Thursday, 16th September 2021
In the face of Covid, and the resulting price hikes for any form of accommodation in the UK (because the owners/landlords know they have a mostly captive audience), we decided we would have a genuine staycation and would spend a week or so at home, going out for the day to places and things of interest in the vicinity. The one exception would be our two day’s at the annual Goodwood Revival Meeting, that festival of all things vintage with some fantastic car and bike racing thrown in for good measure. With that goal in mind, I booked the two of us and R into an Airbnb in the tiny village of Bosham, close to Chichester for three nights, it being the only available accommodation that wasn’t being offered at eye-watering price gouging levels for the weekend.
We figured if we needed to take a day off to get there (it’s a three-hour drive) then we should probably go somewhere on the way. As we would normally be on a wine region tour when on holiday these days, and Sussex is full of thriving vineyards, a vineyard visit seemed like a smart option. And so, we settled on the Tinwood Estate as being about as close to Chichester as you can get without actually being in Chichester. The windmill that is visible from the circuit at Goodwood is also visible from the vineyard.
We were booked it for the 3pm tour and tasting and made good time in the direction of Tinwood until the very last stretch when the SatNav directed me down a country lane, Tinwood Lane in fact, that petered out into what could best be described as a very narrow bridleway about halfway along. That necessitated a 46-point turn to extricate ourselves, and then a phone call to the vineyard asking them if they could please explain how to find the place! The sign-posting is somewhat lacking it’s fair to say, so if you do want to visit pay close attention to the instructions on the website and don’t plug the address into any navigation device you might have! As we pulled into the car park finally, two people who we had seen walking down Tinwood Lane arrived, so yes, it does lead to the estate, but not if you’re in a car.
We arrived pretty much on the dot of 3pm, and were invited to take a seat on the terrace. From there, our guide, the granddaughter of the people who founded the vineyard (having first set it up as a lettuce farm on their arrival as immigrants from the Netherlands) took us over to the magnificent vineyard. The classic Champagne vines are grouped into three sections, the Pinot Noir (the adolescent of grapes, never, ever happy, very difficult to rear), the Chardonnay and the Pinot Meunier, and the posts at the end of each row of 300 vines are marked with a different colour for each variety (red, white and yellow). Each row is 300 metres long, and at each end there is a rose bush, more for tradition than practicality these days as modern science makes monitoring the health of the vines much less hit-and-miss than checking whether the roses are thriving. The harvest takes four weeks, with a Hungarian crew of pickers coming over (well, pre-Brexit anyway) and the grapes are then taken to Ridgeview, where the actual wine making is done and the wines bottled.
Harvest, however, was estimated to be about 4 weeks away still. She described the growing process, and answered questions from the tour party, and then invited us to use the viewing platform they have built between the tasting room and the vines. Apparently on a clear day you can see as far as the Isle of Wight, and thus discover where the maritime effect that helps to ripen the vines comes from. It was a tad too hazy on our visit.
After a good close look at the vines (and a taste of the not-yet-ripe grapes for anyone brave enough – that Pinot Noir I took was bordering on sour) we returned to the terrace of the tasting room, and were taking through the three wines, with matching cheeses for those who had opted to add them to the cost.
We started with the Blanc de Blanc (all Chardonnay, not a blend), a 2018 example, that having been a very successful year with a yield of around 220,000 bottles in total across the three wines. There are 150,000 vines and 1 bottle per vine is normal, so 2018 was an exceptional year. Other years have varied, with the lowest yield being around 30,000. Why anyone decides to make wine for a living, I have no idea! As for the wine, I really liked this one of the three, it being very reminiscent of the 100% Chardonnay we tasted in Epernay back in 2018 and brought home. The price wasn’t dissimilar either. But then, English sparkling wines have never been cheap. They have also never been so good, but then they’ve had a couple of decades now to perfect the art, and the grapes are grown on the same geological line of chalk that runs through Champagne.
Next we tried the Brut, which turned out to be Lynne’s favourite. This is 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and the final 20% is Pinot Meunier. It was very good, and it went beautifully with a chunk of cheddar, drizzled with honey from hives right next to the vineyard. Fabulous, though the Blanc de Blanc still did it for me with its dry austerity.
Finally, they wheeled out their rose, which is 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier. This is slightly sweeter, red fruits in the mix, and it went gorgeously with the blue cheese we’d been offered. In a state of indecision, we opted to buy two of each to take home with us.
You can choose to stay on after the tour and drink a glass or two (or a bottle) more, but we decided we needed to get moving to our final destination for the day, the Airbnb in Bosham. We picked up our shopping and headed off towards the coast. We’re now considering a return trip to stay in one of their lodges.