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Renowned as the Garden of England, Kent’s rolling hills are singing to a new tune. The hum of vines has replaced many of the orchards of past. The county now flies the flag for England’s exciting wine industry, offering unique experiences for visitors coming from far and wide to taste its award-winning wines.

 

 

The initial shift from apples to grapes took place around 50 years ago, with the first commercial vineyard in Kent, Biddenden, heralding a wave of new vineyards from the early 2000s.

We meet with Jo Smith, Brand Manager of Wine Garden of England to find out how this county, famous for its oast houses, seaside towns, castles and white cliffs is now leading the way for wine tourism in the UK.

We have more vineyards in Kent than any other region, so the choice and range of experiences is fantastic. We are also very easily accessed from London – Sevenoaks, Canterbury and Ashford are all major stations near many vineyards. Our proximity to France also makes it easy for European visitors,” explains Jo.

But how did Kent become such a hotbed of vineyard and innovative wine makers?

The weather helps “Kent is the driest and sunniest part of the UK” says Jo, “with some of our highest temperatures. So not only does that help to make the best fruit and therefore amazing wines, this also makes the experience of visiting that much better”.

Kent is also layered with soils that wine grapes love, the North Downs flow with the same chalk seams found in Champagne, and we know how great that sparkling is, whilst many of the vineyards are close to the coast, the sea acting as a moderator helping the vines when they need it most. .

All of this attracts winemakers from across the world, there’s even talk of Champagne houses looking for land, led by the Taittinger owned Domaine Evremond and their vines near Faversham.

If you like some extra sparkle in your wine glass, this is the place to be. Due to our longer, warmer summers of late, still wines are also becoming commonplace, and Kent makes some crackers with Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay taking centre stage. One of the UK’s best rosés comes from Kent too – a Wildflower Wine Club favourite, folc is pure summertime in a glass.

Most of the vineyards in Kent offer vineyard tours, wine tastings, pop-up restaurants, picnic spots, fresh produce shops and more, with many vineyards only 20 minutes’ drive from each other, Kent is perfect for vineyard hopping and bottle popping.

 

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WINE TASTING EXPERIENCES

If you’ve only got a day

Start your morning with a visit to Chartwell in Westerham. This beautiful country house, the home of Winston Churchill for much of his life offers an insight into his creative mind, we can spend hours exploring the stunning rose garden.

We suggest having lunch at Squerryes Winery Restaurant followed by a tour of the estate with a tasting in the Cork Room. Browse the Estate Deli and Cellar Door for a few treats to take home.

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Squerryes

Westerham

Managed by the same family for over 300 years, this farm-turned-wine estate at the foot of the North Downs is as historic as it is renowned for its sparkling wines.

From April to October, weekend tours of the vineyard come with tastings of their signature blends – elegant wines to accompany lunch or dinner at The Terrace restaurant, al fresco in the warmer months. This is field to fork dining with the added bonus of views across the estate and a wine list curated by Laura Evans, Master of Wine and Sommelier, Vicky Potter.

We love the sound of jazz nights on Fridays and if you fancy popping in for a quick glass of fizz or a light bite, the Garden Café next to the old estate milking parlour is the place to be (and we hear the local coffee is great too).

Squerryes

If you’ve got a weekend (Friday to Saturday)

Head to Canterbury in the early afternoon for a spot of sightseeing before venturing on to Simpsons’ Wine Estate for one of their renowned Sunset Sessions in the early evening. The vines will look glorious in the setting sun as you dip into delectable platters and sip award-winning wine.

Stay overnight at The Pig at Bridge Place. After a hearty breakfast, visit Westwell Wines for a stroll through the vines and a tasting of their experimental bottles, accompanied by a light plate of local cheese and charcuterie.

Simpsons’ Wine Estate

Canterbury

Charles and Ruth Simpson are behind what is becoming the pinnacle style for English Pinot Noir. Knowledgeable winemakers, their Kent vineyard is sister to their wine operation in the Languedoc in Southern France.

Found on sunny slopes in sight of the picturesque Kent village of Barham on the North Downs, their vines were planted in 2014, the first vineyard – Roman Road – commemorating the nearby route the Romans used in AD43, no doubt with vines in hand.

Simpsons’ is home to a state-of-the-art winery in the lower floor of a converted barn, where guests can literally slide to from the upstairs tasting room via their now infamous helter-skelter ride.

Simpsons’ Wine Estate

 

 

 

 

 

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Westwell Wine Estates

Near Ashford

Found on the Pilgrims Way on the North Downs, this vineyard is set on another ancient route, yet this wine producer is far from conventional. Four grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Meunier, Chardonnay and Ortega, produce a range of styles from sparkling to still, orange wines and pét nats, using wild yeast for fermentation and clay amphora for maturation.

Westwell wines come with a side of rock ‘n roll, with managing director and winemaker, Adrian Pike – renowned music company maestro and founder of record label, Moshi Moshi – at the helm, his unique creativity has led to a raft of awards for his wines.

Westwell Wine Estates

A wine adventure (three days)

We suggest starting your first day at Gusbourne for a tasting of their very best sparkling wines followed by lunch at the Swan Wine Kitchen at Chapel Down.

After lunch, take a ‘Wine in the Vines’ tour at Chapel Down and taste the wines surrounded by the vines they come from.

Stay overnight at The Woolpack in Tenterden (great for pub food too).

The next day, visit Balfour for a leisurely morning wildlife walk through their ancient woodlands, followed by a wine tasting and bite to eat for lunch.

If you need a little retail detour for some shopping therapy, head to the Macarthur Glen Outlet in Ashford on the way to your overnight stay at Boys Hall.

On your final morning, head out to Biddenden for a self-guided tour around their vineyards at your own pace, followed by a tasting of three wines. Browse their shop filled with local Kent produce for a few treats to reminisce over later.

If you’ve got time, have afternoon tea at The Bakehouse in the charming village of Biddenden.

Gusbourne

Appledore

One of England’s most highly regarded wine producers, vines were planted at Gusbourne in 2004 with the first vintages gaining critical acclaim and accolades from the world’s most famous wine critics.

Today, Gusbourne continues their award-winning trajectory, the wines of which visitors can enjoy on guided and self-guided tours.

Gusbourne

 

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Balfour Hush Heath Estate

Stapleford

A 16th century manor house surrounded by more than 400 acres makes a stunning backdrop to this beautiful wine estate.

With one of the finest tasting rooms in the country, tours run year-round and usually include a visit to the winery and walk through the rolling vineyard, orchards and ancient oak woodlands followed by an immersion into winemaking and tasting with the winery team. .

Keep an eye on the website for fun live music sessions as part of the Balfour Dining Club and yoga classes amongst the vines which run over the summer months (and culminate with a tasting of three wines – how very zen).

Balfour Winery

Chapel Down

Small Hythe, near Tenterden

Open to visitors all year round, Chapel Down is one of the country’s leading sparkling wine producers. A visit here will set the bar high on your exploration of English wines.

Dine in the restaurant (or book the Chef’s Table – for up to 18 guests) at The Swan Wine Kitchen and enjoy a 2AA Rosette dining experience, where you can sample locally and regionally-sourced produce alongside award-winning wines.

Chapel Down

 

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Biddenden

Biddenden Village

The oldest commercial vineyard in Kent, the same family have been growing grapes here since the late 1960s. Today, more than 10 grape varieties make a variety of wines, from sparkling to still, dry to sweet.

From May to September, tours and tastings take visitors on a gastronomic history of winemaking in Kent. We at Wildflower are big fans – Biddenden’s sparkling being one of our Editor’s favourites!

With the vineyard shop open all year round, you can select wine, ciders, juices and a selection of local and regional cheeses, charcuterie and more.

Biddenden


See Wildflower Wine Club’s recent review of Biddenden and why it’s a great place to stay at too here

 


Other places to stay (and dine)

The Plough, Rye

Angela’s & Dory’s, Margate

The Rose Hotel, Deal

Tickled Trout, West Fairleigh

The Windmill, Hollingbourne

 

With thanks to Jo Smith Wine Garden of England

 

Details of wine experiences, hotel stays and restaurants, costs and availability are subject to change. Please check the respective websites for information, validity, booking requirements and costs.