Sunday, August 16, 2009

Denbies English Vineyard Wine Estate - London getaway and 5 tips if you are going there

You can't lose your way with that huge a signboard.

Wife and I have got this curious weekly routine. Every Thursday afternoon at around 3pm, I will receive a very short email from her

"So, what's our plans for the weekend?"

You must understand that I am not exactly what you termed as an 'idea' person. Well, I'm more of an 'action' person or 'doer' if you prefer. In other words, you come up with the idea and I'll get it done. Actually, that pretty much sums up how Wife and I work as a team. Throughout the week, she'll come up with all sorts of ideas of how we're going to spend the coming weekend and pretty much the subsequent weekends. I, on the other hand, will do the planning.

That's how we booked ourselves for a vineyard tour at the largest vineyard in England. At 265 acres, Denbies English Vineyard and Wine Estate is also one of the largest vineyard in the world.

Initially, I was pretty reluctant as the last thing I wanted was to spend hours on the train to some godforsaken place, get drunk and then back to London the very same day. But after checking out the precise location on Google Map, I was surprised to find that Denbies English Vineyard and Wine Estate is located at Dorking, which is a mere 50 min train ride from London Waterloo train station. That clinched the deal.

Unripen grapes on the vines. They're sour by the way. Don't ask how I knew. I just did.

It was quite a walk from Dorking station to the vineyard itself. Along the way, we came across several blackberry bushes by the road and even toyed with the idea of foraging some for a blackberry pie on our way back.

The scarecrow greets visitors to Denbies in-house grocery store.

Something to distract you from the wines.

Denbies English Vineyard and Wine Estate has apparently fine tune the reception of visitors to the vineyard to an art. While access to the massive vineyard itself is totally free of charge, many visitors opted for the paid guided tours. Though both indoor and outdoor tours are sold separately, we got the combined ticket at just over £10/person - a discount of around one quid per person.

A quint little shed by the edge of the vineyard.

The external tour took us around the vineyard in train cars hauled along by a rickety rover. In the 40min tour, we were brought through the wine estate to its topmost point where a small chapel resides. Apparently, that chapel is open for wedding bookings. It must be quite an experience to get hitched in the middle of a wine estate amongst rows and rows of grapevines against the setting sun across the horizon.

Rows of vines dominated the landscape with the winery at a distance.

The 50min internal winery tour started with a 360 degree cinematic experience, which Denbies highly publicised. We were whisked into a octogonal room and were treated to 360 degree film show on a brief history of the vineyard. Apparently, Denbies sits on a site that enjoys the same geographical features as the Champange region surrounding Paris. Not surprisingly, Denbies claims to produce sparkling wine that is identical to the famed Champange save the name due to trademark concerns raised by the French.

James May's stunt creating more publicity for Denbies Wine Estate.

Volunteers hard at work stacking up those Lego bricks.

The tour brought us past a group of volunteers helping our James May's latest endeavor - to build a life size house using nothing but Lego bricks on the Chardonnay (see photos below) vineyard slope in the heart of Denbies Wine Estate. He promised to stay in it for at least a couple of days and that got people excited and wonder about how he's going to accomplish certain daily tasks that we shouldn't probably discuss in polite company.

English oaks destroyed by a huge fire were cast into wine barrels

The entire estate. In fact, 75% of it is given to woodlands.

If you're wondering about when we would come to the point when all of us will get drunk like all winery tours, well, that was right at the end of the tour, which took us to the celler. Over sparkling wines, grape juice and my favorite Surrey Gold, our guide helpfully informed us the difference between British and English wine. Basically, the former is anything that is bottled in Britain while the latter demands that the grapes be produced, processed and bottled in England. Another interesting fact is that the colour of wine (red or white) depends not on the colour of the grapes but on how long the grapes are fermented - the longer the fermentation, the redder the wine.

The Denbies B&B

Five tips if you decide to make your way to Denbies English Vineyard and Wine Estate:

  1. Reserve your tour tickets in advance. The tours are really popular so booking is strictly necessary. You can get the number at the official website.
  2. Go early. Take some time to roam the huge wine estate before the tour. It's bigger than it looks on the map.
  3. Consider staying the night. If you feel like taking your time to enjoy the vineyard and waking up to the intoxicating yet refreshing smell of maturing grapes, why not stay the at the B&B within Denbies? At the time of writing, prices start at £95 per night. Then again, book early as the rooms are ridiculously popular during weekends.
  4. Get cheap train tickets. Instead of getting tickets for all trains (£9.20), get tickets only for Southwest Trains (£7). Unknown to us then, all the trains running to Dorking train station are that of Southwest trains.
  5. Skip Dorking town. It's a sleepy town with more property agents than retail shops. So no point making your way there unless your stomach needs refilling. As far as I could see, only KFC, Whimpy and a fish and chips store were open during non mealtimes.
Tea time at the Conservatory. A bit too excessive but I needed to line my stomach after all that wine tasting.

A wedding held at the wine estate when we were there

Foundation of James May's Lego house laid beside the Chardonnay vines

Have you been to a vineyard? Would be great to hear how your experience was.

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William Wallace said...

Seems like an interesting day trip, how did English Wine taste, my previous experiences of tasting wine from this country are very forgettable.

FĂ«anor said...

Aha! So you do drink wine! I'll remember that the next time, when we hit that Armenian place in force :-)

Wife and I went for a wine-tasting in Napa Valley a few years ago. Can't remember much of it, except that we didn't spit out the wine after tasting it. Hours later was stopped by a highway cop who claimed that I was driving erratically. He let us go when the wife started to argue with him. (Not advisable under any circumstances, but I guess we were just lucky ;-)

waitingkitty said...

Looks like a really laid-back place, huh? I think it's really lovely to be travelling into the country for a break. Over here in HK, there is really not much places that we can go over the weekend...going up north into China would be our best option but hubby is not a fan of China...

C K said...

@William Wallace,
I'm not really into wine so can't really tell whether one is good or not. Denbies' Surrey Gold, which is essentially a blend of three other wines, tastes good to me. A bottle of Surry Gold is selling for lesser than £9 at Waitrose.

What's your favorite?

In all, we drank less than a glass (for both of us). lol. In fact, we prefer the grape juice to the wine as it reminds us of Ribena.

Sounds like a close shave you got there. The cop probably didn't want to be run over by a drunkard. :p

What about Taiwan? I heard that the northern part of the main island isn't too bad.