Date Visited: Monday 6th July 2015
Location: Dorking, Surrey
Tour Price: Vineyard Tour: £6, Winery Tour: £14 (with Sparkling tasting)
The 650 acre Denbies Estate was purchased in 1984 by Adrian White, founder of one of the world’s largest water engineering companies Biwater. Previously used as a pig farm in the early 80’s, around 30 acres of vines were planted in 1986, with Germanic grape varieties including Riesling (which has since been scrubbed and replaced with grapes more suitable to the terroir and climate). More traditional grapes followed in the coming years, with Chardonnay planted in ’89 and Pinot Noir in ’90, with the intention of growing grapes for sparkling wines.
Nearly 30 years on Denbies Wine Estate is now the largest single vineyard in England, with an impressive 265 acres of land plated with vines. Today approximately 15 different varieties of grapes are grown, with many of the popular varieties in England such as Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc, Muller Thurgau and Solaris being grown. Other interesting varieties include an increasing amount of Sauvignon Blanc, and Ortega, where botrytis is encouraged for grapes that are used to produce the award winning Denbies Noble Harvest dessert wine.
A visit to Denbies offers a wealth of possible activities. As well as an extensive visitor centre and shop, there are restaurants and a large array of indoor and outdoor tour options. We opted for the standard outdoor vineyard tour (£6 per person) and also the indoor Sparkling Wine Tasting Experience (£16 per person). With another perfect day of English sunshine, we jumped onto the road-train which took us on a narrated 45 minute tour to the highest point in the vineyard. The views were really quite stunning, and you have several opportunities to stop along the way and get out to take photos whilst being explained interesting facts about the vineyard by the tour guide. It was a great and informative trip around the vineyard, and my only real complaint would be the sound system in our cabin was a little jittery, so we missed out on some of the narrative.
The indoor tour was just as interesting, with the first 20 or so minutes taking place in a 360 degree cinema. Impressive 360 degree footage plays as you are surrounded by screens, showing off the beautiful landscape and explaining the history of the estate and land. The footage also shows the various stages of grape cultivation and harvesting, as well as the vineyard through the seasons of the year. After the video we are walked through the winery, where pleasing wine aromas fill the air. Whilst there was little activity on this day, there are several screens throughout the route that show the winemaking process, from initial pressing of the grapes through to bottling and disgorging. It’s a very impressively sized facility for an English winery, and it’s not surprisingly to hear that the facilities are used for contract winemaking for various growers around England.
The final part of the winery tour takes us through to an underground cellar area where the wine tasting takes place. Various tasting options are available, from Classic (still) Wine at £9.95 to Sparkling Wine Tasting at £14 and finally Wine & Food Tasting at £16. As we had opted for the Sparkling Tasting, we were talked through three wines; the Whitedowns, Greenfields and Demi-Sec. It was a great opportunity to try the range of sparkling wines on offer from Denbies, as I had only previously tried the still wines previously.
It’s clear that wine tourism has been pivotal in the growth of Denbies, as today a surprising 65% of wine sales occur on site through the visitor centre. Of course, despite being a very popular attraction this still limits the reach of their wines. And so inevitably Denbies has had to explore the avenues of supplying the supermarkets with wine. These wines come in the form of English Pinot Noir Rosé and English White Lilly for M&S, a Taste the Difference English Sparkling for Sainsbury’s and Tesco Finest English White. Waitrose have also supported Denbies growth, stocking a range of Denbies branded still wines including the Surrey Gold and Rose Hill as well as the flagship Greenfields sparkling wine.
Overall, as a day out for anyone interested in English grape cultivation and wine making, there’s few places in England that offer the slick wine tourism experience that Denbies have spent years refining. From the beautiful views in the outside tour to the informative tour of the winery and tasting, I would say it should high on the list of wineries worth visiting in the UK. The sheer size of the site is immensely impressive, and whilst I think there are producers out there producer more exciting sparkling wines, Denbies have an impressive range of still wines such as the smaller volume Vineyard Select series that are well worth looking into.
Denbies Whitedowns 2011
Grapes: Seyval Blanc & Reichensteiner Price: £21.00
The first glass of Denbies sparkling we tried was the Whitedowns, a blend of Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner.
Lots of fresh lemon aromas on the nose, slight hints of floral notes and yeast but otherwise fairly un-complex.
Palate was a similarly clean mix of crisp green apples and citrus, very dry to taste with medium bubbles. Finish is more on the bitter side, which lingers for a while. Overall I didn’t really enjoy this one so much.
What We Thought:
Denbies Greenfields 2009
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay, Price: £24.99
The flagship sparkling wine from Denbies, and a big step up in richness and complexity from the Whitedowns thanks to 3 years aging on its lees.
Baked apples, citrus and a sumptuous toasted mix of brioche and yeasty tones. Streams of persistent fine bubbles, which help to lift the palate and texture.
Rich citrus bite, high in acidity leading to tangy apple flavours and a delicious creamy mouthfeel with flavours of baked pastry and biscuit.
One for those that like their fizz rich and toasty, this is a good alternative to Champagne.
What We Thought:
Denbies Demi-Sec 2008
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay, Price: £21.99
I'm not the biggest fan of Demi-Sec, and I don't think this is the wine to change my preference.
On the nose is a fruity aromatic mix of lemon, pear and elderflower. There's a slight yeastiness thanks to extensive lees ageing.
Palate again has notes of apple, pear and citrus, but is very much dominated by the 48g/l dosage. I don't think I could drink too much of this as I found it a little unbalanced and sweet. However, it proved a big hit with my wife and others on the same tasting tour, so I've taken that into consideration for my rating.
What We Thought:
Vineyard Select Bacchus 2013
Grapes: Bacchus, Price: £14.99
Perhaps the best Bacchus I’ve tried to date, this was a 5000ltr production, long ageing on the lees.
This is a real beauty of a wine. The first thing that hits you is the aromatic nose full of juicy tropical fruit, elderflower and white blossom.
Fruity palate of grapefruit, peach, juicy melon. There’s something really clean and pure about this wine, with a Sancerre like texture and elegance.
What We Thought: