There is a difference between English wine and British wine as follows: British wine is made from grapes imported from other countries, whilst English wine is made from grapes grown on home soil. Armed with this information and having sampled numerous English wines of late I headed for Dorking and Denbies Wine Estate.
As I passed through the estate entrance I was greeted with double Guyot trellising and vines starting to shed their hibernation state, whilst just around the next corner came the vineyard train offering visitors insight into local viticulture.
The entire set up at Denbies is aimed at quality, both in terms of wine production and the cellar door experience. At reception one can book an indoor or outdoor tour for £7.50. The indoor tour begins with a cinematic experience – a 360 degree screen that covers the history, geology and viticulture at Denbies. It is immediately followed by the ‘people mover’ – a train that takes visitors through the working cellar. It ends with a tasting of three entry level wines; those wishing to sample more can do so upstairs in the gift shop and it is here that the three sparkling wines are available for tasting. The alternative tour is on board the vineyard train which travels up and down vineyards, but inclement weather can keep most people indoors.
Denbies is the largest wine estate in Europe with a total of 265 acres. The vineyards of Denbies Estate are situated on the North Downs with its famous chalky soil, in a protected valley of south facing slopes. The terroir is similar to the Champagne region in France and it should therefore not come as a surprise that French producers have begun taking serious interest in acquiring land in Surrey. Pinot Noir in particular is the cultivar of choice as global warming leads to increased temperatures in French vineyards. Denbies currently has 13 white and 5 red cultivars planted and their most well known brand is Surrey Gold, available at £6.75.
Current owner, Adrian White bought the farm intending to farm pigs and beef and was soon advised by Dr Seely, Professor of Geology at Imperial College, London that grazing for livestock would be problematic and that vineyards should be considered. Thus the first vines were planted in 1986 and the stainless steel tanks currently in the cellar were imported from South Africa, on the advice of a longtime friend.