My expectations for an English vineyard were pretty low if I’m honest. I don’t know a huge amount about wine, but I do know that for grapes to grow you need a fair bit of sun, and that’s where I thought we’d have a bit of an issue; we get the odd heatwave but it’s now the end of June, 13 degrees outside and for the last three days it’s been raining constantly.
The day we visited the Three Choirs vineyard was a less drizzly day, but still pretty overcast to start with. Our first appointment was at 11.00; a tour. The vineyard sits in a beautiful 70 acre site in a valley, which gives it a bit of protection from the worst of the weather and its own micro-climate.
Once checked in at the main reception/shop, we went through to a courtyard to wait for our guide. The tour starts with a bit of a history about the Three Choirs vineyard, and an overview of the site.
The vines are neatly laid out in rows of predominantly French and German varieties- the closest climates to our own in terms of traditional grape growing countries. As we were shown around the vines we got to try some samples of the different wines and I was pleasantly surprised by how fresh and light and flavoursome the wines were. There was a complete selection of whites, reds and rosés, as well as a very good sparkling white.
Our tour then moved inside and we were talked through the journey of our grapes, from vine to bottle. A selection of very expensive and industrial machines mean that the wine produced here has been nowhere near a persons foot and the mashing troughs of old.
The vineyard produces anywhere between 150 and 280 tonnes of grapes in its annual early Autumn harvest, dependent on that years weather conditions, and the all important combination of rain and sun. These grapes are pressed to extract the juice, and then go through a process of settling and then brewing with yeast and, where necessary, a bit of added sugar, to create the alcohol and complex flavours. The wines can rest for anywhere from six weeks to nearly two years, depending on whether you want a young fresh white, or a richer mature red.
There’s then some very clever machinery to extract the excess yeast and apply the final bottle tops and labels; if you do a tour during the week you can see the facility in action, as some 600 bottles an hour are processed, which must be very impressive; on a weekend visit you’re talked through the process and it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate the impressive nature of the task.
Throughout the tour you’re encouraged to ask as many questions as you like, so there’s no excuses for coming away from your day without a vastly improved knowledge of the the wine making process. After the tour you can try further samples of the variety of wines on offer (at very reasonable prices) in the shop, which also has a nice selection of wine accessories and artisan beers and home gifts.
So far a lovely tour, but nothing out of the ordinary. What I hadn’t expected at a vineyard was such a good restaurant. Apparently a couple of the chefs have served in Michelin star establishments, and it shows! The menu has an exciting sounding selection of dishes and after our morning walk around the estate we very ready to eat, and drink. I made the mistake of driving to the vineyard, so it was water for me, but there was nothing stopping Steph enjoying something brewed a little closer to home- a bellini made from the Three Choirs sparkling wine with hibiscus syrup and flower; very refreshing on what had turned into a lovely day.
We can rarely see past scallops when they’re on offer, and these ones sounded particularly interesting – served with Thai fishcakes. The prosciutto with antipasti also sounded great so that rounded off our starter selection. We weren’t disappointed; both dishes were fantastic! The Thai fishcakes in particular were sensational and really popped with big flavours. The scallops were also perfectly cooked and deliciously sweet, and the cured meat and antipasti were every bit as good as they look.
For our main courses we tried to be good and go for a lighter vegetarian option, with a view to saving a bit of room for a dessert. Steph opted for a stuffed aubergine, and I went for a mozzarella burger, which turned out to be a huge chunk of mozzarella, breaded and deep fried, served in a brioche bun with a beetroot chutney.
Both our dishes were tasty, but a little on the sweet side for mains, and we had a touch of food envy as dish after dish of steaks and wonderful looking cuts of meat came out to other tables. They were also quite filling, so we only left enough room to share a gooseberry creme brulé, which was pretty special.
The restaurant was excellent, and with the fun and informative tour you could easily make a very pleasant afternoon and evening of a visit to the Three Choirs Vineyard. To help with logistics there’s also a number of rooms available, which are well appointed and have a wonderful view over the vineyards.
A tour and restaurant visit would make a great gift, or an indulgent treat, and the shop offers a good selection of drinks (which you’re welcome to try) for any event, whether you just want a few bottles of something nice for a dinner party, or you’re catering for something larger like a wedding (bulk buy discounts are available).
To book or find out more you can find their website here.