Soaking up the warmth of the sunshine in a sleeveless summer dress, I’m overlooking a vineyard with a glass of top-notch sparkling wine in my hand. The shadows lengthen as the sun sinks lower in the sky, but the warmth has not yet gone from the day.
It’s late February, my birthday as it happens, but I’m not in The Douro Valley, Catalan, Bordeaux or Champagne. I’m in West Sussex at the Tinwood Estate on the south coast of England and not only is the weather remarkable, so is the wine.
English sparkling wine, most notably Sussex sparkling wine, has been getting quite a name for itself in recent years.
The Story of Tinwood Estate, West Sussex
When Art Tukker inherited Tinwood, an iceberg lettuce farm just north of Chichester in the hamlet of Halnaker, he started researching the viability of transforming it into a vineyard. Partnering with the award-winning Ridgeview Wine Estate in 2006, the journey began.
The first vines were planted in 2007 and the first grapes were harvested 2 years later.
above: Pinot noir vines after the harvest in Autumn, below: Art and Jody
Now with 65 acres of vineyard and three grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier, there are 110,000 vines in total. The grapes are taken to Ridgeview for the wine production, before returning to Tinwood for ageing.
As Art’s wife Jody explained during our tour, one reason for the success of Sussex white wines is the well-draining chalky soil found along and around the South Downs. The abundant flint also traps the heat of the sun and warms the soil.
The success of each year’s harvest is dependent on the weather. If early warm weather encourages the vines to bud too soon, a late frost can be devastating. Being just 5 miles from the sea, a warming breeze in spring helps protect from frost.
Despite this, in 2016 one frosty night in April took out 70% of the crop, resulting in just 30,000 bottles of wine that year. Last year, however, brought in a bumper crop with 200,000 bottles of wine being produced.
Custodians of the land
The environment has always been important to Tinwood’s owners, Art and Jody Tukker. in 2010 they entered the Entry Level Stewardship scheme, a government grant initiative aimed at protecting the environment, character and history of the landscape.
Preferring to work with nature rather than against it, no insecticides are used at Tinwood. Wildflower meadows, new hedgerows and a great many trees have been planted on the estate. Most recently wildflowers have been introduced amongst the vines, all helping to promote biodiversity on the farm.
Tinwood is also home to beehives and the bees gather pollen from the flowers, producing two types of honey. Each spring, pollen from the rape blossoms produce a solid, buttery honey, reputedly great for hay fever sufferers. In summer, the flower meadow pollen results in a clear runny honey, perfect drizzled over teacakes or perhaps a vintage cheddar cheese with a glass of Tinwood Brut.
Tinwood Wine Tasting, West Sussex
I’ve been leading guided walks in this area since last Autumn and strolled through these vineyards many times, but I knew little about the estate and had never tasted Tinwood Wine. My birthday this year seemed the perfect excuse, so Neill and I booked a guided tour of the TInwood Estate.
The first wine we sampled was the Blanc de Blanc, a refreshing pale golden wine, perfect for a summer’s day – close your eyes and imagine biting into a crisp green apple. While a wine this good should be sipped and savoured I found it slipped down far too easily. It’s made entirely from Chardonnay grapes and costs £29 a bottle.
Next, we tried the Brut which is also pale golden in colour. It has a rounder taste in the mouth with notes of honey and is far better than any Champagne I’ve tasted lately. It’s made from a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot noir and 20% Pinot meunier and costs £29 a bottle.
Lastly, while sitting on the viewing deck overlooking the vineyard as the sun sank lower in the sky, we tried the Brut Rosé, a delicate salmon coloured wine tasting of fresh strawberries and raspberries. The perfect blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot meunier and 20% Chardonnay, costs £31 a bottle.
My personal favourite was the Blanc de Blanc but it was a close call as I loved them all. I can honestly say this was my favourite wine tasting experience I’ve ever had. I’m sure the sunshine helped, but as someone who prefers red wine to white and is not generally a fan of sparkling wines, it was a real delight to discover not one but three wonderful sparkling wines, right here on my doorstep.
I’ve already started planning some return visits with family and friends. And I’m looking forward to adding a stop at the Tinwood Estate during my guided walks around Halnaker.
Tinwood Estate Lodges
With over 600 vineyards in England, no longer do you have to travel overseas to enjoy a wine tasting holiday. Several wine estates here in Sussex offer accommodation including the Tinwood Estate with three luxury wooden lodges looking out of the vineyards with a perfect view of the setting sun, each with a lovely private decking area, over-sized king bed, two-person jacuzzi and a shared wine barrel shaped sauna. Magic!
Tinwood Vineyard Tour & Wine Tasting
The tour and wine tasting costs £18 per person and includes a tour of the vineyard, 3 glasses of sparkling wine and takes one and a half hours. The tours run daily at 3pm as well as at noon on a Saturday.
You can stay on after the tour and enjoy another glass (£6 per glass) or bottle (from £29) in the elegant wine tasting room or out on the pretty patio area. Or you can simply pop by and sample a glass anytime the winery is open between 10am and 6pm. Occasional, special events see the winery open throughout the evening too.
In the summer months, tables are laid out across the lawns leading down to the vineyards, a fabulous way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Where to buy Tinwood Wines
As well as at the Tinwood Estate onsite and online shops, Tinwood wines can be bought at some of our favourite Sussex pubs and restaurants including The Anglesey Arms in Halnaker, Goodwood’s Farmer Butcher Chef, The George in Eartham, The Crab and Lobster in Sidlesham and The Gribble Inn in Oving.
How to get to Tinwood Estate
Tinwood Estate is about a two hour’s drive from London, just off the A285 between Petworth and Chichester, on Tinwood Lane in the hamlet of Halnaker.
By Train and Bus
The nearest train station is at Chichester, an hour and a half from London’s Victoria Station. From here it is a 20-minute taxi or bus ride away.
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