Try a cheeky little number with a hint of English rose

You don't have to go abroad to tour a vineyard, says Catherine Jarvie. There are lots of fine wineries to explore in the UK
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The Independent Travel

English wine has endured a poor reputation over the years, but not only is much of it eminently drinkable, it's even winning the respect of other countries' producers. The industry has responded to increased interest in homegrown wines by throwing open the gates of its vineyards. These are to be found in some of the most beautiful parts of the country, and a visit is a fun, informative and relaxing way to while away an afternoon or even a weekend. Whether you head for a super-slick, hi-tech affair or a small, family-run concern, English Wine Week - running from next Saturday to 6 June, provides the perfect excuse to put English wines to the test.

English wine has endured a poor reputation over the years, but not only is much of it eminently drinkable, it's even winning the respect of other countries' producers. The industry has responded to increased interest in homegrown wines by throwing open the gates of its vineyards. These are to be found in some of the most beautiful parts of the country, and a visit is a fun, informative and relaxing way to while away an afternoon or even a weekend. Whether you head for a super-slick, hi-tech affair or a small, family-run concern, English Wine Week - running from next Saturday to 6 June, provides the perfect excuse to put English wines to the test.

Day-tripping

Wickham Vineyards, Southampton

Having trebled in size to a respectable 18 acres since its first planting in 1986, Wickham produces everything from fizz to rosé. Take a self-guided audio tour of the vineyard and winery for £2.75, enjoy gourmet dining in The Restaurant at the Vineyard, or explore the seven-acre nature reserve set in unimproved woodland and wetland, and home to a large variety of wild flowers, birds and deer.

Wickham Vineyards, Botley Road, Shedfield, Southampton (01329 834042; www.wickhamvineyard.co.uk).

Open daily, February-December.

Shawsgate Vineyard, Suffolk

At this well-established vineyard in a pretty part of Suffolk you can enjoy light refreshments in the tranquil Tea Garden or take advantage of the picnic areas throughout the vineyard, where you could dine surrounded by orchids. There's also a vine leasing scheme: "hire" one row or more of vines for a year, sit back, and look forward to receiving a wine produced in your name. Or tend the vines yourself, under supervision.

Shawsgate Vineyard, Badingham Road, Framlingham, Suffolk (01728 724060; www.shawsgate.co.uk).

Open daily.

New Wave Wines, Kent

Home to the highly acclaimed Curious Grape and Chapel Down Wines, New Wave operates from two sites in Kent. Tenterden Vineyard is home to the winemaking operation - grapes are harvested here and at Lamberhurst a few miles away. Tenterden offers free self-guided walks along vineyard trails and through the winery year round, and also guided tours, £4, from May to October. The Grapevine Bistro serves fine food sourced from local suppliers, and there is a herb garden, museum, shop and tasting area. You can even pick up a grapevine to grow at home.

New Wave Wines, Small Hythe, Tenterden, Kent (01580 763033; www.newwavewines.com).

Open daily.

Coddington Vineyard, Herefordshire

With two acres in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Coddington is one of Britain's smallest vineyards, and one of the loveliest too. Location, and its award-winning wines, make visiting a treat.

Coddington Vineyard, near Ledbury, Herefordshire (01531 640668; www.wineanorak.com/codd.htm).

Open Thursday-Monday, March-December.

RidgeView Estate, West Sussex

Dedicated solely to the production of fizz, RidgeView gives champagne a run for its money in blind tastings of its recent sparklers. A pretty estate and a marvellous product add up to a winning visit.

Fragbarrow Lane, Ditchling Common, West Sussex (01444 258039; www.ridgeviewestate.co.uk).

Open bank holiday weekends only.

Biddenden Vineyards, Kent

Just outside the picturesque village of Biddenden, the Barnes family makes wine from mostly German grape varieties, and award-winning traditional cider. Maps are provided for free self-guided tours of the 22-acres, and there are tastings.

Biddenden Vineyards, Little Whatmans, Biddenden, Ashford, Kent (01580 291726; www.biddendenvineyards.com).

Open daily March-December; Monday-Saturday in January and February.

Weekend breaks

Three Choirs Vineyards, Gloucestershire

Managing director Thomas Shaw likens a visit to Three Choirs to the Californian winery experience. "People come and stay, eat, drink, relax," he says. "They're making a complete break of it." And there is a great deal to recommend such a trip, with eight well-appointed rooms, all with private terraces overlooking the vineyards, from £95 per double room per night, an excellent modern British restaurant, vineyard nature trails, an on-site microbrewery and one-day cookery courses. As for the wine, choose between the daily guided tour of the winery and vineyards or enjoy a leisurely self-guided exploration with tastings and a video, both £3.50 per person.

Three Choirs Vineyards, Newent, Gloucestershire (01531 890223; www.threechoirs.com).

Open daily.

Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey

Denbies is England's largest vineyard, with 300,000 vines planted across 265 acres. The estate was awarded South East Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2002 and, as the honour suggests, Denbies offers a slick viticultural experience. The first of two tour options focuses on the history of the winery and its production, complete with 360-degree cinema show and in-cellar tasting, price £7.25. The second, available from April to November, takes you into the vineyard itself courtesy of a customised train, £4. A combined ticket for the two costs £10.25. Other attractions include an art gallery, restaurant, wine bar and shop. B&B accommodation is available in a converted farmhouse in the heart of the vineyard, from £75 per double room per night.

Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, Surrey (01306 876777; www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk).

Open daily.

Camel Valley Wine, Cornwall

The beautiful setting is bettered only by the quality of wine on offer: this vineyard was voted Times/Waitrose Drinks Producer of the Year in 2002. Guided tours of the vineyards and winery are available weekdays at 2.30pm for £3.50, including a glass of wine. Or hold out for the Grand Tour at 5pm on Wednesday nights, where you can enjoy full tastings for £5. The scenic Camel Trail runs through the grounds to Padstow's sandy beaches 10 miles away. The Eden Project is closer still. Two self-catering cottages sleeping four or six people overlook the vineyards, with private access to wild trout and salmon fishing, from £185 to £213 for two nights in May.

Camel Valley Wine, Nanstallon, Bodmin, Cornwall (01208 77959; www.camelvalley.com).

Open Monday-Saturday, April-September.

Chilford Hall, Cambridge

Not content with being a winery, Chilford Hall specialises in hosting events. Exhibitions throughout the year range from wedding fairs to the Eastern Events Craft Fair, but these don't get in the way of tasting tours three times a day, £4.50, or the two new vineyard walks. Visitors can also take a stroll over Rivey Hill, Cambridge's highest point, with its spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, and stop for a bite to eat in The Vineleaf Café Restaurant. There's no accommodation on site, but the winery can recommend nearby hotels and B&Bs.

Chilford Hall, Linton, Cambridge (01223 895600; www.chilfordhall.co.uk).

Open Friday-Sunday and bank holidays, 1 March-31 October

FROM VINEYARD TO CELLAR

Low yields often mean the best way to order English wine is direct from the vineyards. But many of the larger supermarkets now offer one or two more established brands, while farmers' markets are often a showcase for local producers. Borough Market in Southwark, south London, for example, offers an increasingly large selection. The internet is another option; even the smallest producers often have an online presence. Contact a grower directly or use one of these more general sites as a starting point:

www.english-wine.com traces the history of English wine and lists the country's 400 commercial vineyards; www.englishwineonline.com has news from a number of vineyards, an ordering service, links and a centre to visit; www.foodfirst.co.uk lists independent suppliers.

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