Event – Sussex Wine Bus Tour
Travelling on a vintage Routemaster is evocative, uplifting and quintessentially British – most fitting for the Sussex Wine Bus Tour, which took us from Old Steine deep into the heart of the county to try some of its finest wines.
Sparkling Sussex vineyards
Sussex boasts over 70 vineyards, many of which specialise in sparkling wines so good they often beat Champagne in blind taste tests. So excellent is their product that local winemakers are currently campaigning to award Sussex wines PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin), which would deservedly place it on a level pegging with such world-class peers as Sancerre and Rioja. Glass of Sussex? Has quite a ring to it!
These tours, run by the Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival, change all the time, varying the vineyards to keep things fresh.
Munching on Real Patisserie croissants and Ringden Farm apple juice, we chugged off to the beautiful surroundings of Bolney Wine Estates, where a café/wine shop and picturesque outdoor terrace overlook the vines – somewhere I will definitely bear in mind for lunch another day.
Run by the same family since 1972, Bolney has won awards aplenty, including Wine Producer of the Year in 2012. We took a fascinating tour of the vineyard in the sunshine, learning about the entire wine-making process and given a greater understanding of what makes the Sussex terroir so ideal for grape-growing.
Charmingly, the buzzards which nest in the oak trees overlooking the vines keep the hungry starlings at bay – these iconic Brighton birds have been known to strip a vineyard of its entire harvest in a few hours.
The tasting at Bolney was engaging and not at all preachy, and we were largely left alone with our tasting notes to judge for ourselves. We tried a mouth-watering 2014 Bacchus, which was powerful and spicy, and would be perfect with shellfish.A dry 2014 Bolney Rosé had a gorgeous raspberry palate, while the light, smoky 2013 Pinot Noir would work well chilled. A simple buffet lunch was served along with medium-bodied Lychgate Red and a terrific Pinot Gris.
Bluebell Vineyard Estates, our next stop, is fairly new, having been established in 2005 on the site of a former pig farm. We were here to sample sparkling wines and, clutching a glass of Seyval Blanc, were given another brief yet informative tour. The process of making sparkling wine is hugely labour intensive, and I now understand the heftier price tag that’s placed on these bottles.
We sampled three more sparkling wines – the light, citrusy Blanc de Blancs being my favourite – plus a selection of delicious Sussex cheese from Hove’s La Cave à Fromage, including Campion, a goat’s cheese rolled in pink peppercorns, and Brighton Blue made at the nearby High Weald dairy.
If these tours sound like your thing, next up is the Sussex Beer, Cider and Wine Bus Tour on Saturday 27 June (£75), which includes a Sussex produce pub lunch. Or why not push the boat out with the Michelin-star Gourmet Bus Tour on Saturday 25 July (£150), which will visit chocolatiers Cocoa Loco, stop off for a five-course meal at Michelin-starred The Pass at the South Lodge Hotel, and finish at Wiston Vineyard for bubbles. Sounds like a pretty perfect day out to me.
Tickets for this tour cost £75 (Suzanne’s ticket was complimentary, courtesy of the Brighton & Hove Food Festival).
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 5th June 2015
Photography by Emma Gutteridge