Wednesday 23 June 2021 12:59 pm

Thrills, spills and belly laughs: Inside the only vineyard with a helter-skelter

If we can’t get to the beach or find the sun to get some colour in our faces, perhaps a vineyard will do.

According to GB Wine, organizers of English Wine Week, booming sales of English and Welsh wines show our ever-growing thirst for home-grown pleasures. Lockdown has led to a spike in domestic wine tourism. You can glamp, stay in a Bathhouse on the River Dart or go really upmarket and stay at Denbies in Surrey.

But the North Downs of Kent near Canterbury will bring more colour to your cheeks, and not just from the local Railway Hill Provencal-style rose or Derringstone Pinot Meunier 2019.

Tastings in the new Glass Room at Simpsons’ English Wine Estate in Barham end with an adrenaline rush to complement the buzz you are already feeling from a flute or two of the excellent local Chalkland Classic Cuvee. 

Once you have been around the Roman Road vineyard, taken in what has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty, learned all about Kent’s micro-climate and the maritime influences (after all, it has coast on three sides of the vineyard), been told all about “le liqueur de tirage” (the highly crafty art of perfecting the right yeast/sugar ratio to produce perfect perlage), heard your guide boast that no stage of production is outsourced in any aspect and that the in-house wine-making method is unhampered by the weight of convention, then you are more than ready for your fact fatigue to be eased by the actual cellar door tasting.

Wine from the Simpsons vineyard

During which, with your nose buried in a flute, you learn all about southern England’s chalk ridge, which extends to Burgundy and Champagne and, holding out your glass for a top-up of the marvellous Flint Fields Blanc de Noirs 2017, are told that the sparkling wine is 24 months in fermentation.

And then you are ready for the best bit of the whole tour, perhaps any wine tasting tour in the UK: a trip down the winery’s fruit chute and helter-skelter, which takes you on your back, hands at your side, Thunderbirds-style, down into the bowels of the Eltham Valley and into the ground floor winery.

No vineyard or wine-tasting experience tour anywhere else ends in such a nutty, toasty and rather inelegant finish. It must be a great way to get to work and owners, Charles and Ruth Simpson, who also own the Domaine Sainte Rose Estate in Languedoc and are founding members of the Wine Garden of England collective, must sneak in there now and then for a sneaky slide.

All eyes are on Boris to give the unique chute and wine-tasting attraction the green light for the fun to begin again: Simpsons’ famous fruit chute will reopen soon. 

Visit the Simpsons’ English Wine Estate website here.