We uncork some of our favourites food and drink places to enjoy this summer, starting with Cherry Butler’s visit to one of Bentley’s sparkling wine-producing beauty…
Once home to hops, the fields at Jenkyn Place are now filled with vines – although at one point, it could have been Christmas trees. After buying the Hampshire estate in 1997, property entrepreneur Simon Bladon considered farming festive firs. Then he tasted some “Champagne” that turned out to be from West Sussex which he enjoyed so much he set about growing grapes.
Judging by the delicate, fruity rosé I tried (and found especially moreish), this was a wise decision. Jenkyn Place has won numerous awards, its brut cuvée scoring gold several times. Since 2016, the vineyard has produced vintage sparkling wines every year, as long as the grapes pass muster. The North Hampshire Downs climate and chalky “greensand” soil is ideal for growing the classic Champagne varieties: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Camilla, Simon’s daughter, manages the business, with dogs Bertie and Oscar and brothers Freddie and Jack lending a hand/paw. Heat killed a fifth of the first vines in 2004, when the fledgling viticulturists planted them before laying down polythene sheeting. Rebecca, Simon’s wife, informed him that of course they should have laid down the poly first (like Nigel Pargetter just had on The Archers). Despite this, they let me – a rookie – plant a new vine; I hope to return one day to taste the fruit of my labour!
Right at the top of the first field, a wooden gazebo provides a sheltered spot to take in the view, and some wine. On the north side of the Wey Valley, the sloping site is carefully landscaped. Oak trees form a windbreak; and each row of vines is bookended by roses, which act as a “canary in the mine”, picking up any pests or diseases before the vines do. An 18th-century red-brick house and walled garden with a fountain complete the English country scene.
Anyone can visit, since Simon and his winemakers offer tours on selected dates. Wine buffs will appreciate the chance to see how the grapes are produced and ask questions, while casual enthusiasts can have fun soaking up the setting and tasters. Bottles to take home are available at a discount. Happily, Jenkyn Place is a five-minute taxi ride or half-hour walk from Bentley station, so there’s no need for a designated driver.
It’s said that if Wimbledon fortnight is sunny, the autumn harvest will be good, so we wine-lovers – and the Jenkyns team – should be able to reap the rewards of a particularly fine 2018 harvest.
Tour & tasting sessions £15. Visit www.jenkynplace.com