Plantings of the South African grape sit among stunning lakes and woodland at Leonardslee Gardens, Horsham
England is known for growing certain types of grape. In the early days of modern British viticulture, hybrids such as Seyval Blanc and German crosses like Müller-Thurgau and Bacchus dominated.
By the late 1980s, we began planting the traditional Champagne trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, making our now world famous English sparkling wine but single varietal and blended still wines from these grapes.
Our talented wine makers continue to experiment with different grape varieties and in 2018, Zimbabwean born, British/South African entrepreneur Penny Streeter OBE planted the UK’s first Pinotage Vineyard at the beautiful Grade I listed Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens near Horsham.
The picturesque gardens, which opened again last year following a 10-year restoration project, and were once owned by the great Victorian plant collector, Sir Edmund Loder, who imported trees and shrubs from all over the world.
Famed for outstanding displays of Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias, Magnolias, Bluebells, a beautiful ornamental rock garden and impressive valley of adjoining lakes surrounded by majestic woodland, the 240-acre estate also features a deer park and wallaby enclosure, situated right next to the Pinotage vineyard.
What is Pinotage?
Pinotage is a South African grape crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault (Hermitage). It was first created in South Africa by Professor Abraham Perold, who wanted to create a wine as delicious as Pinot Noir but with the growing potential of Cinsault.
The result was an early ripening grape that is able to reach decent sugar levels before winter sets in. It also has a thicker skin than Pinot Noir so is more resistant to rot and disease.
This year was the first harvest at Leonardslee Lakes and Garden’s one acre experimental planting, which the estate is using to evaluate the suitability of the growing conditions in Sussex. Penny, who has owned the Leonardslee since 2017, was inspired by her family’s Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate – the largest wine producer in Walker Bay, South Africa.
UK’s First Golf & Wine Estate
Penny also owns Mannings Heath – the UK’s first Golf and Wine Estate – three miles away, which has a further 37 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines. Between them, the two Sussex sites have produced an estimated 5,000 litres of grape juice this season, for some 6,500 bottles of wine.
It is expected that the first release of wine will be in 2023 but until the you can sample wine from the sister South African vineyards, overseen by cellar master Johann Fourie, from Leonardslee’s cafés and gift shop.
Leonardslee is also home to fine dining restaurant Interlude, run by South African chef Jean Delport, which won its first Michelin star within less than a year of opening. Here they serve a tasting menu of dishes created using locally-sourced produce and foraged ingredients from the gardens with wine pairings from Benguela Cove.
Tickets to visit the gardens cost £12.50 for adults and £6.50 for children. Vineyard tours and tastings start from £10. For more information visit: www.leonardsleegardens.co.uk