My girlfriend took me out for a treat recently, and knowing my penchant for wine and vineyards whisked me away to our nearest winery. Denbies is a short walk from Dorking station, so unlike most wineries around the world, you don’t need a car or taxi which keeps the price down and more importantly allowed us to drink without a designated driver or handing over a wad of cash to a cabbie.
The lane leading up to the main building is flanked by vines and opens out to a strange architectural blend of Tuscan villa and English barn conversion where the visitor centre is located. The feel is of enthusiastic British amateurism rather than sleek professionalism and we are led into the 360 degree cinema ‘experience’ by a wonderful Camilla Dagey Fritton type lady (The headmistress from the St Trinian’s movies) with more than a touch of Joyce Grenfell about her. The 360º cinema was entertaining and informative if a little hard on stiff necks!
We progressed down to the nerve centre of the winery, where the tanks, barrels and crusher/distemmers were housed, and were given various titbits of information and knowledgeable answers to our questions. Past the gyro-pallets and now-redundant riddling racks we meandered, and stepped through to the cellars to be confronted with a giant map of all the blocks of different vines ( a bewildering 17 or so varietals), and a tasting. We paid extra for the sparkling tour, and I’m glad we did as that is where English wine boxes in an international weight class, and more than manages to stay on its feet. In fact we were told that John Worontschak, the head wine maker, wanted to devote a greater percentage of Denbies’ output to sparkling, but was over-ruled by the ownership.
We started with the sparkling Seyval Blanc – Whitedowns Cuvée NV. It was a pleasant, light and fresh flavoured fizz with notes of citrus, a hint of breadiness and pleasing acidity. This offered surprising value for money and showed off a non-vinifera grape producing a quality wine.
The sparkling rosé was next made from 100% Pinot Noir, and although I was not overly impressed for the price, the others in the tour group loved it, so it definitively had its fans.
The final taster was the Broadwood’s Folly, made from Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner. Simple, light stone fruit dominated with racy acidity and a crisp finish.
The next stage was a ride on the wine train through the vineyards with our entertaining guide. The ‘train’ was in fact a Land Rover pulling three wagons around the property, showing off the wonderful views of the Downs and the 107 hectares of vines.We were told of the history of the property pre-vineyard and about the journey from a spark of an idea to the founding in 1986 to the present day successes and gongs at international wine competitions. All this while sipping on a glass of sparkling wine.
Denbies is well worth a visit, and being a short trip from London makes it accessible to an awful lot of people, locals and tourists alike. Apart from a couple of strange wines made from imported grapes, only available in store, It’s well worth tasting the Surrey Gold (a best seller) and the crisp sauvignon-esque Bacchus as well as the fizz. English wine is improving all the time, with the sparkling leading the charge, so it’s time to try what it has to offer as vin anglais is not the punchline to a joke anymore.