If you have children and love wine (I wouldn’t dare to suggest the two are connected) you may feel that the days of sipping a glass of alcohol and discussing how it feels in the mouth are in the past. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Because as our national wine industry has grown in stature, the experience of in-house wine tasting has also become more refined. In recent years it has been interesting to see our vineyards improve the visitor experience to be more like the superstar wineries of California and South Africa.
Some of our largest UK wineries are family run, with owners seeing the appeal of entertaining younger visitors. It adapts to even the smallest vineyards to offer a wide range of experiences. Recently, in a small vineyard called Secret Valley in Somerset, we stayed in a lodge with its own hot tub and woke up to see the dew clinging to the vines. The kids met our neighbors that morning – alpacas, donkeys and ponies – while later we adults enjoyed wine tasting from the comfort of the lodge. Think of all the fun of Center Parcs without the high price tag.
This type of experience is becoming more and more common, so – having just celebrated English Wine Week (June 18-26) – we have listed eight vineyards that offer fun for families on holiday in the English countryside. Bring a map to your family and look for wine tasting flights that you can sample independently, perhaps while the kids have sat drinking their sweet treat or grape juice in the vineyard café. As they say, parenting is all about balance.
For the wonders of building lego
Denbies Vineyard, Surrey
Depending on when you visit Denbies, little ones might be staring at swooping birds of prey or being busy building things out of Legos. The winery, which is one of the UK’s largest producers, organizes fun events which must be booked before a visit. Lego sessions are held occasionally on Sundays, while a miniature train takes children on a nature trail every Wednesday in the summer. Go through scenic lookout points where they can spot everything from bat boxes to badgers and weasels, ticking bird sightings on a map.
Drinking: Denbies Greenfields is an award-winning sparkling wine that has baked apple aromas and a toasty character
To remain: Denbies Hotel (01306 876616, denbies.co.uk) is said to be carbon neutral and offers garden views and rooms from £ 155 per night
For tree house adventures
Cute rare breed animals will face a storm with children visiting the 42 acres of Bluestones, with possible animal feeding encounters and occasional pig races. The adventure playground here includes a zipline and tree house, and the self-guided tour – through 10 acres of vineyards – is open to all. Includes a map and signs and ends with a self-guided tasting.
Drinking: Bluestones’ 2017 vintage classic cuvée has flavors of lemon tart and toasted nuts
To remain: The Vineyard has a family-friendly hostel on site, or try the thatched-roof Red Lion Freehouse (01980 671124; redlionfreehouse.com) with fantastic food and rooms from £ 160 per night
For exotic creatures
Halfpenny Green, Staffordshire
With reptiles including horned chameleons and unusual mammals like a jaguarundi cat, this estate’s wild zoo is the first port of call for children. Once the kids are fed up, parents can take everyone on a self-guided tour of the 30 acres of vineyards used to create award-winning wine.
Drinking: The pinot noir Halfpenny Green 2019 is earthy and soft, with notes of cherry, strawberry and vanilla; halfpennygreen.co.uk
To remain: The Red Lion Inn (01384 221237; redlioninn.co.uk) is a traditional pub nearby, with 16 rooms from £ 80 per night
For alpacas and deer
Bardfield Vineyard, Essex
A family of fluffy alpacas welcomes children to this small but respected organic vineyard in a former medieval deer park. Children can feed the animals at certain times. A self-guided path explores the hectare of vineyards, plus there is a lovely fenced garden. Midweek tours are followed by wine tastings conducted in a Grade I rated barn.
Drinking: The 2018 award-winning Bardfield Bacchus is a dry white with elderflower aromas and a crunchy finish
To remain: The converted black wooden barns in Bardfield (01371 810776; greatlodge.co.uk) house stylish self-catering lodges with rooms from £ 80 per night
For treasure hunts
Brissenden Vineyard, Kent
A hit for locals during the pandemic, seasonal treasure trails continued in Brissenden to encourage little ones to explore the vineyard. Groups of families can camp among the seven acres of vineyards and enjoy a dedicated lawn for games such as rounders, soccer, and badminton. There is also a fire pit for cozy evenings. Families who simply prefer to have a tasting can book private bespoke vineyard tours, including activities to keep the kids busy.
Drinking: Brissenden Sparkling Brut is produced with pinot noir grapes and left on the lees for at least two years
To remain: The vineyard campsite (brissendenvineyard.com) has four pitches, showers and a sheltered kitchen area, starting at £ 750 for three nights
For miniature garden tractors
Secret Valley, Somerset
Rides in a caravan add a family-friendly element to the guided tours in this small vineyard, where most visitors stay in glamping accommodations. Kids can visit miniature donkeys, ponies and alpacas and the little ones will love walking around in a barn filled with mini tractors and diggers. For the more adventurous, there is an outdoor activity center next door. The caravan tours end with a wine tasting, with games for children.
Drinking: Secret Valley white wine is perfectly balanced with sweet and refreshing citrus scents and a clean, dry finish
To remain: Secret Valley (01278 671945; secret-valley.co.uk) has lodges with hot tubs for six from £ 215 per night
Discover our Somerset guide
For mountain bikes and pygmy goats
Kenton Park, Devon
Teens 14 years of age and older can ride the Exe Estuary Cycle Trail on the new electric mountain bikes available for hire at Kenton Park. Younger children, meanwhile, will enjoy the pygmy goats, sheep and ducks on the lake, before the family retreats to one of Kenton’s thatched dining huts so parents can enjoy a relaxing tasting of wines while the children play.
Drinking: Motley Cru Cheeky Fizz is produced in the style of prosecco with the Charmat method
To remain: Nearby Lympstone Manor (lympstonemanor.co.uk) is a luxury country hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant and rooms from £ 395 per night
Discover our guide to Devon
For a sculpture park and a miniature Edwardian village
Leonardslee Gardens, Sussex
Along with England’s first pinotage vineyard, Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens offers a sculpture park, a wallaby enclosure and a miniature Edwardian village, with adorable dollhouse figures. Kids’ favorite vineyard tastings are likely to be chocolate pairings – save some for yourself. The lessons on how to open a bottle of wine with a saber are best left to the adults, though. Families can order picnics and pick them up from a clock tower.
Drinking: Leonardslee Rosé is made with syrah and sauvignon blanc and has a distinctive acidity
To remain: The South Lodge Hotel (01403 891711; Exclusive.co.uk) is minutes away, with an elegant spa, quality restaurant and stylish rooms from £ 375 per night
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