By Ann Mealor
Located on the North Downs and within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the 265 acre Denbies Wine Estate.
The estate’s south facing slopes, chalky soil and warm micro-climate are well suited to producing fine English wines and Denbies has become one of the UK’s largest and most successful wineries.
In addition to the winery and vineyard tours, naturally with tastings, there are two fine dining restaurants and the farmhouse Vineyard Hotel.
Miles of walking and cycle paths and bridleways criss cross the estate and the natural beauty of the Surrey Hills lies just beyond.
Denbies produces a range of 14 fine white, rose and sparkling wines and one red – some 400,000 bottles in a good vintage and about 10% of total UK wine production.
Its Surrey Gold and Flint Valley whites are the two biggest-selling English wines and Denbies’ Chalk Ridge Rosé 2010 won an IWC Gold and was named ‘Best Rosé in the World.
The estate attracts many visitors with its chateau style centre housing the wine and gift shop, an art gallery local farm shop and a craft brewery.
As befits the natural nature of its business, Denbies is striving to become a carbon neutral operation and also lets areas of its vineyard go untreated to encourage the native wildflowers.
This has seen a real increase in birds, including partridge, wagtails and woodpecker, on the estate.
It all makes Denbies Wine Estate a hugely enjoyable place to visit for a day or two or as a base for taking in the whole of the Surrey Hills.
One of the joys of visiting a winery is tasting the fruits others labours, while also learning more about the winemaker’s art.
Denbies offers a range of tours and tasting opportunities, run by an estate wine expert.
For the chance to get out in the vines, Denbies has its ‘Secret Vineyard Tasting Trail’ on Saturday’s during the height of the season.
This sees a wine guide leading the tour along the trail while providing information on the vineyard, grape varieties and the wine production process and tasting, of course.
There is also a cheese and wine making experience with a morning at Norbury Blue Dairy, based at Norbury Park Farm in Mickleham, lunch at Denbies and an afternoon of wine appreciation and tasting. A similar tour (that we did), involved a trip to ‘The Gin Kitchen’, producers of ‘Gutsy Monkey’, ‘The Ginger Cat’ and ‘at home’ gin based cocktails, to get a hands-on gin distilling experience.
A room with a stunning vineyard view
I have enjoyed Denbies English wines on a number of occasions in London, and was looking forward to the opportunity to visit the vineyard and stay at the hotel.
I expected to see vines, of course, but I was surprised by the vastness of the estate, the beauty of the surroundings and the added visitor attractions of a well stocked farm shop, a popular and bustling café, wine, gift shop and gallery and two excellent restaurants.
However, I was most surprised by how many local people used the miles of winding footpaths through the vines and woods to walk their dogs, go for a family stroll and keep fit or train for a specific event such as the Denbies Bacchus Marathon.
The whole estate has been embraced by the community and is a valued local leisure resource as much as it is a working vineyard.
The Vineyard Hotel
The Vineyard Hotel, with its 17 ensuite rooms is situated in the heart of Denbies Wine Estate and has impressive views across the rolling vineyards to the woods on the horizon.
It has a quaint farmhouse feel, but with a modern twist.
We stayed in the newly built wing named The Brokes.
The rural setting and sympathetic design may trick you into thinking it was a former stable block or barn but the whole annexe has been constructed from scratch.
Our room was large and chic with a well stocked hospitality tray included a selection of teas, coffees, fresh milk, shortbread biscuits and a pack of two moorish Tregoes toffee waffles.
Plenty of luxurious, eco-friendly, French vineyard inspired, Caudalie products were found in the bathroom. Striving to be carbon neutral, solar panels generate much of the hotel’s electricity.
Two fine dining options at Denbies
Denbies has two excellent restaurants – The Gallery and The Vineyard Restaurant.
The Gallery, contemporary in style with a high, vaulted, wooden ceiling is open daily for lunch.
It’s located on the third floor of the winery and has far reaching views over the vineyard, Box Hill and the North Downs.
On a sunny day it really comes into its own as the whole place floods with natural light.
Seasonal menus are created by the Gallery team, including daily specials. All food is sourced from local suppliers whenever possible and is complimented by Denbies wines.
The Vineyard Restaurant
The Vineyard Restaurant, situated in The Orangery is where all the evening action takes place. Light and airy there are wonderful views across the vines from every table.
Even in winter, there is enough to look at including trees lit by colourful spotlights, casting shadows across the lawn.
In summer, the full length Orangery windows are opened and tables are laid out on the patio so that alfresco dining can be enjoyed to the full.
The food and service are excellent and it is a treat to sample the local produce including the regional cheese selection of Tremains, Norbury Blue and my favourite, a velvety goat’s cheese brulee topped with flaked almonds.
Fine Denbies wines can be enjoyed with every delicious course and there is a wide range of white, rose and sparkling to choose from.
A visit to Denbies Estate is all about great food, wine and views.
And exploring the miles of footpaths winding through the vines is the ideal way to burn off those extra calories.