If you’ve been following our wine tour series, you’ll know we’re very much in love with the Sussex wine scene. And why wouldn’t we be? Sussex vineyards are producing some outstanding wines, which now include not just sparkling wine but stills, rosés and even reds, and this is our suggestion for yoru very own East Sussex wine tour.
Wine is not new to Sussex and was produced here by the Romans but as our new wine heritage takes root, a vibrant wine culture is developing too which includes tastings, tours, and all sorts of other wine-associated activities. And what better way to discover and explore the many delights of Sussex, than by including local vineyards in any tour or visit? So, with this in mind, this is our three-stop guide to exploring the best of East Sussex and its winemakers and wineries.
A cinque port that dates back to Saxon times, Rye is famous for its picturesque, cobbled streets, its smuggling history, the beautiful if a little haunted Mermaid Inn, its castle and its hundreds of years of history. It’s a well-trodden stop on the tourist trail but is always a pleasure to visit, whether you’re interested in the literary history of Lamb House, climbing the tower of St Mary’s church, or just exploring the old parts of the town.
Things to do around Rye
There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area too. The fabulous grounds and house at Great Dixter and the Kent and East Sussex Railway (steam trains) are just a short drive away at Northiam. Camber Sands offers days on the beach or walks on nearby Romney Marshes, and Rye Nature Reserve and Camber Castle are within walking distance of the town.
Places to stay in and around Rye
There are some really fabulous places to pick for an overnight stay here. The Mermaid Inn in the centre of Rye is perhaps the most famous, whilst on the fringes of the town, you can stay in Rye Windmill. Alternatively, stay in a railway carriage at the Northiam Railway Retreat or stay at one of the vineyards. Tillingham Vineyard is down a sleepy lane, 5 miles from Rye and has recently refurbished rooms and a restaurant.
Try our pick of three fabulous vineyards in the area.
Charles Palmer Vineyards, Winchelsea
Just outside Winchelsea is Wickham Manor, a National Trust-owned, 16th century Manor House with an estate that probably dates back to the 12th century. In the 17th century, it was owned by Pennsylvania founder, William Penn but you might recognise it as having been the setting of the film Mr Holmes featuring Sir Ian McKellen.
Home to the Palmer family, their Charles Palmer Vineyards offer cellar door tours and tastings. They have been producing a range of sparkling wines here since 2016 and now also produce still wine. They have won a number of prestigious awards with 2017 and 2018 being notable vintages. You can also stay at the Manor and walk their Vineyard Trail. This is a stunningly beautiful spot and a great way to start any Sussex vineyard tour.
Not far from Peasmarsh, on a mixed farm which dates from the 13th century, Tillingham Vineyard is home to fruit trees, ancient woodland and livestock, as well as their vines. The recently renovated farmstead provides a place for visitors to stay and enjoy the produce of the farm and the local area. They describe themselves as progressive with a highly sustainable approach, “championing ancient traditions and best practice learnt from millennia of farming and winemaking” to create unique wines. They have a tasting room and offer tours and tastings run daily by appointment. They first planted their vines in 2018 and make a number of different wines including sparkling, a white blend, an orange wine, and a rosé. It’s very peaceful here and a super place to just relax and unwind.
Oxney Organic Estate
With vineyards in Beckley, Oxney is the largest producer of English organic wine. They have 35 acres of vines, and their winery is housed in a converted Grade II listed square oast house where they produce award-winning still and sparkling wines. You can stay here too including at Vineyard House, a picturesque cottage or in a shepherd’s hut, and they offer tours and tastings including a picnic option. This is another idyllic corner of East Sussex, and a great chance to learn about organic winemaking.
12 miles north of Hastings, Robertsbridge is small but pretty and dates back to the arrival of Cistercian monks in the 12th century. By the 13th century it was a prosperous town. It may still be small, but there is lots to see and do in the surrounding area.
Things to do near Robertsbridge
To the east is Bodiam Castle, a 14th century moated castle now owned by the National Trust. It’s great for history lovers or those after an Instagram shot and just down the road is Bodiam Boating Station where you can hire a kayak or canoe. South of Robertsbridge and you come to 1066 county and historic Battle Abbey and the battleground of the Battle of Hastings. There’s also a 1066 trail you can walk with sculptures to discover along the way. South west of Robertsbridge and you arrive at Brightling, and a series of extraordinary follies made by an infamous local resident known as Mad Jack Fuller. The follies include a pyramid-style tomb and a sugar cone!
Places to stay in Robertsbridge
It’s worth starting your search for somewhere to stay here on Airbnb. Check out the Hobbit House built by local craftsman from local materials and buried into a bank at Oastbrook Vineyard. Or Tiny Home, an Americana-style cabin made with reclaimed materials, hidden away in a small, secluded wood. Alternatively, The George Inn in the village is a traditional 18th century coaching inn or if you want to go top-notch, head to Hastings and the elegant Bannatyne Spa Hotel.
For this leg of your East Sussex wine tour, try these three exceptional vineyards.
Oastbrook Estate Vineyards
Vines here were first planted in 2018 in the grounds of a beautiful old oast house where they practice sustainable winegrowing and winemaking. They offer tours of the vineyards with tasting at the end and also have a children’s vineyard tour. On top of this, they host various other events, including Fine Wine and Dining events, and a wine club. They make a range of still and sparkling wines and in addition to their Hobbit House, you can stay at their Waterside Lodge. It’s a beautiful spot to spend some time.
Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard
Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard is the oldest organic wine estate in England comprising 22 acres of organically certified vineyards, having been established in 1979. They produce an extensive and award-winning range of white, rosé, red and sparkling wines – all certified either organic or biodynamic and suitable for both vegetarians and vegans. They also produce fruit wines, fruit juices and farmhouse ciders. They have a Vineyard & Woodland Nature trail for ramblers and dog walkers, a café and shop, and offer tours and tastings.
With the winery in an old dairy unit and tasting rooms in the converted stables, this relatively new vineyard has 14,000 vines of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Planted in 2012, in the grounds of a beautiful house and an estate that dates back to the Domesday Book, their first 2015 Class Cuvée was released last year. They hold various events including pop-up events.
Another hopelessly pretty Sussex village, Alfriston also appeared in the Domesday Book and has a rich history of smugglers, monks and pilgrims. The Star Inn, now owned by TV personality Alex Polizzi and her mother, was originally a religious hostel built in 1345 and used to accommodate monks and pilgrims on their way from Battle Abbey to Chichester Cathedral.
Things to do in Alfriston
Start in the beautiful village bookshop and lose yourself for a while and then step back in time at the village store. Next, head over to the National Trust owned Clergy House, and then when you’re ready, head up on to the South Downs for some amazing walks. There are two giant figures carved into the chalk face of the South Downs in this part of the world, The Long Man at Wilmington to the north of Alfriston and the White Horse at Lullington, to the south. You’re also only a short distance from the picturesque Cuckmere Haven where you can enjoy gentle water sports and stunning views.
A little further afield and you have Herstmonceux, a magnificent moated castle, set in 550 acres of glorious parkland and superb Elizabethan gardens, and Michelham Priory founded in 1229 as an Augustinian Priory. And if you’ve had enough of wine (really, is that even possible?), you could visit the Long Man Brewery or the Harley House Distillery for a taste of local craft beer and spirits.
Places to stay in Alfriston
The Star Inn has been beautifully refurbished, has a superb restaurant and is in the heart of the village. Alex Polizzi occasionally runs guided walks for guests. Just on the edge of the village is Dean’s Place Hotel, a beautiful 17th century property of historical significance with a great restaurant. Alternatively, book into Ye Olde Smugglers Inn, which dates back to 1358, is Grade II listed, and comes complete with tales of ghosts and hidden passageways.
Vineyards near Alfriston
Conclude your East Sussex wine tour with these three vineyards.
In this part of the world you probably have to start your wine tasting with one of the big guns. Rathfinny sits just south of Alfriston, high on the South Downs and is approached by a long and impressive drive through the vineyards. Established in 2010, they have a new tasting room and restaurant. They describe their methods as low-intervention and traditional and offer tours and tastings including special harvest “Dosage Tastings” and winter tours. Their new Hut is a walk-in bar with views of the South Downs, and you can also do a self-guided tour.
Off the Line
Head north east from Alfriston to Hellingly and the Off The Line Vineyard. This is a vineyard with a difference as the focus is on the production of rosé. The first vines were planted in 2014 and they grow Pinot Noir, Regent, Dornfelder and Rondo.
The vineyard is next to the Old Cuckoo Line, a branch railway line that once ran between Polegate and Edridge. These days it’s a well-maintained cycle route. They have a purpose-built cedar-clad winery and offer pre-booked guided tours and tastings and a self-guided walk at weekends from May until September.
Nestled next to the Pevensey Levels Nature Reserve and not far from the sea, Henners Vineyard was established in the picturesque village of Herstmonceux in 2007. Planted with the three classic sparkling grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, they also take a non-interventionist approach and alongside tours and tastings, host a series of seasonal events throughout the year. They recently featured on the BBC series Countryfile and make sparkling wines, rosé and their own gin.
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