A tour and tasting at Chapel Down Vineyard in Kent, England

In Counties, Days Out, Drink, Kent, Our Journeys, Sense, Senses, Trip-Types, UK Travelby Janis4 Comments

Bubbles in the “Garden of England”

The entrance to the Chapel Down Wine shop, and where the wine tour starts in what looks like a large converted barn.

Chapel Down Vineyard entrance & shop

For a few decades now Kent in southeast England has been making a name for itself in the wine world and in particular the sparkling wine one.

Even French Champagne houses are starting to show an interest in this little corner of England that is gradually experiencing ‘plus de soleil’.

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Perfect location

Chapel Down vineyard is deep in the heart of the Kent countryside and located just outside Tenterden in the hamlet of Small Hythe. Is this important I hear you ask, well actually it is, as this was one of the reasons that this location was chosen. 

Waaay back, prior to the “South of England Flood” in 1287, Small Hythe was a harbour and Tenterden was a Cinque Port, (now the sea is 11 miles away). 

A view of the giant oak next to one of the plots in Chapel Down.  This ones vines are producing the Bacchus variety.

Countryside in Small Hythe, Kent

Standing at the top of the vineyards, a breeze blows up across the Kent countryside from where the harbour was once located, sending the vines all aflutter. All the while, the outstretched talons underground weave their way deep through the chalky soil, another essential element that vines thrive upon.

A view over the sloped ground that is now Bacchus vines.  This land was once a shoreline during medieval times.  We're now 11 miles from the coast.

Bacchus vineyard in Chapel Down

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The Vineyard Tour

I’ve digressed a bit, now back to the Chapel Down tour.

Prompt and ready to impart his extensive viticulture knowledge to us all, is our cheery tour guide, Tony. 

Tony gives us a brief run-down of the do’s and don’ts of a working vineyard, then kindly handouts out our haute couture orange gilets. 

Red climbing roses against a white timbered building alongside a gravel path that leads towards the vineyards.

Perfect location for strolling

Janis in her high visibility Chapel Down gilet, a safety requirement, strolling alongside the Chardonnay vines.

Janis in her Chapel Down gilet

Off we go to our first field of vines, passing by the fragrant herb garden which also doubles as a tranquil wedding location. 

A view of the vintage canopy within Chapel Down's Herb garden that can also be hired as a wedding venue.

Herb garden and wedding venue

As I see the sweeping Bacchus vineyards flowing down the hill, I’m immediately transported back to the rolling patchwork quilt vineyards in France.

It’s such a lovely sight.

Champagne, here we come

If you’re also considering heading to France, take a peek at our Champagne road trip posts, to find out where we visited. 

A detailed information board with a vineyard map, and walks around the vines in front of the Bacchus vines.

Chapel Down vineyard map

It’s all in the detail

Tony starts with explaining about the history of Chapel Down vineyards, how the venture all started, why Tenterden was chosen as the initial location. Its development since the 1970s and where the business is today.  

Tony then guides us around part of the lush Bacchus vines which were planted in 1987.

Explaining in more detail the process of planting and maintaining the vineyard.

Several of the vines are now knocking on to 30 to 40 years old, and like me are maturing pleasantly with age.

Our guide, Tony, standing in front of the Chardonnay vines, explaining the process of managing the growth.

Tony our Chapel Down tour guide.

Chapel Down's Bacchus vines that were planted in 1987 on the sandy soil that mark this unique microclimate.

1987 Bacchus vines in Chapel Down

Kentish through and through

As the delightful English wines of Chapel Down have become more and more sought after, further locations around the southeast were scouted, for the ideal growing conditions. One of which was Eccles/Bluebell Hill in Kent and these are the vineyards which we are very familiar with. As they are literally down the end of our lane.

A patchwork of fields nearing harvest time of the Kits Coty vineyards from a drone 40 meters in the air.

Kits Coty vineyard from the air

So, to show our love and support to the local venture, we decided to have a vested interest and purchased a few of their shares. One of the perks is that you get discounted wines, but, additionally, two of you also get to go on a Chapel Down wine tasting tour. And this is why we are here today.

A shot of one field of vines at Kits Coty from a drone flying about 8 metres off the ground.

Looking along the vines at Kits Coty

Ripe for harvesting

Chapel Down vineyards grow various grape varieties to allow them to produce different styles of wine. Our next stop was to one of their Chardonnay vineyards, which was planted out in 2004.

Row 12 of the Bacchus vines, in one of the vineyard at Chapel Down.

Grapes capturing the full sun

Bunches of Bacchus white grapes on the vine, nearly ready for harvesting in late September or early October.

Bacchus vines nearly ready for harvesting

The vines at Chapel Down are planted from north to south, to allow maximum sunshine to the grapes and vines as the sun passes over east to west. 

We visited towards the end of August, so the grapes were in abundance and very near their ripening peak. The harvest for 2019 is due to be gathered during the first two weeks of September.

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Behind the scenes

Continuing on with our ‘behind the scenes’ tour, Tony then leads us into the pressing room. Gone are the days when you squelched the grapes through your toes, the stainless-steel grape press machines were huge and held thousands of tons.

One of the 3 giant industrial wine presses inside the pressing room.

A grape press ready for the big day

Once pressed for their juices, the grapes aren’t discarded, they are then distilled and used to produce Chapel Down’s spirits. They are Chapel Down Bacchus Gin, Pinot Noir Gin and Chapel Down Chardonnay Vodka. I think I may have to sample the gins as well soon; it would be rude, not too.

Tony standing in front of the stainless steel vats explaining the process one the wine has been pressed and transferred to these containers.

Tony explaining the winemaking processes

A close-up shot of one of the large stainless steel wine vats for holding the pressed grape juice and it takes it's a journey to becoming a Chapel Down wine.

Wine vats in Chapel Down

Art of Riddling

Tony then guides us into a converted barn and explains to us the art of ‘riddling’ or if you’re French ‘remuage’. This is a process of slowly rotating a filled sparkling wine bottle, which is placed at an angle. The sediment gradually releases into the neck of the bottle. The bottle is then cooled to a temperature where the residue freezes, and then cleverly removed from the bottle and resealed, et voila.

A riddling rack, a wooden A-frame, designed to hold wine bottles angled upside down to persuade the sediment to travel towards the neck of the bottle.

Manually riddling sparkling wine

Eight of the French Oak barrels that are used to store Kits Coty Coeur de Cuvée vintages to impart their own unique flavour.

French oak barrels for Kits Coty Coeur de Cuvée

Chapel Down’s Kits Coty Coeur de Cuvée is the only one of their wines which is partially fermented in French oak barrels. This gives the wine a delicate toasting flavour from the seven months spent in the traditionally made oak barrels.

Hit the road

Would you like to tour the beautiful English countryside and discover the ancient castles and little villages dotted around Kent for yourself? You can do it all on a road trip, SIXT car hire cover all budgets and allow you to pick up and drop off at different destinations.

To the sanctuary

Now that we have all been educated in the art of wine growing and production, it was time to head to the ‘Wine Sanctuary’ and enjoy a few samples.

The Wine Sanctuary is an old converted farm building, which now houses a bar, communal and separate tasting tables. All of which have a glorious view over the vineyards and the Kent countryside beyond.

The copper-topped bar inside the Wine Sanctuary bearing the motif 'Great minds drink alike'.

The Chapel Down bar in the Wine Sanctuary

Chapel Down mainly specialises in producing white wines, sparkling and non-sparkling. Though their delicate range of rosé wines are wonderful. 

They no longer produce red wines as the soil and climate in the UK, is better for lighter reds and apparently, market forces tended to desire full-bodied reds. I must admit I do enjoy a light red, particularly when it is slightly chilled. But, hey ho, what do I know?

A table and stools on the decking outside the Wine Sanctuary overlooking the Bacchus vines.

View from the Wine Sanctuary

Royal tipple

Tony imparted an additional snippet of knowledge to us that, unbeknown to Chapel Down, William and Kate chose the Rosé Brut for their wedding reception in 2011.

It’s time for a taster

Now for the tasting, our first wine was the still Bacchus.

Tony then proceeded to give us a masterclass in the art of smelling and tasting a glass of wine.

It’s incredible when you sample the wine intending to pick up the notes and flavours, you really get so much more from a glass of wine.

It also gives you an understanding of how your palate works by picking up different tones to the wine.

Two glasses of the light coloured Bacchus 2018 vintage in the tasting room accompanied with a bottle of water to refresh the palate.

Tasting the Bacchus 2018

Get me, who do I think I sound like, I’ll be giving Oz Clarke a run for his money soon.

Seven wines to sample

Tony then talked us through tasting a further six wines, we had a mixture of white and rosé, sparkling and non-sparkling. All of which was interesting and delightful to taste, but of course, depending on what you were pairing them with, you would need to be more precise in your choice.

The A5 pamphlet and Chapel Down branded pen, with the tasting notes for all of the wines available.

The notes and tones of each wine

We were given a leaflet on all the wines we tasted and others available, educating us a little further on the flavours involved. 

I must say that this tour was extremely informative and easy going. Gary and I have enjoyed a few wine tours over the last two or three years and found this to be the best in terms of knowledge and variety of tastings.

Two glasses of the rosé wine to be tasted.

Tasting the English Rose - rosé wine

A chalkboard at the entrance to the Wine Sanctuary informing you that wine tasting is in progress.

Tasting in progress

I know we had this tour as part of a shareholder’s benefit; however, at £20pp for the tour, I think it was excellent value. The length of the visit was meant to be for 1 hour 45 minutes, though ours lasted 2 hours. The other point I will make is that there was no pressure whatsoever to buy any wines. It was your choice if you wandered back through the shop.

In my opinion

The tour is certainly worthwhile, although, if you just want to visit the vineyard it’s a lovely place to wander around. There are two signposted walks through the vineyards the ‘Blue Walk’ which is 0.62km/0.39 miles and the ‘Red Walk’ which is 1.02km/0.63 miles. 

Additionally, there is the onsite Swan Restaurant and picnic area for you to enjoy.

Did someone say gin?

Chapel Down have also branched out into brewing their own beers and ciders at the Curious Brewery in Ashford. You can book yourself onto a tour and tasting there too.

A large double glass fronter chiller full of Curious Brew,  Chapel Down's beer & cider brand.

The Curious Brew chiller

As mentioned, a little earlier Chapel Down additionally produce spirits; currently, they have two gins, a vodka and a Lamberhurst Brandy.

If you head to the Chapel Down Gin Works & Restaurant, just by the Regent’s Canal in Kings Cross, London you’ll be able to sample the gin and vodka on the Spirits Tasting tour. 

Useful things to know

- 2019 Pricing; Adult £20.00, Concessions £15

- There is a sizeable onsite carpark, which is free of charge

- You’ll need to choose a designated driver.

- Ideally wear comfy shoes, the walking segment isn’t too long; however, the ground is uneven in places.

- It’s advisable to book your tour in advance
A large picnic area with tables & benches covered with branded parasols for you to enjoy a glass or two of your favourite Chapel Down or Curious Brew.

Picnic area in Chapel Down

To book any of the Chapel Down tours, follow this link to their website.

Something for the Traveller

Inspired to visit Chapel Down Winery?

Why not stay at the quaint English town of Tenterden, which is only two miles up the road.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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Comments

  1. This looks like a lovely day out in the Kentish countryside. Not too far from us so we’ll have to drop by for a tasting.
    Have you been to Rathfinny in East Sussex?

    1. Author

      No, we haven’t I’ll keep a look out for Rathfinny. The Chapel Down tour was really interesting and it was also lovely as there was no pressure on you to purchase any wine at the end.

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