Chris Carter visits Denbies Wine Estate, an award-winning English vineyard that hosts a particularly challenging marathon.
The English wine-grape harvest is under way. Last Saturday, I popped down to Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey, to see how they were getting on. Cold-climate varieties (this still being England, despite the sizzling summer suggesting otherwise), including Müller-Thurgau, ortega and the red-skinned dornfelder, looked good enough to eat. There were even varieties you would associate more with fine Loires and Champagnes tucked away among the 265 acres under vine, such as sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Perhaps that’s not too surprising given that the North Downs, stretching from Surrey to Kent, share the same chalky soil as the home of bubbly across the Channel. Add to that the hotter summers we have been having here since Denbies was established in 1986, and this corner of Britain may one day be one of the world’s premier wine-making areas. But we’re not there yet. Every four years or so, Denbies experiences a winter so biting that some of the vines have to be replaced.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Denbies from picking up 24 medals this year for its wines, including the Stefanowicz Trophy for the “most outstanding sweet wine” at the WineGB awards. I sampled this winner – a crisp, golden offering called Noble Harvest 2016, made from ortego grapes – at the end of a long lunch of seared king scallops, roasted monkfish and a bottle of the estate’s Pinot Gris 2015 at Denbies’ Gallery restaurant. The panoramic views of the rows of vines and Box Hill make this an especially pleasant place to eat. And if lunch on a wine estate with its numerous wines sounds like a recipe for disaster, then fear not. The original farmhouse, dating to when the estate was a working farm, is now a cosy B&B with seven en suite double bedrooms, located right next door to the visitor centre and farm shop. A full English, naturally, is served every morning in the conservatory.
Run it all off
Alternatively, for those who preferred to run it all off, there was the annual Run Bacchus marathon on the Sunday. The 26.2-mile course skirts the estate twice, and instead of picking up water, runners grab glasses of wine at the 12 stages – a concept borrowed from the Marathon du Médoc, a run held every year since 1985 in the Bordeaux wine region. (Kelly Walsh, events manager at Denbies, assured me there would also be water for those worried that their run might turn into a stagger.) And for the truly temperate among us, there was a shorter, half-marathon with six glasses along the way. Better still was what awaited the tired, and quite possibly tipsy, runners at the end: a hog roast. The perfect way to finish.
• Denbies Farmhouse B&B from £110 a night for two sharing – see Denbies.co.uk