ONE of Britain’s biggest hotel chains is opening a luxury country retreat in Sussex.

The Pig was launched in the New Forest in 2011 by Hotel du Vin founder Robin Hutson.

Next summer the chain will open its seventh hotel, The Pig in the South Downs, in a lodge outside Madehurst village near Arundel.

As well as using its 20 acres to rear livestock and grow produce for its country kitchen, founder Robin has also planted a vineyard in the grounds – his first foray into wine.

“We purchased Madehurst Lodge a couple of years back and with it there was a good number of acres,” the 63-year-old said.

“We’ve been working on this project for some time now.

“We’ve got some sheep and other livestock in the pastures, because the kitchen garden is what we’re all about.

“But there’s a perfectly formed two-acre spot in front of the restaurant for a vineyard.

“About six months ago we started thinking about whether we could grow some vines. Now we’re finally planting them.”

The Argus: Madehurst Lodge near Arundel will open as The Pig in the South Downs next yearMadehurst Lodge near Arundel will open as The Pig in the South Downs next year

The hotel’s vineyard was formerly used as a grazing patch for alpacas.

But the ground’s mix of free-draining chalky soil, silt and clay makes it perfect for planting vines found in Champagne and Burgundy.

More than 4,000 vines have now been planted for Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Pinot meunier with the help of Robin’s winemaker friends.

If all goes to plan, the vineyard could yield 6,000 bottles of wine and 4,000 bottles of sparkling wine.

But Robin is tight-lipped about what styles the hotel hopes to produce – and is giving away no clues about the secret experimental vines also planted on the site.

Wine is a waiting game of course, and the hotel does not expect to harvest before 2022 at the earliest.

But Robin is looking forward to the result.

“In recent years the UK wine industry has made huge strides in terms of quality up and down the country,” he said.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind.

“I can’t wait to taste that first glass, albeit a couple of years away yet,” he said. It may be different from year to year. We’re undecided as to whether we’ll make still or sparkling wine, we’ll see how it comes out.

“The investment further endorses our complete commitment to home grown, to local produce and to local contractors. We will post regular updates from the vineyard as we progress. Wish us luck.”

The Argus: The Pig hotel in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, opened in 2011. Photo: Trevor HarrisThe Pig hotel in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, opened in 2011. Photo: Trevor Harris

The Pig in the South Downs will be the chain’s seventh hotel once it opens next year.

Each hotel sources its ingredients within 25 miles of its grounds.

The chain is one of a number founded by Robin, who left school with only three O-levels.

After starting work in legendary London hotel Claridge’s as a waiter he co-founded the Hotel du Vin chain in 1994.

He became a multimillionaire ten years later when he sold the company.

The Pig’s hotels are in Hampshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.