Muddy does the Devon Wine Tour
Wine doesn't just grow on trees, ya know, someone has to grow the vines, pick the grapes and turn it into Muddy's favourite tipple. Here's my pick of 7 Devon vineyards where you can have a tour and a tasting.
What with climate warming and an increased appreciation of British wine, UK wine production has soared from 2.5m bottles two years ago to 16m this year. That’s a lot more wine to drink up, ladies, and if you want to get in there first, where better to sup than the place it’s produced – the vineyard? Devon is no slacker on the grape-growing front (thank you maritime climate) with more than 20 vineyards around the county, some just growing grapes, while others produce wine and let us in for tours and tastings. Here’s my pick of the best – think of it as like the movie Sideways, only with me as your designated driver.
Wellhayes Vineyard, Clayhanger
Love fizz? (silly question) then you’ll adore Wellhayes. It’s a small sparkling wine producer set in bucolic grounds near Tiverton, owned by Alison and Simon Routh. Simon takes you on an eloquent, whistle-stop tour of the winery (where it all happens bar the grape-growing) and the one-hectare vineyard, then has you back indoors for a glass or two of their Wellhayes Sparkling Wine and a Devon cream tea in under an hour. There’s no swilling round and spitting out (or as I call it, waste) so all very unpretentious. The sparkling is made champagne-style, which takes around 3-4 years, using four traditional champagne grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, plus a Reichensteiner for its reliability and winey taste.
Apparently the reason Prosecco is cheaper is because it’s quick to make with bubbles added to the tank, rather than slowly fermented in the bottle, hence the difference in price. Now we know! Book for a tour on Wednesday or Sunday until the end of September, or join the pair for a music night (Alison was a professional musician) with home-grown wine, naturally. Tour £14 with cream tea.
Wellhayes Vineyard, Clayhanger, Tiverton EX16 7NY Tel: 01398 361 612
Brickhouse Vineyard, Mamhead
Brickhouse Vineyard owners Jo and Matt describe themselves as accidental vintners, as they inherited the 3000 grapevines with the property when they opened their bijou events and wedding venue back in 2018. They’re quick learners as they’ve already bagged an award from the South West Vineyard Association for their dee-licious Sauvignon Blanc. Jo hosts wine and cheese tastings (£20 each for groups of 10-plus), and hire out their beautifully-restored thatched roundhouse for elopement and same-sex weddings and parties, as well as running regular events, from yoga retreats to music nights. It’s very stylish, with far-reaching views over rolling Devon hills and the Exe estuary – as I know from holding the Muddy Devon 2019 awards do there back in July.
Brickhouse Vineyard, Brick House, Mamhead, Exeter EX6 8HP Tel: 01626 682287
Sharpham Vineyard, Habertonford
Wow, what a location – 10 acres of south-facing slope edging the inky-green waters of the River Dart. One of the oldest vineyards in Devon, Sharpham produces 13 wines, including red, white and rose, as well as sparkling (made champers-style) from grapes including Sauvignon, Bacchus, Pinot and Dornfelder. They offer four different tours, from a self-guided walk or with a sommelier who will stop at each grape variety, open up a bottle and instruct you in its delights while you sip. They do private tours too, should you be planning a hen-do or big birthday.
They also make award-winning soft cheeses here – I can vouch for their Sharpham Rustic – and though you can’t go take a tour off the ‘cheesery’, you can see the creamy-white truckles lined up through the viewing windows (and it saves you the horror of having to wear a hair net). You can buy the cheese and the vino from their well-stocked shop, and stay for lunch in al fresco eatery The Cellar Door, where they dish up local hand-dived scallops, or veggie dishes using the Sharpham brie and yum, slow roasted rustic tomato tart. Tours from £12.50 pp.
Sharpham Wine & Cheese, Ashprington, Totnes TQ9 7UT Tel 01803 732203
Old Walls Vineyard, Bishopsteignton
Perched on a south-facing slope so steep it makes the sci-fi curves of Inception look tame, Old Walls Vineyard has 10,000 vines and row on row of beautifully cared-for Germanic wines, including Dornfelder and Bacchus, and 8 wines named for the nearby ruinous summer palace of the Bishop of Exeter. Founder Ken Daw has now sold the vineyard, but still takes visitors on tours year-round, outdoors among the vines in summer, and indoors in the winery in winter. Unusually for Devon, they produce a robust red thanks to the red Devon soil (that’s terroir if you want to show off).
The new owners have upped the vineyard’s game, so now you can come for a cooked brekkie, roast dinners on winter Sundays, or Friday night tapas, in the clubhouse-style Regent’s Bistro with its outdoor terrace overlooking Bishops’ green hills and rooftops. Make a stay of it in one of six well kitted-out lodges (two dog-friendly) with room for 4, a wine chiller (obvs) an outdoor BBQ in a small back-yard to the back and a verandah with views of the vines. Or if you’re looking for a quirky venue for a bijou Big Day they’ve just launched an upstair function room for up to 60 peeps, complete with balcony, bar, beers on tap and their delicious sparkling wines made in time-honoured champagne fashion.
oldwallsvineyard.co.uk Old Walls Vineyard, Old Walls Road, Bishopsteignton, TQ14 9PC Tel: 01626 770877
Lyme Bay Winery, Axminster
This is a boutique winery and rustic cask-scented shop not a vineyard, so no leafy vines, just great retail therapy, tastings and top-notch wine advice. They source their grapes from vineyards around the UK, meaning they can take their pick of the best of the season. Lyme Bay produce five still wines and four sparkling including two rose, and unique not-on-the-high-street fruit wines which you can sample in mini-tumblers made of glass, not plastic – a nice touch.
If you’re looking for an award-winning wedding wine, here’s your place for a tasting and they also do five flavoured gins, including a small gift set of in 25cl gins which make great favours. Planning a Big Day? Mention Muddy for a 10% discount. You’re welcome!
Lyme Bay Winery, Shute, Axminster EX13 7PW Tel: 01297 551355
Pebblebed is a familiar name to Exeter folk, having started as a half-acre community project 20 years back and is now more than 20 acres of vineyards and a modern winery, with 50,000 bottles of wine produced in a good year and a Cellar Bar serving wines and tapas on a quaint back street in Topsham (go, it’s lovely). If you want to get your chops round their award-winning rose and sparkling (they also do white and a red Pinot Noir) take a guided tour around the vineyard and winery with wine-maker Alex Mills – every Thursday and Saturday from May to September at £20 pp.
Pebblebed Vineyards, Marianne Pool Farm, Exeter EX3 ONZ
Swanaford Estate, Bridford
Dartmoor’s first commercial vineyard is owned by ex-Londoners Ben and Caroline Goulden (she is ex-head of PR for Sky Atlantic) and has just started producing two still white and a Classic Cuvee sparkling. Their 90-minute tour runs every Wednesday until 24 October kicking off in the tasting barn, followed by a walk in the vineyard and a tasting of the scrumptious wine with an explanation of the wine making process. Then you’re free to wander the vineyard or walk down by the river Teign. Kids and unusually, dogs on leads, are welcome. Tours £12.50 pp, children under 16 free.
Swanaford Vineyard, Swanaford Road, Bridford, Exeter, EX6 7HG Tel: 07956 306 872