For centuries the West Country has been synonymous with cider, and orchards are such a part of the historic patchwork of landscape there are many efforts to preserve or replace them, for both our benefit and the incredible wildlife value.
However, when those wily Romans came, they brought not only edible snails and lettuce (thanks, Romans) but also wine. Winemaking continued at least until the Norman Conquest, with 40 vineyards listed in the Domesday Book, and this has undergone something of a boom in recent years.
The soils, climate and rainfall especially seem to suit sparkling wines, and at recent awards ceremonies English wines have often outperformed Champagne in blind tastings. With our south-facing slopes, mild winters and perfectly suited geology, the Jurassic Coast has several vineyards and producers, and many will take great pride in giving tours and tastings.
One of the quirkiest set-ups has to be Dalwood Vineyard, which, like so many life-changing ideas, came out of a drunken discussion in the local pub! A group of locals decided to have a go at producing their own wine, so in 2009 they acquired 2 acres from a local farmer (rent payable in sparkling wine), spent a lot of their savings doing soil testing etc, and planted 3000 vines. 2013 was their first vintage – not a bad one, as their Sparkling Brut won a bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards!
This was not just beginners luck – they have gone on to win other awards, and you can find out why as they run tours and tastings, and the wine is available in selected local shops (Dalwood, Colyford Village Stores, Miller’s Farm Shop, The Tuckers Arms, Seriously Good Wine in Lyme Regis and Bartlett’s in Gittisham). Their output is still small, however, and as they all keep a certain amount for personal stash, and to reward friends and family who help them pick, you may have to seek it out.
Furleigh Estates produce red, white, rose and sparkling wine, both grown on their own vineyard and also using grapes from other smaller Dorset vineyards who are purely growers. Situated near Salway Ash, just north of Bridport, they run regular tours, which naturally involve a tutored tasting back at the winery. They also run events, such as their Harvest Grand Tour & Lunch this weekend (Sat 14th October), and their Harvest Supper on 2nd November 2017. Tickets for tours and tastings can be bought online, as can wine and vouchers, gift boxes etc, and there is also a wine club for people who want to learn more and get more involved. Great Christmas present idea, perhaps?
Another big winery in the area is Lyme Bay Winery. Based at Shute, between Axminster and the sea, it is a long established winery, making a wide range of fruit wines, ciders, hedgerow liqueurs, grape wines and also mead, the honey wine so beloved of Friar Tuck and his friends! Their Mulled Wine and Mulled Cider are very easy options for Christmas entertaining (and good value, too), and can be heated up quickly in an emergency hospitality situation!
Their Brut Rose won a Silver medal at the Sparkling Wine & Champagne World Championships in 2016, and they have a good range of award-winning ciders, too. The shop is well stocked with all the wines, liqueurs and ciders, and tastings are available before you buy.
One of our largest local vineyards is not open to the general public yet, but tours can be booked by arrangement. Wodetone Vineyard in Wootton Fitzpaine was planted in 2007 with 26,000 vines covering 30 acres of south-facing slopes, and the grapes have just been harvested and sent off to Furleigh Estate for the wine-makers to work their magic.
Nigel and Mary have recently opened up their beautiful farmhouse as a B&B, with two large, comfortable rooms with stunning views across the farmland down to the sea at Charmouth. The setting is perfect for tasting the fruits of their labour, and gets sun from sunrise to sunset, with a secluded picnic area to really relax and soak up the atmosphere.
Lots of our local farm shops, delis, wine merchants and food fairs sell local wines as well as the local beers, ciders and even gins, vodkas and brandys that are now made in the area, so why not branch out a bit, leave the New Zealand Sauvignon or Argentinian Malbec for a night, and try a bit of Devon or Dorset for a change?