On the tasting trail with Grape and Grain tours
By debzbinden, Dec 18 2017 01:22PM
There’s never been a more exciting time for drinks fans in the UK. Gin is booming, craft beer has gone mainstream and the English winemaking scene has exploded in the last few years. Experiences are everything and our local drinks producers are becoming more set up for booze tourism with the “Cellar Door” becoming much more common. As many vineyards, breweries and distilleries are not located in particularly handy reach of public transport though this can be a shame if you want to really experience the products properly. SO much more than a luxury taxi service (but with the added benefit of being your designated driver), the newly established The Grape & Grain tours company has the perfect solution.
Last month I was taken out to road-test a slightly condensed version of the Guildford-based Surrey Hills tour (you can also start from Winchester with a different itinerary). Typically taking in a vineyard, brewery and distillery, drinks expert Joel Eastman hosts the day so that even travelling between stops you get to hear stories, legends and snippets relating to the visits and the fabulous drinks made at each one.
First stop was Greyfriars Vineyard where we were greeted by owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff. While we tasted through a selection of their award-winning sparkling wines they gave us a potted history of the vineyard, how they ended up buying it and the differences between the various styles we were tasting. A fantastic opener to the day with something for everyone. Mike's explanation of the Traditional Method of producing sparkling wine was accessibly inclusive for those newer to the more technical details whereas some of the detail given about lees ageing, the level of oak used in the base wines etc. would also pique the interest of a more involved wine fan.
A short drive then to the Hogsback Brewery where tour guide Barrie was ready with a welcome half on arrival for everyone before talking us through their story approach and range. I’d be the first to admit I’m a complete novice when it comes to Beer tasting so it was a fantastic opportunity to fill in a few overdue gaps in my shamefully limited knowledge. Beer samples were generous and even after a shorter version of the tour than normal I came away with a new appreciation for the hoppy stuff. If you’ve ever wanted to know your Fuggles from your Farnham White Bine then this is a great place to start.
We rounded off the day with a visit to the Silent Pool distillery. A hidden hive of activity right next to to the famous pond from which it takes it name. The whole process is on show here, pride of place for the Pot Still used to distil the spirit, then some examples of the various botanicals (herbs, spices, fruits etc used to flavour the spirit, making it into Gin) plus a frantic team of gin elves sticking on labels and packing boxes ready for Christmas. As well as tasting their flagship gin we were also introduced to as their sloe and damson gins and various other liqueurs and cordials, all available to buy on-site along with their instantly recognisable glassware.
Starting from March 2018, a day’s tour with Grape and Grain costs £99 including lunch and gift vouchers are still available in time for Christmas, highly recommended!