Just outside of London, the sleepy county of Suffolk is home to a growing set of small-scale vintners producing increasingly sought-after wines.
The landscapes made famous by Constable in his paintings of rural East Anglia are more widely associated with arable farming, and beer- or cider-making (Adnams, Aspall) than they are viticulture. But as the grape harvest season begins next week, the pastures and vales of Suffolk (the sleepy county between Cambridge and London) are proving an increasingly fertile ground for small-scale winemakers and enthusiasts who are increasingly heading there to sample their wares.
Much of the production takes place around the historic market of town of Bury St. Edmunds. Near here, at Giffords Hall, Guy and Linda Howard have been making wine for 30 years. They wax lyrical about the “hedgerow quality” of the wines and the wonderful Bacchus grape (a white varietal that’s a little like a Sauvignon Blanc) that flourishes in this region. It may yet do for the county what it has done for Kent further south in terms of accolades (try the bottles from Shawsgate).
Though Giffords operates very much as an artisan house, the owners are currently crowd-funding a red-wine-making venture and starting to export their wines (lauded by the IWC last year) way beyond the bars of excellent local hotels (such as Tuddenham Mill) with requests coming in from Tokyo and Hong Kong as well as Switzerland, whose own light, floral wines have much in common with Suffolk productions.
The East Anglia wine region has more than 30 winemakers now, and Pinot Noir is one of the most recent plantings they’ve explored. The Bacchus and Madeleine Angevine have become the signature English varieties produced here, but vintners have seen success with Chardonnay, Reichensteiner, Huxelrebe, Shonburger, Seyval, Faber, Rondo and latterly, Pinot blanc and Solaris.
Not far away from Giffords, down narrow country lanes traversed more by tractors than cars, on an historic estate that’s now a large sheep farm as well as vineyard, two award-winning wines, Bacchus and the sparkling Moonshine, are served at the Leaping Hare restaurant.
Here, dishes such as wyken venison with braised cabbage and beetroot jus are served in a 14th-century barn that reflects the ethos of wine-making on the Wyken estate (pictured), an old-fashioned one that also keeps an eye on the future, resulting in a quintessential country experience where visitors can eat local food, meander around ancient walled gardens, or just pick up an artfully designed bottle (each embossed with the leaping hare) to take away.
At Valley Farm near the sleepy village of Wissett, new owners Elaine Heeler and Vanessa Tucker have swapped the bright lights of Manchester for wellies, vines, and a refreshingly non-commercial approach. Nevertheless, they’re hoping to entice novices with new personalized tours and tastings, plus the launch of a pinot gris, next year.
The site also has accommodation, in a shiplap barn (the area is good for walking too) and the enthusiastic duo are raising awareness of their traditional little plot at this week’s Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival—a fantastic celebration of Suffolk’s local produce and culinary endeavors, with fringe events taking place from now until October 11.
Emily Mathieson is on the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure. Based in London, you can follow her at @emilymtraveled.