Muddy Reviews: Woodchester Valley Vineyard
Think France and Italy have the monopoly on dreamy vineyards, fascinating viticulture and award-winning wines? Meet the Cotswold contender putting Gloucestershire on the map as a world-class wine destination. We headed to Woodchester Valley Vineyard for a sip-and-stay experience with a difference.
It’s hard to believe what began as one teeny weeny bunch of grapes in Fiona Shiner’s back garden in 2007 today makes up 55 spectacular acres of Woodchester Valley Vineyard. Founder Fiona had a dream (and what a dream) and 14 years on that has grown into one of the best vineyards in the UK. The trained lawyer had been looking for a new hobby or career when she planted those first vines, but they took off so well – this region is fabled to have been used by those win-guzzling Romans aeons ago – the vineyards now stretch across three sites, at Amberley, Stonehouse and Woodchester.
Headed up by mum and daughter duo and passionate wine-istas Fiona and Chloe Shiner, this family-run boutique winery has been producing world-class white, rosé and sparkling wines since 2016. And despite being so new, the place has already clocked up two international gold medals (one for it’s award-winning 2018 Pinot Reserve wine).
So what can you actually do at a winery (apart from the obvious!)? You’ll want to stock up your entire wine fridge / cellar (wishful thinking) at their Cellar Door Shop, but you can also take a tour and tasting experience, including a Sparkling Tour and Tasting and a new for 2021 Classic Tour and Tasting with Lunch or Afternoon Tea and Tour. Or book in for a Vineyard Tour and Dog Walk, every third Tuesday of the month, or the Fizz & Chips evenings (erm heavenly combo alert) held throughout the year with the award-winning local Simpsons Fish and Chips.
It was to Woodchester, their main site, where I headed to spend a blissful afternoon on the Classic Vineyard Tour and Tasting Experience with a stay-over at one of the self-catering barns here. Even getting here is quite thrilling, located between Nailsworth and Stroud, the winery is tucked away at the top of a very tall hill that just seems to keep on climbing, but when you get to the top it is so worth it – you are met with mile upon mile of frondy, south-facing vines stretching out into the horizon like an enchanted corner of Bordeaux or Tuscany.
The tour started at 11am and we were greeted on the sun-drenched terrace by our friendly guides for the day Elizabeth and Harriet, armed with a tray of incredibly delicious Bacchus white wine (because it’s never too early). We had somehow managed to come on a gorgeously sunny day, so the place was divinely beautiful in the sunshine. The tour starts in the Tasting Room – a modern barn conversion with wide open doors – and once seated were given a fascinating half hour talk on the vineyard and British viticulture (that’s the study of wine I learnt!).
After the talk we took a short walk up to the glorious vines themselves, for a crash course in the life cycle of grapes – who knew it was so interesting? From how they keep them warm in our chilly British climate (they light little grape campfires) to how they handpick and collect them for harvest. You’re then taken over to the processing area to see the huge vats they’re crushed in and learn all about the grape-to-goblet process from the bottling up to how they store the wine. As it’s small site it’s really just a few minutes walk between things which makes it really accessible for everyone (we had a couple with a baby, and all ages along on ours).
SCOFF & QUAFF
When we got back to the Tasting Barn each of our tables had a lunch hamper laid out. It’s an incredible feast of cheese and charcuterie – featuring food from hyper local suppliers, including a fresh baguette from Hobbs House Bakery, the most delicious cured meats from Saltpig Curing Company, two big cheese wedges from Godsell’s Farm, handcooked crisps from Two Farmers, apples, grapes, cherry tomatoes and a moorish handmade fig relish from Kitchen Garden.
No having to race your companion to the last slice either, as the hamper was incredibly generous, enough for 3-4 people I’d even say. Plus there were gluten free and vegetarian options too you could pre-book.
As we tucked into the spread Elizabeth and Harriet come around with the different wines, a Culver Hill (dry white), a Bacchus (zesty white), a Rosé (dry with wild strawberry made from Pinot grapes) and two sparkling wines the Rosé Brut and Reserve Cuvee.
You get a fun booklet come scorecard to write down your faves and ‘tasting notes’ (mine mostly comprised of ‘yes, would drink’), with a handy crib sheet telling you all about each wine, we had lots of giggles filling it out and comparing our ‘expert’ wine notes.
To be honest the hardest task of the day was being asked to choose between them all for which one we wanted with the meal as you get a big glass of that (they are literally all so good), but we opted for the Rosé and a Reserve Cuvee in the end.
Safe to say after all that we were stuffed, but the friendly team gave us a bag to whisk the remainder away for later.
Once you’ve rolled out of the tasting room the best part is it’s only 30 short steps to Woodchester’s luxury accommodation.
You can choose from three Vineyard Barn Guest Houses all adjacent to the vineyard itself (sleeps 2), The Farmhouse Retreat (sleeps 4) or the contemporary Valley House (sleeps 12).
I was staying at the Amberley Barn and it was all levels of amazing. You get a super cool, split level conversion with a seperate living area and equipped kitchenette downstairs, all with gorgeous rustic styling (big sofas, solid wood tables, log burners) and every mod con you could want including two TVS and underfloor heating.
The place is so beautifully designed it reminded me of some of the best, luxe apartments at Chateaux getaways I’ve stayed at in the South of France it was that good.
And ohh the view from your three terraces! – you can admire never-ending vineyard views from your floor to ceiling windows or a lovely vista across the Stroud Valleys from the sunny balcony.
The superking bed I had was 5-star hotel standard, and all the little touches here really make a difference, it even had fluffy dressing gowns in the en-suite bathroom, towels placed by the sunken bath, and complimentary milk, orange and yoghurt in the fridge.
Another lovely touch was the breakfast hamper in the room – a delicious basket of local goodies including Hibbs House Sourdough, croissants, granola, jams, fruit, and a selection of the most delicious cakes.
I ate it out in the morning sunshine on the terrace overlooking the vines the next day – and it was one of the highlights of the year so far.
OUT AND ABOUT
If you really want to drag yourself away from the wine and vines there is a lot to do in the area. Visit the nearby town of Nailsworth with its independent boutiques and restaurants, or take a walk or even go e-biking on the spectacular National Trust’s Minchinhampton Common just minutes away. The town of Stroud (named Sunday Times Best Place to Live 2021) has a must-visit Farmer’s Market every Saturday that’s really worth a visit.
If you love wine you’ll adore this place. It’s an absolute gem in the Glos countryside. The visitor book shows how much people love it, with many people vowing to return. It’s Bordeaux without having to board a plane, and one of the most peaceful and beautiful spots you’ll find for a day out or getaway in the Cotswolds.
All wine lovers, this place should come with a warning you may not want to leave. Plus it’s perfect for a romantic getaway, anniversary, family escape or a girls night away as the lovely accomodation is so spacious.
To be honest we can’t imagine who wouldn’t enjoy this outstanding AONB bolthole, but perhaps not the first choice for a teetotaller or a bright lights ‘n bars seeker, it’s a sophisticated setting for those looking for a classy getaway.
A stay at Amberley Barn starts from £130 a night, and from £150 for a mid-week stay during June, August and Bank Holidays. The Classic Tour and Tasting with Lunch is £32pp.
To book a Woodchester Valley Vineyard Tour and Tasting with Lunch or to book a stay at the vineyard head to www.woodchestervalleyvineyard.co.uk or email the team at email@example.com.
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