East Anglian wineries are quite spread out, so there is hardly a 'Weinstrasse' as such. Nonetheless, this is one of the best places to grow grapes in the country, being the driest and subject to benevolent winds. From London, a good day out among the vines might include New Hall and Dedham Vale in Essex and Giffords Hall and Wyken in Suffolk.
New Hall Vineyards were founded in the 60s and probably have the widest range of grape varieties of any UK winery;
Their equipment is extensive. They make wine for other vineyards as well as their own. They even have an OYOV scheme (Own Your Own Vineyard)!
There are 194 acres under vine with Bacchus as the most planted and Triomphe as by far the least (wouldn't you know!). They produce all kinds of wine some of which are available at The Wine Pantry, Borough Market, London.
This is a pioneering and old-style operation of great interest from a historical and research point of view.
Carla Carlisle was our inspiration for planting a few vines ourselves back in the 90s and she has developed her Leaping Hare brand of wines steadily since then.
She produces a most interesting 100% Kernling, a Bacchus, a Madeleine Angevine, a Pink and a Sparkler which are all highly regarded.
Her touch can be seen everywhere; there is even a Women's Room in the retail area in the barn which also houses the Leaping Hare Restaurant and Cafe.
We had a delicious snack outside. The bill came with a stone attached - neat, as everything at Wyken Hall.
On to Gifford Hall. We hadn't heard of this one before but it turned out to be well worth the journey. Owned by another American lady and her English husband, it is also nicely presented with a pleasant tasting room and cafe.
This elegant couple are very much hands on with him on his tractor in the extensive vineyard and her receiving in the tasting room.
The vineyard is unique with extensive windbreaks of mature trees. It was planted about 25 years ago.
For us, the big news here was the delicious Pinot Noir which is available in local branches of Waitrose, not surprisingly. They also make a Rose from Madeleine Angevine and Rondo, a Bacchus and a zero-dosage sparkler from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They make various Fruit Liqueurs too. Giffords Hall has recently planted 2,000 vines of Pinot Blanc.
On our way back through Essex, we saw a sign to Dedham Vale Vineyard so along we went. This is a more recently planted vineyard, begun in 1990. Now 40 acres are under vine and the operation is decidedly more corporate than the others visited on this trip.
Their inevitable sparklers are made from Orion and Chardonnay with a bit of Pinot Noir in the case of the Rose. There is a red blend from Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder and Pinot Noir and a Rose from Phoenix and Pinot Noir.
The new tasting room and shop are nicely done. People were sitting out on the deck enjoying themselves hugely.
A footnote since we're on the subject of English wine:
We picked up this Sparkling Red by Ridgeview (Sussex) at the Wine Pantry's other outlet in Borough Market (just a few paces further on: open when the Wine Pantry is not. We were assured it was the last bottle and they weren't expecting any replacements soon. We like sparkling reds from Lambuscos through Bonardas to sparkling Shiraz, not caring what anyone thinks. This was different of course. We hope producers of English Sparkling wine will not give up on this category.