Stonehenge has a rival tourist attraction. The newly-opened Wiltshire Wine Trail takes you to three vineyards in the ancient county – Bluestone, a’Beckett’s and Whitehall. All offer tastings, tours and some wonderful names for wines.
Paul Langham headed the national English and Welsh wine trade body for many years and now his a’Beckett’s vineyard in Littleton Panell is celebrating its 20th birthday. “It all came about as a result of my not wanting to spend years in the corporate world,” he says. “I worked for a US multinational and it wasn’t for me. A throwaway comment over a glass of wine led to Wiltshire.”
With wife Lynn, who worked in the legal profession, Langham produces wines such as Ram’s Cliff Rose made from Pinot Noir and Reichensteiner and named after a rock formation on the Salisbury Plain escarpment overlooking the village. His Lynchets is named after some nearby medieval steps, while the Penruddocke’s Red is named after the son of the High Sherriff of Wiltshire who was murdered in the farmhouse in 1644 by parliamentary forces. Cuvée Victor is named after Lynn’s father who was a teetotal Pentecostal preacher and Cuvée Madeline is named after Paul’s mother.
“We have evidence of vineyards in the village from as early as 800 AD and perhaps even earlier,” says Lynn. “The name a’Beckett’s relates to the family who arrived here in 1454 and farmed here until the late 1880’s. Our wine is currently made about 20 miles from our vineyard but we now have planning permission to build our own winery.”
The Domesday Book records that there were vineyards in Wiltshire in villages such as Tollard Royal and Lacock. Peter Self’s family have lived in Whitehall Farm since 1854 and planted the vineyard in the Avon valley near Lacock in 2017. “Much of the county sits on an underlying bedrock of permeable limestone that’s not dissimilar from the Champagne region of France,” says Self. “This chalky rock base is perfect for growing Rondo, Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.
“The climate of Wiltshire is grape-friendly, with Wiltshire vineyards typically more protected from harsh weather conditions than other British counties.”
A Whitehall sampler case could include Charlotte May 2018 rose, the best-selling Bacchus 2019, Nethercote Hill 2019 Pinot Noir and Rondo and Water Meadows. There is also a limited edition Madeleine May Chardonnay.
Recommended places to stay along the Wiltshire wine route are the Red Lion in Avebury or the Rose & Crown at Tilshead, an Italian restaurant in the middle of Salisbury Plain. There is also Milford Hall Hotel and the Crown Inn at Cholderton.
Bluestone Vineyards is a new boutique grower, focussing on premium English quality sparkling wines, using grapes grown by two brothers in ten acres of the family farm in Cholderton in the Bourne Valley. They work four vineyards: Three Acre, Top Field, Iron Age and Roundhouse.
“Wine and the Wiltshire countryside is the perfect recipe for pleasure,” says 31-year-old Nat McConnell. “The more guests we can draw to our famous county the better.”
The wines are currently made at the Hambledon Winery in Hampshire, with the first Wiltshire grape harvest coming in at four tonnes in 2018.