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Denbies Wine Making in Surrey:
Having cut my wine tasting teeth on a recent trip to Angers I was delighted to be invited to Denbies Vineyard in the heart of Surrey. Now, I’ve bumped into English wines a few times recently – in Cornwall the Camel Valley wines are widely available and I’ve been served Nyetimber sparkling wines quite frequently. But I had no idea that there was a vineyard quite so much on my doorstep – especially one that claims to be the largest independent vineyard in Europe. There are 265 acres of vines, planted in a protected valley with south facing slopes.
Denbies benefits from a geography that is very similar to the Champagne district of France. And as such, much of their production is a sparkling wine produced using the same method as champagne (which curiously enough was a technique invented in the UK). The move from a traditional farm to vineyard was suggested by Dr Seely, professor of geology at Imerial College London, who realised that the soil and climate was very similar to Champagne. Further research revealed that the area had produced wine previously, even in Roman times. The new vineyard was established in 1986 and has gone on to be a major producer of English wines.
Our tour involved a visit to the winery, where we were able to learn more at first hand about how wine is produced at Denbies. The entire process involves harvesting grapes, partly mechanically and partly by hand, throughout October and November, pressing the grapes, fermenting the juice (Denbies uses French yeasts), then filtering before maturing the wines in French oak. White wines are stabilised in cold tanks at minus 5 degrees, to remove tartrates, then the wines are bottled. Obviously the process for traditional method sparkling wines is different, these are double fermented in bottle, the same way as champagnes.
We took a trip around the estate with a guided tour which enabled us to see at first hand the patchwork quilt of vines growing at Denbies. From a good harvest, Denbies can produce up to 400,000 bottles of wine, about 10% of all the wine produced in the UK and they have around 20 grape varieties, including the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes necessary for producing a champagne type sparkling wine.
The visitor centre includes two restaurants and a large gift shop and the estate is known as a local tourist destination. They run a number of special events throughout the year and with ample parking and great visitor facilities, it’s a good option for a day out from London in the Country and an excellent way to learn the basics of modern wine production. And, you can of course taste the wines!
Denbies Wine Estate,
Surrey, RH5 6AA
Tel: 01306 876 616