the construction of a new £20-£30 million winery.
Referred to as the ‘Napa Valley of the UK’ in a Bloomberg Pursuits article, Kent’s vineyards and wineries have added thousands of revenue to the county’s tourism industry, with tourists from across the globe travelling to our corner of the UK to witness our glorious vineyards and sample our delectable wines for themselves. With such rosy investments and a booming interest in English wine, the future certainly looks sweet for the Kentish wine industry. With this comes the promise of prosperity: the perfect excuse to visit a vineyard this September and raise a glass to the Wine Garden of England. Here are just some of insideKENT’s recommendations:
Kent’s original vineyard, Biddenden, has been owned and managed by the Barnes family since 1969. Today, the vineyard is run by the second and third generations of the family, drawing on many years of experience in winemaking at Biddenden. Visit Biddenden for quintessentially Kentish rural tranquillity, a great vineyard shop and lots of different options when it comes to tours including self-guided strolls and a Meet The Winemaker Tour. Why not extend your visit and stay at The Grape Escape, an enchanting cottage perfect for a romantic couples’ getaway with a wood-fired hot tub and spectacular countryside views overlooking the vines.
Growing grapes for wine making since 1979, Elham Valley Vineyard is set among the rolling hills of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Visit the Vineyard Garden Centre and Café to sample the wines, or simply have a cup of tea and slice of cake as you take in lovely rural views. Owned by The Fifth Trust charity, the garden centre, vineyard and café provide additional funding for the charity’s skills centres and create work opportunities for adult students with learning disabilities.
Woolton Farm, Bekesbourne
A boutique family run farm and vineyard set in the idyllic countryside surrounding Canterbury, producing award-winning wine and cider. Choose from a wide selection of tours or delight in the beautiful ancient barn and artisan café within it. Join Woolton on the 29 – 30 September and 1 October for their amazing Harvest Cider & Beer Festival. Expect three days of live music, food and drink! Freshly made pizza will be served all day to keep you and the family going, with sweet treats from The Beardy Baker, plus a freshly roasted hog. £5 entry per day includes an etched glass to take home after the event.
Great for Groups
Simpsons Wine Estate, Barham
Beautiful vineyards with an uber cool tasting room overlooking the winery, complete with a steel slide for adults. Tours and tastings are always available, however, on Sunday 10 September from 4pm – 10pm, Simpsons is hosting a very special wine dinner with Michelin-starred Saltwood restaurant, Hide and Fox.
Chef patron Allister Barsby and fellow owner Alice Bussi are joining Simpsons to present a delicious five-course dinner showcasing local ingredients and masterful cooking, perfectly paired with a different Simpsons’ wine. This exclusive event includes a gentle stroll through the beautiful village of Barham to the nearby Roman Road Vineyard. Here you will enjoy a glass of award-winning sparkling wine while hearing about the establishment of the estate and special vineyard sites. Once back at the winery, enjoy an elevated view of the chef’s table, while learning more about Simpsons. Afterwards, adjourn to the atmospheric Press Barn, where Hide and Fox will present five exquisite dishes, each to be enjoyed with a paired Simpsons wine.
Gorgeous vineyard complete with an awe-inspiring winery and restaurant in sleek industrial style. Tour the vineyard and take in the vines and views that reach out to sea towards Romney Marsh and Dungeness, or visit The Nest restaurant to complete your experience. Here you can enjoy extended tastings with three-course meals paired perfectly with a selection of Gusbourne’s wines.
Vineyards for Foodies
Offering tours and tastings from April to October, this is the perfect vineyard to visit for those with a passion for good wine and good food. With views across the vineyard and wider estate, the AA rosette award-winning restaurant is at the heart of the estate high up on the North Downs. Dedicated to sustainable dining and seasonal dishes, the chef draws on livestock reared on the estate, produce foraged from its woodlands and fields, as well as handpicked local producers within a 30-mile radius. Complementing the menu is a wine list authored by Laura Evans, Master of Wine. Diners can savour exciting new finds from the old and new world alongside a special collection of English wines. Or choose one of Squerryes’ award-winning, sparkling wines to accompany your meal! Curious but short on time? Stop by to visit the Estate Deli and Cellar Door.
Balfour Winery at Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst
Fabulous vineyard and winery complete with an acclaimed restaurant. This September Balfour are hosting a series of brilliant events including:
An Evening of Jazz with Ian Shaw and Claire Martin, 9 September, 7.30pm
Get ready to be welcomed with a glass of delicious Balfour sparkling wine before being seated for a three-course set meal, then sit back and soak in the sounds of two of the greatest jazz singers.
Vinyasa in the Vineyard, 10 September, 10am – 2pm
Combine yoga, nature and English wine for a relaxing day out. This gentle vinyasa yoga class is uniquely set against the wonderful backdrop of Balfour’s Foxridge Vineyard, which offers beautiful views across the estate. Bathe in the sounds of nature before finishing perfectly with a tasting of three Balfour Wines.
September Dining Club Music Sessions, 16, 23 & 30 September
Join Balfour at their Dining Club to enjoy an evening of live music and our delicious seasonal menu for September. These intimate performances from Balfour’s favourite musicians will complement your evening of exceptional food and Balfour wines. Arrive at 7.30pm for a welcome drink before being seated for a tasting of three Balfour Wines followed by a delicious four-course dinner.
Woodchurch Wine Estate, Ashford
With a cellar door shop and terrace bar, Woodchurch Wine Estate serves wines by the glass and bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards outside on their terrace. Wander through the vines and explore the vineyard at your leisure, or book a special tour and a tasting of four Woodchurch wines.
Herbert Hall, Marden
This five-hectare organic vineyard is situated on the edge of Marden village, a sunny south-facing slope sheltered by ancient hedgerows. In the family for three generations, the philosophy here is based on remaining in harmony with nature – farming organically and encouraging the reintroduction of flora and fauna to a region so damaged by conventional farming methods. Most of the vineyard work is done by hand and grapes are pressed within hours of picking.