Visiting Two Cornish Vineyards with Cornish Wine Tours
Happy English Wine Week! While I’ve got much delicious food and so many beautiful views to share, and as one of the posts I’ve had planned is celebrating some fantastic Cornish wine, I thought we would skip to the end of my trip today so you could join me on a wonderful tour to Cornwall’s oldest and newest vineyards with Cornish Wine Tours – Cornwall’s only wine tour company who will happily take you around some of the best Cornish vineyards on a half day or a full day tour, which also includes some fantastic food at Appleton’s (I’ll be reviewing it in due course, but I’ve included some snaps on my Insta!) I was invited on the tour free of charge for review purposes, but both my parents came along and paid, and they honestly loved it as much as I did!
Cornish Wine Tours is run by Kate, who, bursting with wine knowledge and a love for the wine tours she took abroad, spotted a gap in the market for something similar in Cornwall. She’s into her second season now sharing her love for Cornish wine, running around the North Cornish countryside in her wine bus, picking us up from our hotel on her way from picking up the other couple on the days tour from their hotel in Padstow. We opted for the half day tour, which starts with a trip to Camel Valley, Cornwall’s oldest and largest vineyard (and the only one with a royal warrant) for a tasting on their sunny terrace overlooking the vines, and then a trip to Trevibban Mill, Cornwall’s youngest for another tasting, before lunch. The bus is lovely, and Kate gave us an introduction to Camel Valley as she drove us there – she’s extremely knowledgeable and makes wine accessible to beginners, but also shares a lot of new information for those of us who know a fair bit about it – my Mum used to work at an English vineyard, and she got a lot out of the tour, and I’m what you’d call an obsessive enthusiast!
To be honest, I left Camel Valley a little annoyed. This wine is simply amazing, in many cases much better than what we produce in Kent, but outside of Cornwall it gets very little attention, so this was the first time I’d had a chance to try it. A trip to Camel Valley really is a must, either if you’ve had a fair bit of English wine, or you’re a total beginner if you want to try it at it’s best. From the car park you get a great view of the vines, and they have a great terrace overlooking the vineyard to enjoy almost all of their wines by the glass in what is a rather wonderful sun trap. You see these vines marked as ‘Annie’s’ with a little yellow tag? That section of the vineyard contains vines that have only ever been pruned by Annie, one of the owners (Camel Valley is very much a family affair, with Annie’s son as the winemaker for his parents business). Yes, ever since they were planted the same person has been in charge of tending them, and recently the grapes were put to use in a special Annie’s Anniversary wine that was the overall favourite from our tasting. I found this little bit of information rather mind-blowing!
Shall we talk wine? For your average English vineyard, Camel Valley has a fairly big selection. There are a good couple of still wines in both white and rose (English reds are much rarer than their companions) and a really nice selection of sparkling wines. We were provided with really helpful tasting sheets if you want to make notes (but it is totally okay if you don’t) while Kate talked us through the different vines we were drinking wine from, the benefits of younger or older vintages, and a few little points of note about the blends of the wines and the grapes for each one we tried. You get a choice of what to choose and you might not get everything, but as a group of three who did not mind drinking out of each others glasses, we were the perfect number to try every single wine.
A few of Camel Valley’s wines to look out for (or to order online!): on the still side, two of their wines really stood out to me, both whites. We took a bottle of the Atlantic Dry home with us. As an English wine it was really surprising, clean, crisp, fresh, and with a slight hint of minerals, it is not what you would expect from an English wine. The bottle is also great value, perfect for everyday drinking. You know that flavour, that ‘something’ that sets English wines apart? I find it can be either a good or a bad thing depending on the wine, so it was really (pleasantly) surprising that it was barely there. We all loved it. However, splitting opinion was the other white I loved: the Darnibole Bacchus. This is a rather special wine because yes, it is familiar as a Bacchus to anyone who is used to drinking other English wines made from Bacchus grapes (Chapel Down’s Bacchus springs to mind as the most ubiquitous, but it is a pretty common grape for making English white wine), but it has a richer finishing aroma that is totally unique, so much so that the vineyards that it was made from have been granted Protected Designated Origin status.
All of the sparkling wines at Camel Valley are pretty great, but the one that needs special recommendation is Annie’s Anniversary, created to mark Annie’s 20th vintage in 2015 and the 100,000th vine she’d pruned from her vineyard I mentioned (!) it is something pretty special. There is a nose to it that none of us could quite put our fingers (or noses) on, something to get you thinking before you’ve even taken a sip, before letting you enjoy it’s slightly unusual (for an English sparkling wine), clean taste. On first sip I find a lot of English Sparkling Wines quite similar in flavour profile, and this one was refreshingly different! A bottle of this came back to Kent with us too.
After soaking up the sun for a while on the terrace and making our purchases, we were back in the bus to Trevibban Mill, Cornwall’s newest vineyard that takes a bit more of an experimental approach. I did not get many pictures of the vines as they were all covered over to protect them at such a tender age, this was very much expected as Kate briefed us on the differences between our two stops as she drove, how Camel Valley grew up organically into the business it is today, and how everything at Trevibban was created very much with wine tourism in mind, occupying a big space with a restaurant and room for expansion.
So what about the wine? As expected with younger wines, they were not nearly as impressive as Camel Valley’s, which have had a lot more time to bed in (those who discuss wine with me on any sort of regular basis would have listened to me go on about how one local vineyard in Kent is pushing their wines hard onto all the the local restaurant menus when it is simply too young to be very good, at least twice!) but there were a few hits among the misses. Generally I have a pretty poor opinion of English red wines (it just is not warm enough here) but their Black Ram Red is going to be quite interesting in a few years – under the young flavour there is something light, slightly oaky and pleasantly fruity going on, a nice summer wine – but as I said, still a bit young. If you’ve ever tasted very old wine, and wine out of the tank before blending on a vineyard tour you’ll know what I mean. A young wine separates out flavours in a way that an old wine does, but instead of the smoothness of age, those flavours also take on that rawness of wine slightly earlier on in the process. Going back to a slightly more traditional wine, their Harlyn white was the unanimous favourite, a young, drinkable wine with lots of flavour and dimension, clean enough for everyday.
After our second tasting, it was time for lunch. On the half day tour (£75 per person) we were on a nibbles lunch of charcuterie, bread and some other Italian nibbles upstairs in Appleton’s was provided (and it did look delicious!) but as I’ve been planning on eating there for ages we split off from the tour (though Kate was still kind enough to come back for us and drive us back to our hotel!) to have a proper lunch (review coming soon, the meal was absolutely outstanding!) – if you’re on a full day tour (£125 per person) a full tasting menu lunch is provided after tastings at three different vineyards.
I honestly can’t recommend Kate and her tours enough, I’m so glad that Andy (Appleton, the chef behind Trevibban’s fantastic restaurant) pointed me in her direction, and in turn as well as letting you all know about her here, I’m going to be waxing lyrical about our tour to everyone I know who is heading to North Cornwall for their holidays! You can find out more about her wine tours here, but if beer is more your thing, she also offers a Cornish cider and brewery tour, and if you check out her events page if you’re going to be in town, Kate also does special one off events such as all day drinks tours involving Cornish wine, beer, cider and spirits, and trips down the coast to Polgoon Vineyard & Orchard (a bit too far down the coast for the main tour, but I tried their wine at Fifteen and it was fantastic) followed by an evening performance at the Minack Theatre.
On the wine front, if you’re interested in ordering wine from either of the vineyards I’ve featured to give it a try, you can shop Trevibban’s offering in their online shop here, and I’ve spied a mixed case in the Camel Valley store that would make a great jumping off point!