Experience vineyard life and discover award-winning local wines
This year, and as Sussex has been appointed a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for wine, at Sussex Exclusive we’re celebrating our Sussex wine heritage. And in this second in our series of Sussex wine tour suggestions, we explore Ditching, Ashdown Forest and Mayfield.
You can find the first of our wine tours here: West Sussex Wine Tour
Our central Sussex wine tour starts in Ditchling, just north of Brighton where there is a veritable cluster of exceptional vineyards. Ditchling may be small, but it is perfectly formed and has some good reasons to visit in addition to the wine. The village dates back to about 765 AD and is perhaps most famous for being owned by King Alfred the Great! By 1068 it was recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to William de Warenne.
Ditchling Garden Manor (just opposite the church) was gifted to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from King Henry VIII. Although she never lived there, it is a striking and beautiful Tudor building. To the side of the church, is Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft which celebrates, in part, the life and work of sculptor and letter cutter Eric Gill and the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a local community of artists and craftsmen, including painters, silversmiths, sculptors, ceramicists and weavers.
No visit to Ditchling is complete without a hike up the South Downs and Ditchling Beacon. The beacon is the highest point in East Sussex and was the site of an Iron Age hill fort, which, if you know what you’re looking for, you can still make out. It’s now owned by the National Trust.
Vineyards in Ditchling
A Sussex wine big gun and winner of the IWSC winemaker of the year 2018, Ridgeview have been established for over 25 years and were one of England’s first wineries. They produce sparkling wine from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes. Ridgeview is well stocked across the county, and they also offer “The Ridgeview Experience” which includes a tour of the vineyard, winery and cellars followed by a tasting overlooking the South Downs. This summer (2022), they are opening a brand new, all-weather outdoor venue for dining and wine tasting.
Court Gardens is on a site that dates back to Saxon times when it was the Manor of Ditchling Garden. The vineyard was established in 2005 and is a 17-acre, family vineyard growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier for the production of sparkling wine, and also Pinot Gris, Ortega, Rondo and Pinot Blanc for use in still wine. Two rare old varieties of Arbanne and Petit Meslier are grown as well. Court Garden has won both national and international awards, including the IWC Trophy for Best English Sparkling Wine awarded to their Blanc de Blanc 2010 Vintage in 2015. They offer two different guided tours, plus a self-guided tour and a tasting-only tour as well as a picnic lunch option.
Black Dog Hill
Named after a local legend (about a black dog that roams the hills), this family-run vineyard within the Ditchling Beacon also has a cellar door in Ditchling village. They produce vintage Classic Cuvée using their own Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes combined with the talents of well-known winemaker, Dermot Sugrue. Their wines have won a number of awards including IWSC Gold in 2015. You can arrange a tour by appointment, and they deliver locally for free. You can also taste and buy their wines at their brewery at Morehouse Farm in nearby Wivelsfield.
Bee Tree Vineyard
Just north of Ditchling at Wivelsfield Green, Bee Tree is an independent, family-run vineyard. They are all about ethically and sustainably grown fruit and are certified by the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain committee. They produce a mixture of sparkling and still wine and although they don’t offer tours as yet, you can buy from their shop.
The next leg of your central Sussex wine tour takes you north to Ashdown Forest. This is an area of ancient and open heathland within the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has views across Sussex and has played an important role in our Sussex life since prehistoric times. Today it covers 9.5 square miles and is ideal for short walks or longer hikes. It’s also famous for being the setting for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and has its own windmill at Nutley. Nearby places to visit include the Bluebell Railway, Wakehurst Place and Standen House (a National Trust) property.
There are a couple of fabulous local places to stay too which include Buxted Park Hotel and Ashdown Park Hotel and there is a visitor centre at Wych Cross, near Forest Row.
Vineyards near Ashdown Forest
Bluebell Vineyard Estate
In between North Chailey and Danehill, Bluebell Vineyard Estates is home to “Hindleap” sparkling wines and “Ashdown” still wines. Once home to thousands of Large Whites and Landrace pigs, there are now over 130,000 vines growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Seyval Blanc Vines. They offer three tours /tasting experiences namely: Wine Tastings, Public Vineyard and Winery Tours (described as a “true ‘grape to glass’ experience) and a Wine & Cheese Tour.
Kingscote Estate and Vineyard
A family-owned vineyard just to the north of Ashdown Forest, the 160-acre estate at Kingscote has 70 acres of vines and several different varieties of grape. They have been operating organically since 2019 and they produce still and sparkling wine. You can also stay in their beautifully refurbished coach house, and they offer a variety of tours and tastings as well as fishing and what they call their Bottomless Brunch: Sunday Brunch, with as many glasses of bubbles as your heart desires accompanied by a feast of local produce and homemade Brunch treats; sweet pastries, savoury baked goodies, Greek yogurt with fresh berries, honey and granola, home-baked banana bread and more. Soaked in history, the farmhouse itself was built in 1320 as an Iron Master’s house, while the new visitor centre is in an original 15th century Tithe barn.
To the east of Ashdown Forest, and just between Hadlow Down and Crowborough, Downsview was planted in 2010. They have a mixture of grapes including Dornfelder, Bacchus and Ortega, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. They make their wines and some ciders in their purpose-built winery, powered by renewable energy. They offer a tour of their vineyard and winery, followed by a tasting during which you’ll learn about growing vines in England, and the winemaking process for both still and sparkling wine. They also have four bell tents in a little orchard next to the vines with a fire pit and a welcome glass of Downsview wine.
This last part of our central Sussex wine tour takes you to Mayfield, a picturesque and historic village only a stone’s throw from Royal Tunbridge Wells. Steeped in local legend and folklore about Mayfield, St Dunstan and the devil, Mayfield predates the Doomsday book.
Dominating the town is the school which was once the site of a palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it’s believed that Elizabeth I was entertained here. The village also has a smuggling past, and the Mayfield Gang (with their leader Gabriel Tomkins) were known as non-violent “owlers” (wool smugglers). The Middle House in the High Street has numerous tales of its own – from secret priest holes and prison cells to murders and suicides, and the Mayfield Gang are believed to have used a number of tunnels that run under the village one of which ends in the wine cellar of The Middle House.
Other properties of note in the village include the 18th century Stone House, Yeoman’s (an early 15th century Wealden Hall), and 15th century Walnut Tree House. If you’re looking for things to do, head to Royal Tunbridge Wells for shopping and theatres, or towards Argos Hill and the town’s windmill for a hearty walk. Mayfield also holds its own music and arts festival each spring. Nearby, Heathfield has a spring “Cuckoo” fair, as well as a sizeable agricultural show in May and a Cuckoo cycling trail.
For places to stay, Tudor House in the village itself is a charismatic central point or for something different, try the luxurious and utterly beautiful tree house at Heavenly Hoots just outside the village.
Vineyards in Mayfield
Fox and Fox
Just outside Mayfield, Fox and Fox is another family vineyard where they have been producing wine since 2009. They grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot gris. Their emphasis is on minimal intervention in the vineyard and light manipulation in the winery with a “desire to create interesting and delicious cuvées for wine lovers and occasional drinkers alike”. They’ve won multiple awards for their wines, and although they don’t offer tours yet, you can buy online.
This is perhaps one of the smallest vineyards in Sussex with just five acres. Situated in Blackboys just outside Uckfield, they now have a cellar door and are also offering monthly tours, with tasting of two sparkling and one still wine. They also offer bespoke private tours with a selection of deli-style platters and homemade scones to accompany their range.
Hollow Lane Vineyard
A small family-run vineyard, near Uckfield, the first vines were planted here in 2011. They now have 5600 vines and produce sparkling wine at their onsite winery. They also now have a wine tasting area and host vineyard tours and wine tasting, and you can also order a picnic.
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