Before this trip, I had no idea just how many vineyards there were in Essex, and the vast quantity of wines and beers that were produced here. Visit Essex invited me along on their press trip to visit New Hall Vineyard, Brentwood Brewery, West Street Vineyard, Dedham Vale Vineyard and Wilkins & Sons, for a day of wine tasting, alcohol educating and incredible food!
New Hall Vineyard
The first stop on the trip was New Hall Vineyard for an introduction talk into the day and a whistle-stop tour of the New Hall winery. The winery is one of the oldest and largest commercial vineyards in the UK, dating back to 55BC when the first grape vines were planted in England by the Romans. In 1977, the first 2250 Bacchus vines were planted here; New Hall now supplies over 25% of all Bacchus in the UK, with some of the grapes sold to other vineyards in Kent, Cornwall and Sussex.
We were shown around the vineyard and winery by Lucy – the nicest person with her passion clearly shining through for the wine they create here. They are also in a position to make wine for other smaller vineyards in the UK who bring their grapes to them. They may soon be expanding their winery to fulfil the demand for their Essex wine, giving them more room to create new and exciting flavours!
You can visit New Hall vineyard for grand tours and tasting sessions between May and August to learn more about the booming English wine industry and to sample their multi-award winning wines!
Our second stop on the trip was to Brentwood Brewery, for a tour around the brewery and of course for some ale sampling! We had a mini tour of the brewery and found out all about their quirky and unique flavours, like the award-winning Chocwork Orange and Lumberjack! They also create seasonal beers and specials, like Good Elf – a red spicy bitter – and Mallowphant – a marshmallow flavoured stout! The beers can be tried and tested at local pubs and can also be ordered directly from the brewery.
Brentwood Brewery is family run and hold tours on the first Saturday of every month. For £12.50 you can have a tour of the brewery, try samples and take home a 4 pint takeaway container. There are also experience days for £99 where you can make your own beer from start to finish!
The brewery has a wonderful little gift shop where you can buy beers and various hampers, and their brand new hops dog biscuits!
West Street Vineyard
The third stop of the day was at West Street Vineyard, for a wine tasting session and lunch. The wine tasting was great fun; we were able to try a selection of 6 different wines and find out about their history, how they were made and the food that they would work well with. Jane was so fun and interesting to listen to, and had a real passion for wine – something you certainly need to excel in the industry!
After our wine tasting session, we were treated to a delicious 3-course meal. To start, I had trout dressed with avocado and pomegranates, crispy ciabatta chunks and tomato & basil crushed ice. For main I had breaded fish, sautéed potatoes and a tomato and garlic sauce. Dessert was an absolute treat and my favourite part of the meal, I chose the dark chocolate torte and brownie with raspberry mousse, mini meringues and a drizzle of raspberry sauce. The restaurant had a wonderfully welcoming and inviting atmosphere, with a touch of class. It’s worth visiting West Street Vineyard alone for the incredible seasonal dishes, and I can’y wait to visit again in the warmer months to see the vineyard flourishing. Wine tastings are available to book throughout the year, and weddings can be held here, too!
It’s worth noting that although West Street Vineyard opened in 2011, their wines have already won prizes, including silver medals in the UK wine competition and a bronze medal in the International Wine Challenge.
Dedham Vale Vineyard
Our fourth stop of the day was Dedham Vale Vineyard; a tiny vineyard nestled into acres of woodlands in Boxted, Colchester. This vineyard was unlike any we had visited that day; it was small, cosy and very relaxing – it felt as if we had been whisked away somewhere peaceful and tranquil. We sampled a few wines made at Dedham Vale Vineyard and had fun guessing the various flavours and notes we were tasting.
Dedham Vale Vineyard host various vineyard tours and experience days. The vineyard is open all year round with free entry, so you can take yourself on a self-guided tour around the 40 acre grounds at your own pace. The grand tour costs just £25pp, in which you can enjoy a guided tour, wine tasting and a delicious lunch. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place – you can even hire bikes here to explore the area!
Wilkins & Sons
Our fifth and final stop of the day was to Wilkins & Sons, the established preserving company producing preserves, marmalades and associated products since 1885. The Wilkin family came to Tiptree in Essex and started farming nearby in the 1700’s. By 1865, the farm began shipping their homegrown fruits to markets in London. The company now farms 1,000 acres in and around Tiptree and grows many of its own fruit, including strawberries, plums, cherries, raspberries and the Little Scarlet, a small variety of strawberry with a unique and intense flavour.
As soon as we stepped off the coach, the sweet smell of strawberry jam filled the air – we knew from that moment that we were in for a right treat! We were shown around the museum to find out about the company’s history, jam-making and village life. Original machines are displayed in the museum, alongside various products dating back to hundreds of years, and the evolution of their packaging and design. We were treated to a cream tea to take home from the onsite tea room – which I must add was SO delicious.
Wilkins & Sons have recently paired up with Hayman’s in Witham to produce the most incredibly delicious fruity gins. The gin is made by Wilkins & Sons berries resting in the gin for six weeks, resulting in a deliciously fruity gin that works well paired with prosecco, over ice or with your favourite mixer. There are currently 4 flavours – English Strawberry, English Rhubarb, English Raspberry and English Damson – all of which are so tasty and fruity.
We had a look around the gift shop at their various other products, including jams, spreads, jellies, sweet spreads and even candles and diffusers. I treated myself to mini pots of Salted Caramel spread and Banoffee spread – I can’t wait to make some delicious desserts with them!
My thoughts on Essex vineyard tours
I had an amazing day and learnt so much about Essex and its various vineyards. Before this trip, I had no idea that there were so many Vineyards in Essex, all of which are becoming world renowned and already winning various awards and prizes.
I enjoyed each vineyard we visited, all of which offered something different. I would thoroughly recommend a visit to a local vineyard to taste the fruits of Essex, meet the passionate people working in the industry and helping to support local businesses.
Each vineyard has so much to offer so it’s well worth a visit to find out just how much Essex has to offer. The tours and experiences will make fantastic Christmas gifts if you’re stuck on what to buy your loved ones this year!