A huge congratulations to Tenterden based vineyard, Chapel Down, for winning the Hidden Gem award in Visit Kent's Tourism Awards 2018. Chapel Down were up against Copper Rivet Distillery and Solley's ice Cream Parlour in the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year category, sponsored by Southeastern.
The scheme is all about motivating tourism businesses to create compelling experiences and adopt best practice. It rewards exceptional standards of customer service and outstanding overall visitor experiences.
Why we love local wine
The renaissance in English wine is in no small part attributable to Kent’s top-class wine producers – several of whom are based in our borough. The south-facing slopes, chalk soils and warm climate are ideal conditions for grape growing – not dissimilar to the Champagne region of France.
Did you know, Ashford is home to wineries including Biddenden vineyards, Gusbourne Estate and Chapel Down?
We caught up with Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down, to find out more about his passion for wine.
Loveashford: Do you remember the first time you tried an English sparkling wine? What was your reaction? For those who have never tried English sparkling wine before, which wine would you suggest they start with?
Frazer: Vividly. Before I joined Chapel Down I was challenged by a friend to identify a glass of rather good sparkling wine. After 10 wrong guesses and £40 lost in bets, I discovered it was Chapel Down sparkling. I was gobsmacked. And financially poorer but curiously enriched. That was in summer 2001. I joined in the Autumn of 2001. There was a lot to do!
Loveashford: For those who never tried English sparkling wine before, which wines would you suggest them to start with?
Frazer: Our Brut NV. It’s superb. Consistent. Easy drinking. Utterly delicious. Every year!
Loveashford: What makes Kent wine so unique?
Frazer: The French call it “Terroir”. Not easy to translate but it’s a combination of the soils (chalk and greensand), the weather (Kent is the warmest and driest county), the aspect (the North Downs slope beautifully to the south), the shelter (Kent has trees and hedgerows), the infrastructure (Kent is a real fruit growing county and has all the infrastructure in place, and the natural flora and fauna (which are diverse and beneficial). And it’s made by some of the best people in the business.
Loveashford: We have read about the launch of The Wine Garden of England, this is a refreshing way of working as a team joining forces to promote Kent as a wine region. Who instigate it? What are your immediate goals as a group?
Frazer: It’s come about as a result of a greater ambition from all the major players in the industry to promote Kent as a home for the best and most diverse Wines in England. Chapel Down, Hush Heath and Biddenden have existing thriving tourism businesses and Gusbourne, Squerryes and Simpson new exciting offers. We have the help and support of the Taittinger group too. We want to collaborate to make Kent the first choice destination for Wine Tourism.
Loveashford: How do you see Kent wine evolving in the next 5 to 10 years?
Frazer: It’s been getting better every year for the last 20 years and I don’t think we will do anything other than continue to improve. Aside from a vast amount of new planting and bigger and better visitor experiences, I expect the fame of the county to spread internationally as the Wines win more global plaudits and we export more of our delicious fizz! More jobs, more vineyards, better wines, more fame, more pride. Now, that’s worth raising a glass to, isn’t it
So why not celebrate wine week by visiting one of Kent’s vineyards? There’s lots to choose from including:
Biddenden Vineyards, Biddenden
Chapel Down Winery, Small Hythe
Gusbourne Estate, Appledore
Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst
Old Dairy Brewery, Rolvenden
Farnell Farm, Rolvenden
Harbourne Vineyard, Wittersham
Westwell Wines, Charing
Woodchurch Wines, Woodchurch
Find out more about the borough's wineries via the Visit Ashford and Tenterden website.