Learning about the art of wine-making

Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking
Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking
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Basking in the unseasonably early April sunshine, drinking in the smells and sights of the vineyard, I took a sip of the delicious, crisp sparkling wine before me.

Looking out over the vines, with heat and dust rising, I could easily have been in France’s champagne region or a Tuscan valley.

But in fact I was happily ensconced in Denbies Wine Estate, in Dorking, Surrey, at the start of a weekend of foodie indulgence.

Denbies is the largest family-owned vineyard in the UK, producing 300,000 litres of wine from its 265-acre estate.

Set in a mineral rich valley, protected by the slopes from damaging winds, the estate produces award-winning wines from its 12 grape varieties.

I spent an afternoon there ahead of English Wines Week (May 28 to June 5) sampling the wines and finding out more about the vineyard’s history from an amazing 360- degree cinema and an indoor and outdoor tour.

I’ve drunk plenty of wine in my time, but can rather ashamedly say I don’t know a chablis from a sauvignon blanc. So the talk by Denbies’ Victor Maguire was an education.

He taught our small group to sample the wine by smelling, swishing it around your mouth as if it were mouthwash, and sucking in the air while holding it in your mouth.

I’ll never be able to drink wine again without going through the ritual – even if people in restaurants and bars look at me as though I’m slightly mad. It makes the wine dance on the taste buds.

The Surrey Gold – available from the estate shop, online and from Waitrose – was pure summer in a glass and I took a bottle home for good measure.

For lunch we dined in the Gallery restaurant which overlooks the valley.

The ham hock terrine followed by a rich beef bourguignon with crispy dumplings was simply to die for.

We then took a lazy ride around the estate on the outdoor train. It was well worth taking – the views from the top of the valley, across Surrey, are stunning. And we learned so much about the wine-making process and how the White family changed the estate from a pig farm into a thriving vineyard.

At one point a bride emerged from between the vines to have her photo taken. The setting was so beautiful, it looked like a scene from a Merchant Ivory flick.

From there we made our way back to our cottage, in the village of Cowfold, near Horsham, West Sussex.

It was in fact a large family home in a quiet cul-de-sac but it was comfortable, stylish and full of mod cons.

In the evening Steve Cook, from Cookes Catering, created a sumptuous four-course meal which included honey bread, smoked mackerel and trio of lamb. The pear tarte au tan with cardamom parfait was out of this world.

Next day we visited the High Weald Dairy, in Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, so good it has featured on Gordon Ramsey’s F Word.

The owners, Sarah and Mark Hardy, can claim they make one of the best cheeses in the world after their cow’s milk St Giles was named best English and British Cheese at the World Cheese Awards in 2009.

A tour around the small organic factory, discovering how they create the delicious cheeses, was fascinating. Mixing the Hardy’s passion with chemistry makes for wonderful cheese. It brought to a close a weekend of foodie heaven in Sussex and Surrey.

ESSENTIALS

Denbies Classic Tasting Experience starts at £9.50 per person.

There are events throughout English Wine Week, including a hands-on experience in the vineyard where visitors rub and prune the vines, followed by lunch and wine-tasting for £32.50 per person.

For more details go to denbies.co.uk or call 01306 876616.

Glebe Cottage sleeps nine people and is approximately 25 miles from Denbies. Three nights starting June 3 will cost £830 - £30.74 per person, per night.

To book, go to cottages4you.co.uk or call 0845 268 0760.

The next High Weald Dairy open day is June 4. Visitors will be able to watch the animals being milked and taste the cheeses.

To find out more, go to highwealddairy.co.uk or call 01825 791636.