We discover how history, passion, innovation and a
little inspiration from the BBC are behind the
award-winning wines at this Kent vineyard

Sipping a wine (amongst the vines that created it, with the people that crafted it) is one of life’s most magical experiences.

With around 900 vineyards in the UK, one stands out for its unique heritage, legacy and award-winning wines. Tended today by its second and third generation family vignerons, the first vineyard in Kent – Biddenden – was planted in the late 1960s thanks in part to the BBC. Inspired by a feature about English vineyards on Woman’s Hour, Joyce Barnes convinced her apple farming family to take the plunge into wine.

Speaking with Tom Barnes, Biddenden’s third generation vineyard and winery manager, it comes as no surprise that the secret to Biddenden’s success is rooted in his family’s half century-long passion for their vines and wines.

“You will find all the Barnes family at Biddenden, we are very hands on”, he comments, continuing his sentiment that sharing their history with customers over a glass of wine makes it all worthwhile, “whether you’re a wine buff or just someone who likes wines and wants to learn more, we enjoy taking people on a journey. Wine is as much about the story as it is its reflection in the glass, an experience, a moment in time. No one vintage is the same”.

Open for tastings year-round, the best time to experience Biddenden’s 23 acres of vines at their most glorious is from May to September . A wide and varied number of grape varieties can be found here – 12 at the last count – creating an array of award-winning styles of White, Rosé, Red and Sparkling wines.

“The original vines planted back in 1969 included Ortega”, explains Tom, “(as well as) Reichensteiner, Gamay and Schönburger, all of which are still planted today. Although most (of these grapes) are not widely planted in the UK, they are what make us different. More recently we planted Bacchus, England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc, and last year was our first harvest of Riesling which we are very excited about”.

Being innovative and experimental is a recurring theme whether that is in the vineyard or the winery, “the key is to not stand still as a grower and winemaker, you must always be pushing the limits. The exciting part is when those limits come together with perfect weather, capturing that vintage in a bottle and seeing how it tastes in 12 months or more! It’s a lifestyle, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but if you don’t try how will you know what could be achieved?”

Focussing on still wines, rather than solely on sparkling is another way Biddenden stands out (around 60% of wine in England is sparkling whilst still wine tends to rely on a good vintage to be produced).

“In still wine making, you’re looking for that perfect ripeness balanced with the acidity. Dad’s always had a saying “Make your wine in the vineyard not the winery’’. We have stuck true to this. Our signature grape variety, Ortega, is labour intensive but it seems to suit our site well, Ortega has a funny way of presenting its fruit at harvest. The leaves almost retract from the fruit allowing the sun to concentrate the flavours in the fruit,” continues Tom.

As one of the oldest commercial vineyards in the UK, the Barnes family have witnessed huge changes in our local wine scene. “In 1969, growing and making wine at Biddenden was a vision to be achieved in diversification (from an apple farm) by my grandparents. As the years progressed so did the knowledge, with more people becoming interested in growing and making wine in the UK.

Climate has certainly had an impact in harvest records. In the early years harvest wouldn’t have started until late September or early October but over the last 10 years this has crept forward with the earliest being mid-august, in 2018. This isn’t all down to climate, sharing of knowledge between other growers helps as well as our focus on agronomy”.

You can certainly taste the love and care that the Barnes family put into their wines, from vine to wine, the handpicked grapes have been turned into wine at Biddenden’s on-site winery for five decades.

“Most of the vines are nearly 50 years old. This takes a lot more management than a young vineyard and the crops are not as big, but the quality is high. The emphasis for us now is on quality not quantity.”

A day visiting Biddenden Vineyards is a treat for all the senses – meeting the family, hearing their story, walking amongst the vines and tasting the array of wines. And if waking up with views of vines is your idea of heaven (it’s definitely ours), Biddenden’s Grape Escape is a charming cottage in the heart of the vineyard, complete with your own wood-fired hot tub.

A short drive from Ashford, the village of Biddenden is as charming as it is historical, whilst walks along the nearby Kent and East Sussex coastline or a browse of the independent shops of neighbouring Tenterden are great ways to take in the beauty of the area.

Biddenden’s Vineyard Shop is open year-round and stocked with wine alongside artisanal food and drink.

Self-guided tours run from May to September, in line with shop opening hours, and include a booklet and tasting flight of three or six wines. Pre-arrival bookings not required.. Self-Guided Tours

Private guided tours are available for groups of up to eight Wednesday to Saturday from May to September. A wonderful way to discover the history and winemaking at Biddenden. Bookings required. Private Guided Tours

The Grape Escape cottage

Biddenden Vineyards
Gribble Bridge Lane
Ashford TN27 8DF