Huxbear Vineyard and Winery, Devon

Huxbear Vineyard and Winery, Devon
photo provided

Vineyards of Devon

The south west of England is renowned for its beautiful scenery and stunning coastline, but with viticulture rapidly expanding across the UK, Falstaff takes a closer look at the vineyards of Devon that are well worth exploring.

The south west of England is well known at home and abroad for its exceptionally beautiful coastlines, with Devon boasting more than its fair share of ports and harbours and, of course, the high landscapes of Dartmoor, located between the very different environments of North and South Devon; the moor is home to the Dartmoor Pony, a necessarily hardy and very beautiful creature.

Devon is less well known for its vineyards, yet like other regions of the UK and southern England in particular, viticulture is expanding rapidly, with a growing reputation for both the quality and styles of the wines produced.

Commercial viticulture in the UK is around 70 years in the making, and most of its recent success is attributed to the production of very fine sparkling wines; however, the still wines are also much improved, using both international grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, alongside northern European natives like Bacchus, once a blending grape but increasingly producing some lovely and distinctive single varietal wines.

Not quite so highly regarded are the attempts to produce good red wine, primarily from Pinot Noir, which is already widely planted for blending into the sparkling wines. The jury is out on the quality of these wines but experience suggests it won't be long before they too are gathering an audience.

Devon climate

In Devon the maritime climate, the geology, and of course the abundant rainfall, all lend themselves especially well to viticulture. There are in fact more small vineyards (under one hectare) here than in any other area of the UK.

For tourists and travellers to one of the UK's most popular tourist destinations, this opens a whole new dimension to experiences that can be enjoyed in the county. Domestic and international travellers arrive in their many thousands each summer and there is much to occupy the visitor, but for those with an interest in wine and winemaking, the county's burgeoning scene provides a fascinating and charming opportunity.

Amongst the vineyards welcoming visitors, the offer is a broad one; from simple walks among the vines to special destinations with tours, tastings and restaurants.

Sandridge Barton: pioneer of English winemaking

Perhaps foremost among the local wine makers is Sandridge Barton, producers of the long established Sharpham Wines and until recently located on the nearby Sharpham Estate (which while no longer having a vineyard remains a wonderful place to visit or stay).

The Sandridge Barton Estate and its acres of vines sit within a gently rolling landscape rising above the River Dart, which meanders through the Dart Valley below, and which can be seen from the vineyards, shimmering and winding along its course, from its source on the moor to Dartmouth and the English Channel.

If you have the time, make a trip to Dartmouth too. It's an enchanting town where you can promenade along the harbour wall before choosing from a number of exciting bistros and restaurants.

The Sharpham Wine range is 40 years old, a pioneer of English winemaking. With the move to Sandridge, they have created an enhanced experience for visitors: a seductive atmosphere of craft and endeavour, charm and quality, simplicity and style. After a tour through the extensive vineyards, guests can enjoy delightful food in their rather lovely restaurant, 'Circa'. The dishes are proudly prepared almost entirely from local produce, of which there is a wealth in this land of farming and fishing. Vegetables, meat, dairy and fish are all sourced from the estate itself, or from surrounding producers, including a good array of cheeses from the Sharpham Estate dairy.

There are walking trails through the estate and guided or self-guided tastings, and they're planning to introduce 'Vineyard Safaris' in the near future which sounds like a lot of fun. After all that walking and dining you might not want to leave. Accommodation is available in the Sandridge Barton House, within the vineyard and orchards, providing for 12 guests. The very private two-bedroom boathouse sits on the River Dart tideline and the newly-renovated farmhouse has room for eight people. When you do leave you can purchase any of their wines and cheeses from the onsite shop.

Calancombe Estate at Modbury

Further west and within the coastal district of the South Hams is the town of Modbury and the nearby Calancombe Estate, with vineyard, winery and distillery, offering tours, tastings and a restaurant. As is common in a county with bountiful, high-quality produce, much of what you eat and drink here is also as local as can be.

Wine tasting at Calancombe Estate
photo provided
Wine tasting at Calancombe Estate

Among Calancombe’s produce is a fine gin, cassis, still and sparkling cyder and, of course, still and sparkling wines. Almost all the base ingredients for these products are grown on the estate and made or distilled on site. Again, it can be a day out all on its own, and then it's only a short journey down to some truly wonderful beaches.

Smaller vineyards on the borders of Dartmoor

Away from the coastal areas and bordering the wild expanse of Dartmoor are several smaller vineyards. A visit to any of these genuinely artisanal producers might not include lunch in a nice restaurant but a warm welcome is received nonetheless. For those interested in the work of dedicated growers making interesting wines in a sustainable context, these vineyards are more than worthy destinations.

Amongst them is Huxbear Vineyard and Winery. This is a small, family-run estate making some delicious sparkling and still wines, which are increasingly visible on the shelves of local wine merchants and the menus of local restaurants, and indeed a Michelin-starred restaurant far away in Northumberland, which is at the opposite end of England; a testament to the growing appeal of Devon wines. The £12.50, 90-minute tour is good value. It is led by Lucy, a fine and friendly host who will offer a free tasting after the walk (by appointment only).

Huxbear Vineyard, Devon.
photo provided
Huxbear Vineyard, Devon.

Going east towards the cathedral city of Exeter is the Swanaford Estate. Another small, family vineyard in the Teign valley, making high-quality sparkling wine with classic Champagne varieties. They too produce some fresh and easy still wines from the Bacchus and Siegrebbe varieties. They welcome visitors for tours and tastings and on Friday nights they hold pop-up feasts with local produce, wine and beer.

Plymouth and Tamar Valley

Finally, let's return west and over Dartmoor to Devon's other city, Plymouth, and the Tamar Valley. Marking the border with Cornwall, the Tamar is a beautiful region and the Tamar Valley Vineyard offers some of the most captivating views of all. They produce sparkling and still wines, made from the Madeleine Angevine variety, and make cider from their own apples. Like the other smaller vineyards, it is best to call for visiting times.

Tamar Valley Vineyard.
photo provided
Tamar Valley Vineyard.

There are even more vineyards and wineries than those mentioned here, mostly situated in South and East Devon. Wine making has become an exciting and dynamic aspect of the local economy and it seems to be the perfect addition to a region famed for its produce and food culture.

The gastronomic scene here attracts the entrepreneurial spirit and complements a long tradition of farming and fishing. For gourmand travellers, wine lovers, and those who simply enjoy natural beauty, Devon really is amongst the finest places one might ever visit.

Alan Norchi
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