Looking for a day out in Sussex that combines countryside views with a chance to sample some delicious local food and drink? Sussex vineyard tours have become popular over the past few years as more vineyards open up across the South Downs, offering the best of English sparkling wine.
The chalky soil of the Downs offers similar growing conditions to those in the Champagne region of France and over 50 local vineyards now offer their own award-winning takes on a glass of bubbles. But what’s the best way to visit? If you have your own car it’s easy to take a tour of the vineyards around Sussex – there is a cluster around Ditchling, just north of Brighton, including the famous Ridgeview and Court Garden. Further east towards Eastbourne you’ll find Rathfinny. Over in West Sussex there are a number of vineyards in the rolling hills around Chichester including Nyetimber. Check out this list of Sussex vineyards.
But if you’re visiting from overseas or don’t have your own wheels, why not join one of the vineyard days out that several local companies now offer? These give you the chance to visit two or three different vineyards in one day and usually include lunch, either at a vineyard or at a local Sussex pub. Tours run from late spring through to harvest time in autumn, so you can time your visit depending on what you’d like to see. I joined a tour with Great British Wine Tours at the end of August, when the grapes were still ripening on the vines (all expenses were met by me, this is not a sponsored post).
We were picked up by a vintage red Routemaster bus from just outside Brighton station which squeezed its way down the narrow Sussex countryside lanes to Court Garden in Ditchling. This is not a vineyard I’d heard of before my visit but I fell in love with the small-scale family feel and the beautiful tasting barn. After an interesting walk around the vineyard we headed back to the barn where we sampled four different wines – my favourite was the Court Garden 2015 Blanc des Noirs, a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. A bottle of this is definitely going on my Christmas list! We then enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch – a hamper of local cheeses, bread, chutneys and biscuits (plus meat for the non vegetarians).
After lunch we hopped back on the bus to Albourne vineyard, only a few miles away. Sadly it was quite cloudy (typical British summer!) but the view must be beautiful on a sunny day. Due to the rain we didn’t walk around this vineyard but moved straight to the wine tasting. A ‘Sussex negroni’ was also on offer if you like gin cocktails (not my cup of tea).
Great British Wine Tours works with a number of other local vineyards including Bluebell Vineyard, Ridgeview and Kingscote, so it’s worth checking which will be visited on your tour. Overall I’d definitely recommend a vineyard tour as a fun day out in Sussex – it’s also good for groups and there was a (pretty chilled) hen party on my tour.
Have you ever visited a local vineyard on your travels?