A Tipple of Devon – a tour of the local vineyards, guest post by Liz Finnie
Liz grew up in Adelaide then York, and relocated to Exeter in 2010 with husband and 3 month-old daughter. With a scientific background in regenerative medicine (and now a second child) she works as a freelance science writer/editor. Having fallen in love with Devon’s beaches, towns, moors, farms, and people, Liz and family feel settled and are currently making their newfound house a home, whilst continuing to enjoy all that Devon has to offer: including some of the finest vineyards, as described in this blog.
Devon: famous for its rolling hills, cream teas, scrumpy……and WINE!
Yes, you read that correctly. Award winning wines are being made only a ‘grapes’ throw away from Exeter; making this the perfect base from which to explore Devon’s increasing number of vineyards. In fact, my hubby and I used to run West Country Wine Tours (before having a second child and initiating two other businesses); so have the ‘Devon wine experience’ down to a T (definitely not a T-total!).
Compared to the lavish and sometime pompous vineyards found across France, South Africa and Australia (many of which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience), Devon’s vineyards are very much small-scale, hands-on, super-friendly, relaxed, and quaint. Many also provide a café/bistro experience to complement the wines, with much of the produce sourced locally. Although the wines are a little more pricey than my average Friday night bottle (starting at approximately £8.50), they make a great treat or gift, and the whole experience of getting out into the Devon countryside as a family or with friends is next to nothing!
For the grape boffins among you, although many of the traditional French and German grapes (Madeleine Angevine, Phoenix) continue to be used here in Devon, they can be unpredictable in our climate, therefore newer hybrids (Pinot Noir Precoce, Regent, Solaris, Rondo, Seyval Blanc, and Bacchus) are on the increase. Devon wines encompass the whole range: whites, reds, roses and sparkling, so there really is something for everyone (unless you don’t drink wine at all – cider and ale blogs to follow!)
Many of the vineyards offer their own tours and wine tasting sessions (dependent on time and budget). So get in touch with them directly and get out and about to find your favourite. Once you have tried and tested the wines, you can source them from many local farm shops (like Dart’s Farm) if you haven’t got the time to source them directly.
Yearlstone is Devon’s oldest vineyard (started 1976) and is located just south of Tiverton in Bickleigh. It is currently run by Roger and Juliet White and boasts beautiful views over the lower River Exe valley. You can buy the wines online (see website) or from the Yearlstone shop (by appointment). Unfortunately the vineyard itself and café (run by ‘Devon Chef’ Tim Harris) are closed until spring 2018 due to major building works. However, once these are completed, this vineyard will be well worth a visit.
Pebblebed Vineyards was founded as a community project in 1999 by Geoff Bowan and wife Anna, who directed 11 local families to plant half an acre of vines: now 25 acres. Based on the outskirts of Exeter (Clyst St George), this vineyard continues to have a great community focus, with many volunteers involved in the grape harvesting. There is also a strong focus on reducing environmental impacts and making the wines as natural (organic) as possible. The vineyard and winery are open for tours from May to October, however they also run a vibrant bistro called the Topsham Tasting Cellar (Topsham quayside) where many Devonshire (and worldwide) wines can be sampled, alongside locally-sourced tapas, sharing platters and pizzas made by top French chef Raphael Barras. The venue can accommodate about 45 people, so could be great for celebrations of any kind. Also, the vineyard itself can accommodate private functions for those interested.
Manstree Vineyard is in easy reach from Exeter, at Shillingford St George, and can now claim the oldest vines (38 years) in Devon (after Yearlstone Vineyard had to replace their original vines 6 years ago). The vineyard shop opens at the end of February and although there are no tours, specific wine tasting experiences or a cafe on offer here, you can pick fruit (seasonal) and buy some beautiful plants/hanging baskets whilst you purchase your bottle of fine Devon wine.
Oldwalls Vineyard at Bishopsteignton was my first encounter of a Devon vineyard and continues to be one of my favourites. Ken (the owner) is your typical Devonian (warm and charming) when talking about his passion of winemaking. The views of the Teignmouth valley are beautiful from the café terrace, which supplies snacks, cakes, cream teas and delicious light lunches. You can buy a ‘wine experience gift’ for family and friends (includes refreshments, lunch, tour, tastes and products: depending on the level purchased) or a ‘Vine rental experience gift’ that allows the receiver to get involved in the whole process. Be sure to check out the little piece of history at Oldwalls (a section of wall from The Bishops Palace) from which this vineyard got its name.
Sharpham Wine and Cheese is another firm favourite and definitely the vineyard to go to if you want that little bit of extra class and sophistication. Nestled away down typical, winding Devon lanes, this vineyard is on a thousand-year-old farm spanning five hundred acres and although a little further afield (past Totnes), the views over the river Dart are amazing. The inside/outside café (opens March) serves delicious lunches and Sharpham’s very own cheese, whilst surrounded by mooing Jersey cows. The vineyard offer ‘self-guided treks’ and for larger groups ‘vineyard rambles’, and the experiences can be tailored to time and budget.
Check out English Wine Week from Saturday 27th May to Sunday 4th June to see what events may be going on in Devon.
Finally, if you fancy a full tour without having to choose a designated driver, then South Devon Wine Tours offer this service (from £80/pp: we knew it was a good business idea!)Tags: darts farm, Devon, eastcott, english wine week, Exeter, froginwell, grapes, lily farm, manstree vineyard, oldwalls vineyard, pebblebed vineyards, sharpham wine and cheese, south devon wine tours, vineyards, west country wine tours, yearlstone