There’s a new vineyard in town (well, less in town and more in county) and it’s lush. Arriving just before sunset, you can sit on a quiet terrace, right next to the vines, supping on an award-winning Sussex sparkling wine, and knowing that a beautiful, soft bed awaits you just across the lawn, in one of the lodges. But of course, not before you have enjoyed a superb evening meal upstairs overlooking the vineyard.
This is the reality of the super stylish Ashling Park Estate vineyard just west of Chichester and just south of the South Downs which opened last year. There’s a lot going on here, and if this all sounds pretty good, just wait until you discover their new gin school.
Secrets and science
In a stylish room, on the ground floor of the restaurant and cellars, you’ll find a dozen or so small copper stills, and Sarah, your teacher. Welcome to gin school where you’re going to learn about the craft of gin making and mixing botanicals, the history of gin, and a whole load of fascinating anecdotes. Sarah clearly knows her junipers and her genièvres but take no notice of the illustration by William Hogarth of Gin Lane on the wall. Gin may be a mother’s ruin after all, but some of us mothers really don’t care!
The gin school experience takes about three hours and yes, there is tasting. This is serious stuff wrapped up in a very fun ribbon. First, you’ve got to learn about heating the gin and which core botanicals you need for a base-level, palatable gin. Then you get to experiment with a choice of 20 more botanicals (with Sarah’s guidance of course) while you taste the spirit as the distilled version drips into a bowl. This is the science part with important percentages and temperatures to perfect but don’t worry, because you get an exercise book to work through. Why don’t they teach science this way at school, you’re probably asking.
While the scientific bit does its stuff, it’s time to taste other gins, as Sarah teaches you about learning to taste and smell your gin, and getting the most of the flavours and tonics. Gin school is, she explains, a very sensory experience. And she’s not wrong. Suddenly, gins that you’ve probably drunk all your life without much thought, seem to taste very different as you get your head around the floral, savoury and citrusy flavours. And when your gin is finally complete, you can even design your own label and take home two bottles of your very own handcrafted gin to enjoy.
What makes it even more special?
I’m glad you asked because the answer is quite a lot. This is a 100% Sussex experience. Ashling Park make their own gin using the leftover pressings from their grapes (all grown in county). In fact, the owner reassures me that all their produce comes from within a 15-mile radius. They even have their own bees. What else makes it special? If you bore of gin, or you’re with someone who isn’t a gin lover, you can sit on the terrace with a bottle of bubbles. And it’s dog friendly (yes, even the lodges) with walks around the vineyard and easy access to Kingley Vale and the South Downs. What’s more, if nobody wants to drive, don’t. Stay the night in one of their delightful and well-equipped lodges. And far from being an ice-cool corporate affair, this is a family business run by Gail Gardner, so by drinking gin, you are truly supporting local.
A gin-making experience costs £160 for two people (including your take-homes) and you can book here. Somehow, I suspect I’ll be back.
If you’re in the Chichester area, why not have a look at: