A scenic vineyard tour at one of the United Kingdom’s largest wine producers
Wine is not something I generally associate with the United Kingdom. Beer and tea are what comes to mind. However, the UK does have wineries, over 200 according to the Wines of Great Britain. One of the largest wine producers is Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey.
Located in England’s scenic Surrey Hills, Denbies Estate has been family owned and run since 1984. A fifty-minute “train” tour at Denbies Wine Estate was a perfect way to combine beautiful views with learning about the winery.
The Estate comprises 627 acres, 200 of which are woodland. We drove through some of the woodland before the road reached more open sections with views of the winery and the North Downs.
Our driver/guide told us about the physical work involved in maintaining the vineyard from pruning and canopy management to harvesting. Due to the slopes certain areas can only be harvested by hand.
Denbies grows several grape varieties suited to cool-climate wine production. Chalks soils combined with a comparatively warm and dry microclimate enable the making of quality wines.
You can opt to include a glass of Denbies Award winning Sparkling Cuvee as part of the tour. Denbies sparkling wines are produced using the traditional method and aging on the lees. They have won multiple gold awards. It was good.
In addition to information about the growing and making of wine, our guide relayed interesting bits of history about the property. He pointed out a spot in the valley below where a World War II Canadian “Convenanter” tank had been excavated in 2017. It was one of two tanks buried at the site at the end of World War II. The other tank had been discovered in the 1970s. The two tanks were used for training purposes by the Canadian army, based at Headley Court near Leatherhead between 1940 and 1944. Used only for training, the tanks weren’t well-enough equipped to be of use in fighting and were buried when the Canadians left in 1944.
As we overlooked the valley in another part of the estate, we heard the history of the estate ownership and a few amusing anecdotes about its past residents. The estate is named for an early owner of the property called John Denby. In the mid-18th century, Denby’s farm buildings were converted into a gentleman’s residence by Jonathan Tyers. The estate was purchased by Thomas Cubitt in 1850 and remained in the Cubitt family until 1984. Thomas Cubitt was an English master builder who developed many of the historic squares and streets of London. He is also the maternal great-great-great grandfather of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Adrian White bought the estate in 1984. The first vineyards were planted in 1986.
Denbies Wine Estate also offers indoor tours of its winery. The Gift Shop stocks a variety of gifts, stationery, and home interior accessories in addition to the approximately dozen varieties of wine Denbies makes. A third-floor restaurant offers panoramic views. The Conservatory offers al-fresco dining.
Note that Denbies does not offer tastings or samplings except as part of its indoor tours. Glasses and bottles of wine are available in the restaurants. I did not taste any of the wines other than the sparkling wine and, therefore, cannot comment on their quality or taste, but several of the wines have won awards over the past several years. Something to consider for a future visit. Something else for a future visit is a tour of Surrey Hills Brewery located in the rear part of the winery building. Surrey Hills Brewery brews six beers, including Shere Drop which became a favourite of mine after having it in a couple of pubs.
Denbies Wine Estate is located off the London Road at Dorking. It is about a fifteen-minute walk from the train station. Check the website for tour times as they change seasonally. Advance booking is recommended. We were able to get on a tour as walk-ups, but it was mid-week in an off-peak season. Because of the scenery and the history, the Vineyard Tour can be fun for non-wine drinkers as well as those who love wine.
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