England – beautiful as it is, would you think of it as a good place for a cellar door?  Well the truth is that people have been making wine in England of one sort or another for centuries.  The climate is a problem being so cool – English wine makers are limited to little known English grape varieties and those that are typically found in German vineyards, so the wines made are almost always white.  But over the years wine quality has been getting better and better to the point where English producers of sparkling wine are now picking up some serious gongs for their efforts – try and track down a bottle of Nyetimber.

I was in the UK recently and couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a cellar door visit.  In the local area was Denbies – Dorking, in the heart of the Surrey Hills, UK.

Denbies cellar door and visitor centre

The first two things you notice about Denbies is that it is BIG and full of PEOPLE.  I’m not kidding.  The physical size of the building itself dwarves most of the cellar doors on the Mornington Peninsula.  I was there on a Saturday which I imagine is one of their busier days, but even so there were a lot of people there – doing what?  Well, you begin to appreciate what Denbies is all about as soon as you walk in the front doors.  This is not a cellar door – this is a multi-level retail, entertainment and food experience.  The gift shop alone covers more acreage than some of the Peninsula’s boutique wineries.  You can go on vineyard tours in a tractor train, there are two restaurants available, there are conference facilities, you can even get married there – it goes on and on.

I didn’t want to spend £9.50 (2012) on a wine tour – I just wanted to taste.  After wandering around racks of novelty mugs, displays of tea towels, pyramids made from jams and pickles and a stand which I think was Olympic 2012 memorabilia I found a hand written note on a black board propped up in a corner – three wines to taste.  Brilliant!  I think I tried the Ranmore Hill, Ortega and Bacchus – I was probably verging on delerious by this stage – and bought bottles of Surrey Gold and Redlands.

It is hard to draw parallels between these wines and those I typically find on the Peninsula – the climate and varieties are so different.  I don’t think I’ve ever come across a variety called Dornfelder before, or Ortega for that matter.  What I can say is that I did enjoy the Surrey Gold and the Ortega.  At around £10 a bottle or less I think they represent good value compared to other wines available in the local supermarkets – and that is wine from just about every wine producing country in the world.  Redlands though – Pinot Noir and Dornfelder – I don’t think I’ll be going back there again, but then I am very spoilt when it comes to Pinot Noir.

In summary then, if you’re near Dorking, do pay Denbies a visit.  It is a great example of how to make wine interesting and accessible to the general public.  I wish them every success.

Q moving to S