Sunday, 3 December 2017

Great grapes of Essex vineyards

Just completed a great tour of Essex vineyards. My first stop was New Hall Vineyards founded in 1969 and set in the farmland of Purleigh. It’s an ancient wine growing area. Purleigh wine was drunk by King John and during te signing of the Magna Carta, says enthusiastic manager Lucy Winward. 

We tasted a number of wines and the New Hall Bacchus and Signature were really excellent. It’s a good area for white wine thanks to the mild climate around the River Crouch. So the Crouch Valley might soon rival the Loire Valley. It’s also worth checking out New Hall’s giant barn turned into a Christmas grotto.

Then it was on to West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall. Jane Mohan went to France aged 17 to learn the language but came back with a love of good wine. Her first attempt at making wine ended in disaster, “it was foul and we had to turn it into brandy!” But Mohan, who sold her house to fund the vineyard in 2009, persevered and now makes fantastic wines including West Street’s crisp white wine, rose and sparking wine. It’s a full-time business being a wine grower and Jane told us about one cold spell in April when she was out all night lighting fires to try to save her vines.

Jane’s used her Australian ancestry to bring a bit of Aussie style to Essex, where visiting the vineyard is a relaxed informal experience in a modern building with large windows. You can have an award-winning meal overlooking the vine fields. We enjoyed a fine veggie lunch of fried Camembert and risotto (with battered egg on top), followed by an array of puddings.

Our final stop on the wine tour was Dedham Vale Vineyard in Boxted, close to Constable country where he painted The Haywain. Again it’s an ancient wine hotspot, with the Romans having grown vines there. The restaurant overlooks a lake and manager Simon Ward had just seen a kingfisher when we arrived. Top wines here included the Colchester Oyster. It also hosts a walnut festival and is a tranquil setting for marriages. Dedham Vale produces 32,000 bottles a year and until three years ago, when it expanded, it was entirely self-sufficient in energy.


Lovers of the film Sideways, where two old friends tour California wineries, can now be reassured that a similar Bacchanalian pilgrimage can be made in Essex. Check out the Visit Essex website for more details of Essex food and wine.

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