Dedham Vale Vineyard, Boxted
On a hot September morning I drive the short route from my home in a Colchester suburb through the winding, hedgerow-lined back lanes that eventually lead to the Dedham Vale Vineyard. Well established, now 25 years old, run by father and son team Ben and Tom Bunting, it’s almost hidden amongst some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside in England; something Essex isn’t always credited for. The name harks to the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Essex-Suffolk border, also known as Constable Country.
The vineyard’s setting can justifiably be part of this AONB: it’s idyllic with no signs of modern life as you scan your eyes across a large lake and 40 acres of rolling greenery. A vast white teepee left over from their annual August Cider & Wine festival sold it to me (blame a childhood obsession with Native American Indians).
There are many ways to enjoy a day here including a tour of the vineyards and a wine tasting for £5 (I had to check I read the price correctly). You can add in a lunch for £25. I toured the vineyards with a group mostly made up of people gifted the day out for a birthday or Christmas present. The very affable Ben’s frisky little dog Ruby remained at his side as he talked us through the basics of wine production peppered with a little of the story of the history of the vineyard.
The county has strong Roman roots, which include the viticulture brought here by the Romans named in the Domesday Book (incidentally, the longest vine in the world can still be seen at Hampton Court Palace, from a cutting taken from Essex by Capability Brown in 1769). With low levels of rain and a milder climate than much of the UK, this region is pretty perfect for grape growing. The soil is similar to that of German wine growing regions and so German varieties of grapes are grown.
We visit the characterful old red brick barn where the wine is made and learned the vineyard is expanding its sparkling wine production, planting grapes just for this in a nearby village. Then it’s back to the Tasting Barn for to sample five wines. These range from Colchester Oyster, a dry white with hints of lemon and elderflower, to a rosé, fresh and delicious, and a smooth, light red, with less alcohol than the others. I struggled to spit any in the porcelain jug placed on the long tables for just that purpose; instead I wished I wasn’t driving so I could sit around in the sun drink and more outside on the terrace overlooking the lake. My fellow tour mates were mainly over 70 and many local with lots of tales to tell and a twinkle in their eye. It was a day I could easily repeat.
If you are in London, the wines are available on a stand at Borough Market. For locals, each October volunteers can come and help pick the grapes in return for a large lunch at the end of the day and a bottle to open once home. Not such a bad way to usher in the autumn.
NB: children and dogs are welcome.
*Open Wednesday – Sunday, 11am - 5pm, March to October, dedhamvalevineyard.com