The newly-launched English wine and cycle route takes in vineyards along the South Downs and beyond
When you think about the major wine regions of the world, where springs to mind? Franschhoek or Stellenbosch? The Napa Valley? Bordeaux? England might not come top of the list but it’s certainly starting to tick the wine tourism boxes pretty darn well.
The UK is now producing wines that rival some of the best in the world (and winning international awards to prove it) and an increasing number of vineyards are investing in the visitor experience with on-site restaurants and accommodation.
Some are even joining forces with other vineyards and local businesses to create exciting partnerships, which offer much more than the standard tour and tasting.
One such recent collaboration is being led by The Great Sussex Way (TGSW), the organisation responsible for managing tourism in the Chichester District. Supported by NFU Mutual, The Great Sussex Way Wine Tour, brings together some of West Sussex’s top vineyards by providing suggested cycle routes between them and activities to do along the way.
“In West Sussex, we produce the finest wines in England so it is fantastic to offer visitors a unique way to enjoy our award-winning vineyards. As the capital of English Sparkling Wine, it is incumbent on us to take the lead and bring these phenomenal wineries together to offer the full grape to grass experience,” says Danielle Dunfold, CEO of TGSW.
“The Great Sussex Wine Tour has been designed holistically to encompass our brilliant local businesses. Visitors can create their perfect get away with stop-offs at our classic country pubs, farm shops and much more.”
Routes for all
The route has three sections offering a range of difficulties, landscapes and cycling styles; a 14km relatively flat ride between Tinwood Estate and Ashling Park; a challenging 35km off and on-road ride from Ashling Park to Upperton; and a steep but slightly less lengthy ride from Upperton back to Tinwood.
To make navigating the sights, sounds and tastes of this new wine route through the heart of the South Downs National Park a little easier, TGSW has teamed up with specialist electric bike company Southern eBike Rentals to provide expert and GPS guided tours.
The Southern Quarter was invited to test out the tour on what was one of the hottest days of 2021 – thankfully we only rode the shortest stretch and were very grateful for the electric boost along the way.
Following a lunch of local cheese, bread and pâté on the terrace outside Ashling Park’s new tasting room, we set off with Southern eBike Rentals co-founder, Olly Evans, for the ride to Tinwood. Olly set up the company just last year after his long career in the luxury travel sector took a nose dive due to the pandemic.
“I love cycling and when the travel industry dried up due to Covid, I started thinking about what was missing in the area and high-quality rental bikes are really hard to find,” he explained. “I’m used to working in luxury travel and that whole concierge aspect of making things easy for the traveller. That’s what we’ve tried to do with Southern e-bikes – by delivering and picking up the bikes to where the traveller might be staying, it takes the hassle out of it all and the electrical element makes it far easier for people of varying abilities to enjoy riding the incredible South Downs.”
Our journey took us past the pretty village of Lavant, stunning views of Clump and Kingley Vale and a stop at the glorious Goodwood House, before arriving at Tinwood for a tasting of their Blanc de Blanc, Brut and Rosé. sparkling wines.
Once a lettuce farm, Tinwood was planted with 46,000 vines in 2007 and now has over 100,000 spread across 65 acres with grapes being sent to Ridgeview (which Tinwood owns 25% of) to be made into sparkling wine.
Back at Ashling Park and, after our bikes were collected by Olly and his team, we proceeded to try wines from more of the area’s award-winning vineyards including Wiston Estate, Sugrue South Downs, Roebuck Estates, Blackdown Ridge and Upperton.
Wine continued to flow over dinner at Ashling Park’s new first floor restaurant overlooking the vines, including Ashling’s own double Wine GB award-winning Classic Cuvee, and by the end of the evening the estate’s five new luxury lodges, designed by William Hardie from Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces, were a welcome sight.
According to a recent report by Vinescapes, The South Downs National Park has the potential to become a centre for viticulture for the UK and, if it continues to grow at its current rate, could create 800 full-time jobs and contribute £127 million to the local economy.
I think it’s time we all started to take advantage of what a huge boost this region could be for UK tourism and the new Great Sussex Way Wine Tour is a fantastic place to start.
For more visit thegreatsussexway.org