many hospitality and tourism venues are reopening to the public this weekend. Nick Mosley spoke to Sussex vineyards about their sparkling offer.

Wine tourism is a relatively new growth industry in England with Sussex vineyards at the fore of innovation.

Lockdown has seen many closing their doors to consumers but this month sees the return of cellar door tastings and vineyard tours alongside a diverse range of other experiences including on-site restaurants and accommodation, special events and unique treats such as picnics among the vines.

Recent research by Wine GB – the national trade body for English and Welsh wine – shows that 32 per cent of wine produced is still sold directly from the vineyards, with 53 per cent being sold via bars, restaurants and retailers.

So for many vineyards, welcoming visitors back isn’t just about educating and engaging consumers but an essential part of their business model.

Albourne Estate completed its new tasting room just as the lockdown happened and is looking forward to welcoming their first visitors this month.

“We’re still developing our plans but expect to be opening in a limited way from Saturday, July 11, for tours and wine tastings every Saturday throughout July and August,” said Alison Nightingale from Albourne.

Alex Notman-Watt of Wiston Estate near Pulborough is also looking forward to welcoming guests back to the vineyard.

“We really can’t wait to be able to show people around again, especially as this time of year and over the next couple of months is when the vineyard looks at its very best,” said Alex.

“We are itching to be able to share it with people but of course, we have to be safe and responsible.”

Plans at Oxney Estate, an organic wine producer near Rye, are now advanced says co-owner Kristin Syltevik.

Throughout the lockdown it was aware of a significant increase in consumer interest in its wines, spurred on by wine writer Matthew Jukes giving its Oxney still Chardonnay from 2018 a score of 20/20, his best ever scoring for an English wine.

Kristin thinks this interest will continue over the summer as more people take the opportunity to visit the vineyard as part of a “staycation”.

“We are seeing people are choosing to holiday in the UK, and doing tours as a day out, when they normally would be going abroad,” she said.

“Our holiday cottages and shepherd’s huts are getting a lot of bookings.”

Rathfinny, one of England’s largest wine estates, is already open allowing visitors to sample and buy wines.

From tomorrow, picnics and a new seafood kitchen will be available to visitors.

Its luxurious on-site Flint Barns bed and breakfast accommodation will be available to book from next Saturday.

“Our main intention is to be able to continue to provide a truly memorable Rathfinny experience as we have always strived to deliver, whilst ensuring our guests and staff are kept safe,” said Sarah Driver, co-owner.

Founded in 1972, Bolney Wine Estate has operated its local produce and vineyard shop throughout the lockdown but the team is looking forward to welcoming visitors back for tours and to experience the Eighteen Acre Café which offers great views of the vines from its expansive raised outdoor terrace.

“Everything in our beautiful estate is guided by nature and over the past ten weeks in lockdown I have witnessed so much of this,” said Sam Linter, managing director and head winemaker at Bolney.

“I am excited that we can now hopefully share – and celebrate – the vines growing this summer and let visitors experience the peace and beauty of our vineyard and potentially see the buzzards circling in the blue sky above.”

In addition to the vineyards offering their own tours and tastings, over the past couple of years a number of tour operators focusing on the industry have popped up.

Most notable in Sussex is Great British Wine Tours which hosts a full day out visiting two vineyards including transport and a Sussex produce lunch with items from Springs Smokery and High Weald Dairy.

“Our private group tours resume this month. Initially this will only be groups of six people or less so we can maintain safe separation of our staff and guests in our minibus,” said Danny Edwards of Great British Wine Tours.

“Sussex has so much to offer in terms of food, drink, landscape and history and it’s all so easily accessible.

“I think we will see a lot more domestic tourism in the near future.”

How to visit

Vineyards will all be adhering to social distancing advice so check ahead for limits on numbers and pre-booking requirements.

Albourne Estate at Albourne,

Tours and tastings resume from Saturday, July 11. For the full experience tours start at 10.30am or you can join a one-hour tasting of the still and sparkling wines and Sussex vermouth. Picnic hampers are also available to book in advance.

Bolney Wine Estate at Bolney,

Following a recent refurbishment, Bolney’s Eighteen Acre Café reopens tomorrow for alfresco dining and picnic hampers. The vineyard shop is also open and features the full range of still and sparkling wines alongside produce from local, artisan and sustainable food and drink producers. Tour and tasting dates will be posted on the website soon.

Oxney Estate near Rye,

Enjoy a 90-minute tour of the vineyard and winery every Saturday from tomorrow. Starting at 11am you’ll gain insight into the English wine revolution and how grapes are grown organically at Oxney. Tours are £20 per person and include a tasting of four still and sparkling wines plus Oxney’s second fermentation cider. Lunch picnic baskets are also available to pre-order for £20 per head allowing you to relax among the vines. Oxney Estate also offers on-site accommodation for overnight stays.

Rathfinny Estate near Alfriston,

Rathfinny’s Seafood Kitchen is open 11.45am to 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday, from tomorrow. Booking is not required, and food can be enjoyed in the vineyards. Picnic hampers packed with local ingredients created by head chef Chris Bailey are available. The vineyard cellar door shop is open daily, with the Flint Barns B&B booking from July 11.