Monday, November 28, 2011

Chapel Down Winery

As you may have read, my parents visited me over the Thanksgiving weekend. One of their entertainment requests was a day out of London, and they've already hit many of the easy-to-reach tourist spots (Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge, Oxford, etc). I had a think and remembered a friend of mine had recently visited Chapel Down Winery with her husband and a few other friends, and highly recommended it as a day out. So I booked us a tour and lunch reservations at the restaurant on the site, and Saturday morning we met at Charing Cross station to board a train out to Kent. 

The closest train station to the winery is at the village of Headcorn. As we had over an hour before our tour time, we took the opportunity to explore the little town. That's my parents, above, in a lovely wooden bus shelter. It's a really cute town, with a high street decorated for Christmas and an ancient churchyard surrounded by Tudor homes.

There was also a Christmas craft fair in the town hall, which we naturally had to visit. My mother bought up a few souvenirs while The Irishman and I had some really nice homemade sausage rolls. Then we jumped in a cab for a 20 minute drive to Chapel Down. 

The tour is approximately an hour and 45 minutes long, including a tasting. We saw two of the different vineyards with two separate types of vines, and the guide explained the growing and harvesting processes. We then went into the barns to learn how they actually make the wine.

Because the best English wines are actually sparkling wines, the guide spent the most time explaining the techniques they use to for creating fizz. Chapel Down uses the traditional French technique << champagnoise >> that involves a long process of turning the bottles to ensure that the yeast in the wine fully aerates the liquid. It's a fascinating process that was once done by hand but now is mechanized – which is still pretty cool to see. Below are some bottles of sparkling rosé in the midst of the turning, with the yeast by-product in the neck. It's pink, because it's ros

And here are some bottles of sparkling rosé ready to be finished.

Of course the tour ended with a tasting; the whites, rosé, and sparkling wines are amazing while the reds still need some work. The soil and temperature of Southeast England just don't allow for the maturing of the grape that will get a really rich, bold, deep red wine; hopefully they can move to making a more Beaujolais-style wine that will take advantage of the lack of intensity. At any rate, we picked up a bottle of their Bacchus Reserve white wine to have with Vietnamese food on Kingsland Road. Score!

Lunch in the restaurant was delicious, accompanied by more Chapel Down wine. We left the vineyard sated and content, having enjoyed the brisk country air and some really wonderful local products. Our cab back to the train station took us through the nearby little town of Tenterden, and had we been more energetic it would have been nice to walk off the meal looking into the shop windows. But at that point, we were all nearly asleep anyway. Oh well – just another reason to go back for another visit.

If you go:
Trains run direct to Headcorn from Charing Cross station; journey time is approximately an hour and train fare is around £18 per person. National Express has a great deal where if four adults travel together on a same-day return train ticket, you only pay for 2 people's tickets – essentially, it's 50% off. Taxis from Headcorn to Chapel Down are around £25 each way, and there is a taxi office at Headcorn station. Vineyard tours are £8 per person, but the grounds are open to the public and you can go for walks around the park regardless of whether you take the tour or not. The restaurant has an a la carte menu as well as a set menu for lunch – 2 courses for £13.95 or 3 courses for £15.95 which is excellent value for some really great food. 

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