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Exploring the very best of local wine with Wine Tours of Kent

With over 50 vineyards taking up acres of Kent’s luscious countryside, it’s no surprise that Kent is now heralded as the Wine Garden of England. Providing glorious backdrops for wine tasting and tours, these vineyards entice wine coinessuers from around the world. Spoilt for choice, the lure of each unique vineyard and their story begs to be visited and heard – but how best can we do that with so many to choose from? Enter the experts, Wine Tours of Kent.

 

By Olivia Riccini

Brainchild of Abi Ireland, Wine Tours of Kent was ultimately born out of a love of good wine and appreciation for the diversity of wineries and vineyards in the county. I meet Abi on a cold early Spring day, but the weather has not dampened her spirit which emits cheer through a smile set to warm our souls before we embark on our journey of Kentish vineyard discovery. With five of the insideKENT team in tow, we pile into the spotless eight-seater which acts as the portal to take visitors from vineyard to vineyard, through famous Kent wine country. Wine Tours of Kent will even pick you up and drop you back home (or at the train station) so you can sip wine carefree throughout the day, without the worry of driving. 

The first question I put to Abi is what the catalyst was for starting Wine Tours of Kent. It seems such a necessary and much-needed venture that it intrigues me as to how she had the insight to seize the opportunity and form her business. “I’d just got back from Australia,” she tells us. “It was there I really discovered my intrigue in the process of making wine and my love of the vineyards themselves. I spent most of my 20s touring them and when I came back to Kent, I wanted to do the same. But when I looked for a tour, I couldn’t find any, so I had to visit them with a designated driver – my other half,” she laughs. “I realised there was a huge gap in the market for people wanting to visit the wineries and sample all of the wines without having the hassle of finding transport, so here I am.”

Abi drives with a reassuring confidence through Kent’s country roads. We wind round beautiful villages decorated with gorgeous buildings, houses and architecture at every turn, interspersed with meadow scenes, wildlife and rolling countryside. West Kent’s picturesque beauty can be truly appreciated when someone else is driving and knows exactly where they are going. 

The first stop on our tour is the boutique winery and vineyard Herbert Hall (www.herberthall.co.uk). Abi pulls up outside a big rustic barn that sits next to the grape vines themselves. We are met by Kirsty Smith who works with fourth-generation winemaker and owner Nicholas Hall to produce handmade English sparkling wines, vintage by vintage, from the small family-owned estate. Kirsty is a true tonic with which to start our day, her passion and knowledge simply radiates from her as she gives an animated, expert yet entirely comprehensive talk about the process of winemaking – from grape to bottle. The barn in which we are sat houses equipment to make the wine, and before pouring us each a glass of Herbert Hall’s delectable sparkling white, Kirtsty points out the role of each piece as we nod along. I am mesmerised by Kirsty’s passion for her art, which makes every sip as I move on to the brut rosé even more appreciated and taste that little bit better.

“If there is one thing you’d like people to know about Herbert Hall, what would it be?” Asks our editor, Sam. Kirsty ponders for a moment as she holds one of the bottles which her and Nicholas hand label themselves. “We are authentic, “ she replies. “We have no hidden winery or vineyard; what you see here is everything. This is more than just a hobby or job to us, it is our passion. We have stayed small because this way we can pour care into the business, we know our vines and our grapes and each little patch that they grow on. Ultimately, we want to share this with our customers.” After we leave Kirsty, Abi admits that she does a ‘mystery shopper’ style audition when it comes to choosing who she includes on her tours. “Kirsty was so passionate about Herbert Hall, I knew immediately that I wanted to help her showcase this passion as well as the wine through Wine Tours of Kent,” she explains. It is clear to me that Abi’s venture is more than just the wine, it is as much about the people behind the product – a way to recognise and celebrate their passion and hard work just as it should be.

As we motor along out of Marden, famous for its orchards and fruit, Abi tells us that up next is lunch and a fantastic spread put on for us at Wayfarer Wines (www.wayfarerwines.com). When opting for the full-day tour with Wine Tours of Kent, guests will enjoy lunch served at either a traditional country pub or at one of the vineyards during warmer months. Alongside our lunchtime spread, we have another tutored tasting, this time with Wayfarer’s Emma Ashford. A family run vineyard, Wayfarer Wines came about after Emma’s dad, Jeff, started his retirement project by planting 3,000 vines in 2016. I ask Emma, who works alongside her brother, if a passion for wine was always a feature for her family when growing up. “It was my dad that always had the real passion for wine, especially how it is paired alongside food,” she says. “We only make still wine here, and that’s down to personal taste – it’s what we have always preferred. Now, we are even more into the science behind how wine brings out the flavour of food.” Six years after the first vines were planted, Wayfarer currently has over 12,000 vines and Emma hosts cheese and charcuterie wine tastings, which are also dog friendly. That comes as no surprise as family spaniel, Maple, can not only be seen bouncing about the vineyard, but her image is also drawn into Wayfarer’s sleek linear logo and branding.

Comfortably full and feeling even more knowledgeable and cheery, we wave goodbye to Emma and head off to our last stop of the day, neighbouring vineyard Woodchurch Wines (www.woodchurchwine.co.uk). As we approach the slick industrial barn conversion, impressively cladded to create a modern beauty of a building which sits juxtaposed against the idyllic Kent countryside and wide open blue skies, I note that right down to the architecture of the buildings and shape of the bottles, each vineyard is wonderfully different. It is Abi and Wine Tours of Kent that have highlighted and celebrated these differences; the story unfolding as the tour goes on and illustrating perfectly how the personal identity of each vineyard is so unique.

Vineyard owner, Graham, runs Woodchurch Wines alongside his wife, Donna. “I do a bit of everything,” he tells us. “From pruning the trees to helping Donna prepare the charcuterie and cheese boards.” This afternoon, Graham is also our wine tutor, whom we quiz with more questions that have arisen from our new found wine knowledge. I ask Graham where his interest and expertise comes from. “Myself and Donna have always had an interest in wines and have visited vineyards around the world,” he explains. “Back when we started in 2009, anything seemed possible in UK winemaking. We studied viticulture and since then we have never stopped learning.” It is the growing of the grapes that interests Graham the most and with no winery on site at Woodchurch, he is able to pick and choose the expertise of the wineries and winemakers he uses. “Making wine is an entirely different process to growing grapes,” he adds. “Our winemaker makes good decisions and gives great advice, and I’m pretty happy with the results so far.” 

As we sip our last few glasses of wine in the contemporary comfort of Woodchurch’s aesthetic tasting room (complete with a moss wall and oak tables made from an ancient tree on site), we bask in far-reaching panoramic views of the vineyard below and the Kent countryside that stretches far beyond and into the horizon. This is a truly glorious setting in which to finish a marvellous day of tasting, tutoring and touring – an ending that I believe Wine Tours of Kent have set up on purpose. 

It is details like this, combined with the practice and knowledge of Abi and her team, that make Wine Tours of Kent so special and well constructed. The company has made it their priority to celebrate the people behind the wine, giving them the recognition they deserve, as well as showcase their divine products that come straight from Kent’s fertile soil. No matter how much or how little you know about wine, the best way to appreciate it – along with all the beauty of Kent’s glorious vineyards – is definitely through Wine Tours of Kent who hold all the secrets, connections, expert know-how and local knowledge needed to celebrate Kent’s vineyards and winemakers at their very best. 

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