Sussex embodies the beauty of England in just about every way. It is a region of forests, quaint villages, rolling hills, pretty houses, imposing country estates, beaches, ancient historical sights and abundant art and culture. It also has a couple of other things going for it. First, it is located right on London’s doorstep. Second, there are few wine regions anywhere that are smashing the wine scene quite like Sussex and English sparkling are. I’m an unabashed lover of this place and I hope to go back as often as possible. For the wine, for the scenery and for the people.
One of the crazy things about Sussex is how its wine industry has literally gone from birth to international stardom in about 20 years. Yes, vines have been grown here since Roman times, but high-quality winemaking is a relatively new thing. Players such as Nyetimber started to grow vines in 1998, Ridgeview in 1995, Wiston Estate in 2006 and Tinwood Estate in 2007! Visiting Sussex wine country gives the wine traveler the chance to witness a wine industry ascending a quite incredible upward arc. In fact, this is such a young region that there is a surprisingly large number of wine lovers that are only vaguely aware that England produces wine. Considering the region’s youth and relative anonymity, it is all the more amazing that English sparkling is competing at the very top quality level on the planet.
Why Sussex is A Fantastic Place for Wine.
Southern England has a climate that is just about perfect for making fine sparkling wine. This is a true cool climate wine region, essentially on the fringe of winegrowing viability and frost is a big challenge to the winemakers. But the South Downs is very close to the Atlantic and the warm currents lapping on England’s southern shores have a helpful moderating influence. Humidity can be a problem for grape vines in England. However, there is an interesting phenomenon where, according to Art Tukker of Tinwood Estate, the Isle of Wight just offshore has the effect of “splitting” storms coming from the south. This leaves something of a rain shadow to temper the natural wetness of England.
Just as important as the climate is the soil. Champagne, Burgundy and the Loire Valley produce great wines in part because of the wonders of their limestone bedrock. Limestone is low in pH, has good water retention for the vines’ roots and apparently may lend disease resistance. The massive limestone formation that stretches from Champagne to the Loire dives down under the English Channel and reappears famously in the white cliffs of Dover. And, luckily for sparkling wine lovers, the limestone soil continues through the counties of Kent and Sussex.
Sparkling wines here are typically made with the same trio of grapes that most commonly are used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.
A Traveler’s Guide to The Wine Roads of Sussex.
You will likely be gasping for your first glass of English Sparkling when you arrive in Sussex. The Bolney Estate is a great place to get started. Only 20 minutes drive south of Gatwick Airport (50 minutes from Heathrow), Bolney is one of the wineries featured in the Sussex Modern initiative of art, wine and landscape. Then from Bolney it is about a 10 minute drive to the wonderful Ridgeview Estate at Ditchling Common. Ridgeview is a giant-slayer in the sparkling wine world. It has earned multiple awards over its short lifetime for best sparkling wine in the world and was named International Winemaker of the Year in 2018 by the International Wine & Spirit Competition. Ridgeview is a “must” stop on your tour.
After leaving Ridgeview, consider a counterclockwise tour that circles to the west and then south and then back eastwards to finish up in the seaside mecca of Brighton and Hove. Stop at the famous Nyetimber in West Chiltington. This is perhaps England’s most celebrated winemaker but make sure to reserve in advance. Just 10 minutes drive from Nyetimber is the lovely Stopham Estate which makes both still and sparkling wine in Pulborough.
From Nyetimber and Stopham travel for 20 minutes through some of the most beautiful countryside in Sussex to Tinwood Estate. The vineyards are nestled between the typical Sussex flintstone villages of Halnaker and Boxwood. Tinwood’s sparkling wines are exceptional and they have recently opened their very attractive Lodges for overnight stays in the vineyard. Tinwood is also next door to the famed Goodwood Estate, home to some of England’s most famous motor racing and horse racing events. The historic city of Chichester, one of England’s most beautiful towns, is just a few minutes away and shouldn’t be missed.
Now you are on your way to Brighton. It’s about an hour’s drive from Chichester but make sure to stop at the stunning Wiston Estate along the way. The estate has been owned and managed by the Goring family since 1743. Recently Wiston has been making some of England’s premium sparkling wine. A reservation for a vineyard tour at Wiston is a must. From Wiston its about a 20 minute drive to the charming Albourne Estate, a small but very high quality wine producer.
Last Stop Brighton and Hove – and Rathfinny Estate.
To experience another of the most beautiful wine estates in Sussex, drive a little bit past Brighton into East Sussex to Rathfinny Estate at Alfriston. The landscape here is classic and the visitor experience, including the accommodations in the Flint Barns, is 1st class.
You can end your tour in England’s seaside tourist haven of Brighton. You can visit the frenetic Brighton Pier and you can walk along the beaches and the boardwalk to soak up this unique bit of English culture. When you are ready for the more refined version of the city, visit the upmarket adjoining community of Hove where the restaurants, winebars and hotels will provide a perfect culmination to your tour of Sussex.
Sussex embodies the beauty of England and tracing the wine routes takes you not only to some of the best scenery but also to some of the best sparkling wine in the world.
The Cellar Doors of Sussex
England’s wineries excel at making sparkling wine but they also excel at hospitality. It is part of what makes wine travel in Sussex a strikingly enjoyable experience. The wineries here tend to have a very sophisticated visitor experience. The organized cellar and vineyard tours are well-executed and the dining is always excellent. There are also charming cottages at some of the wineries. Stay at the elegant Lodges at The Tinwood Estate or the charming and traditional Flint Barns at Rathfinny Estate.
Who Are The Winemakers?
Here are a representative set of the winemakers adapted from our driving tour described above.
Learn More About Wine Travel in Sussex
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