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Exploring East Sussex Wine Country with Vine + Country Tours

If you’re not from the UK (or have been living under a rock since Harry married Meghan), your first question is possibly “Where is Sussex?”. Answer: Sussex is in south-east England. Your next question might likely “England has a wine country?” Answer: Yes. East Sussex wine country. Actually, wine countries, plural. And they make damn good wine.

When you think of England in terms of alcoholic beverages, you might think of an ale or bitter; maybe a a refreshing gin and tonic. Likely not wine. But East Sussex wine country happens to have soil very friendly to the grapes used for sparkling and Rosé wines. Which has made the their offerings, and those all over the south — and from Wales! — the recipients of some coveted industry awards.

We are also in the tail end of English Wine Week (May 25 – June 2), and if you’re British and haven’t popped into the grocery or wine shop to support your local vineyards yet… well, just go do it. 

Wining and dining in East Sussex wine country

While we were in England over the Christmas holidays, we treated the Brit’s mum to a tour of some East Sussex wineries with a company called Vine + Country Tours. Vine + Country offers luxury wine and food tours around the Sussex and Kent wine regions that are great value for money. (I recently mentioned them in my post about day trips from London.)

As UK weather is typically very rainy in December, it was a pleasant surprise for it to be a dry and mostly sunny. Though a bit windy, it was a lovely half-day of wandering the vines, tasting some excellent wine, and enjoying one of the best charcuterie feasts and brownies I’ve ever had.

Sussex winery vines

East Sussex is a historically and culturally rich part of the country — home to the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings, cute little villages, gorgeous country and seaside scapes, and a thriving food and beverage scene. Sussex’s reputation has also been significantly elevated by the quality of wines being produced in the region. As a result, they are giving the French a run for their money in the world of sparkling (and other wine).

English countryside pano
I’m not great with panos, and my mother-in-law’s arm got in there, but nonetheless, England’s a beaut in the sunshine!

Making the most of a sunny English day

Our host, Jamie, picked us up in the immaculate white van at the Brit’s mum’s house just before lunch time. (Can I tell you what a treat it is to be picked up instead of having to hoof it somewhere?) Jamie and his partner, Stephanie, run Vine + Country as both a tour operator and a catering company. Which makes for the lovely gastronomic heaven I mentioned above, but more on that later. 

Though not wine-related, our first stop was to take a moment to appreciate the blustery day’s view of the countryside. Like where I live in British Columbia, all that rain makes for a lush view of the land. Sussex, you’re a beaut!

Jamie used to be a geologist working in Australia, until he came home to England a few years ago and decided to follow his passion for food and wine. The Brit’s background is also in geology, so you can imagine some of the technical discussions that went on in the van and in the fields. Jamie’s enthusiasm is contagious and he clearly has worked hard to develop relationships with equally inspired local wineries, breweries, and cideries.

Both well-known and hidden gems are featured on Vine + Country’s tours in the countryside; and we were very fortunate to experience two of those hidden gems.

Both well-known and hidden gems are featured on Vine + Country’s tours in the countryside; and we were very fortunate to experience two of those hidden gems.

Rosé wine Sussex England
The cleverly named trio of wines on the Off the Line Vineyard roster.

Rosé all day at Off the Line 

Off the Line Vineyard | North Street, Hellingly, UK BN27 4EA | +44 1435 812661

Winery stop number one was Off the Line Vineyard, owned and run by Ann-Marie and Kristina, Off the Line’s focus is on producing three styles of still Rosés. With a south-facing location, the vines get to soak up the sun and that makes for some lovely vino. Also, 

The tasting room’s floor to ceiling windows provide and excellent and bright view of the vineyard, and I was very delighted by the gargoyle angel sitting on a barrel next to me. He knows where it’s at. And it’s with cleverly named and labeled blush wines with crisp, clean taste that will appeal to all palates. 

With rose hips and dog roses running wild around their property, they are the namesakes of the trio of wine on the roster: Dancing Dog Rosé, Dog Rosé, Hip Rosé. You can imagine that it was hard for me to decide which to buy. We bought all three. (It was Christmas! Also, the wines range from $25-30 CAD per bottle, which is fairly standard for a good bottle of wine.)

While the wine was lovely, my favourite part of visiting Off the Line was learning about the owners’ backgrounds. Kristina used to be a government solicitor. She went back to school to learn about the wine business and decided to follow her and Ann-Marie’s passion for wine and open a winery. For good measure, Ann-Marie used to work in the business of fine wine investment, and now gets to explore her love of creating Raku ceramics.

wine tasting Sussex
Sipping Rosé in the Off the Line tasting room

As it happens to be English Wine Week (May 25 – June 2), I was looking forward to opening the bottle of Dog Rosé that we brought back. But then I remembered that we cracked it open a couple weeks ago when we had a bit of a heat wave. Alas. Though I must say the wine went very well with the drunken mussels the Brit made that evening.

vineyard East Sussex
Sussex wine country is where it’s at for sparkling wine | Photo: Vine + Country Tours

Sparkling hospitality at Tickerage

Tickerage Wine | Tickerage Ln, Blackboys, Uckfield, TN22 5LT, UK | +44 7976 464343

After expressing much gratitude to the ladies at Off the Line, we hopped back into the van to make our way to Tickerage Wine — the East Sussex home of some incredibly lovely sparkling wine and a three-legged dog named Tango.

Owner Anthony Budd decided to go back to school a ten years ago to study viticulture at Plumpton College. Which is also where Kristina from Off the Line went to shore up on her wine education. When he was done, he and his wife Zena bought 2 hectares of land to grow grapes for their sparkling wines that are now sold with the Tickerage label. A smaller footprint means they are able to do the work themselves; this is a family-run business.

Fun fact: As well is being world-renowned for its land-based program offerings, Plumpton College specifically has a reputation for being a premier centre for excellence in wine education.

How the cork starts

While touring the bottling facility, we learned that a cork starts out as much bigger than how it comes out when you pop open a bottle of bubbly. And then there’s the reminder about how sparkling wine is traditionally made. The science of things is beyond me. 

After tasting some soon-to-be bubbly, we were ushered into Anthony and Zena’s home for a tasting and late lunch. While this had potential to be awkward, no one can feel awkward when greeted with such warmth. We were ushered into a beautiful dining room with rustic wood table and a wood fire burning in the corner of the room. The aforementioned Tango was cozily enjoying said fire’s warmth, and there was a gorgeous Christmas tree, standing proud in the other. (Their tasting room is currently being built, and I cannot wait to go back!) 

East Sussex sparkling wine
The Tickerage wine roster

While Jamie put together our feast, we were introduced to the Tickerage roster: Blush, Blanc de Blancs, and Classic Cuvée. Also available was a crisp cider that the Brit’s mum was quick to buy. (Well done, Linda!) For our selection, the The Brit and I went with a bottle of blush to pop open on New Year’s Eve. Naturally, a few days later, I wish we’d bought more!

Perhaps the Brits will soon start saying they want a bottle of Ticker instead of a bottle of Bolly? You never know!

A Sussex feast fit for the wine gods and goddesses

Okay, time to talk about the food, but I don’t know how to do justice to the charcuterie heaven that Jamie prepared for us. And the brownies. Hello. It was a decadent feast, all made with locally sourced product. Which means that Jamie and Stephanie have not one, but two quality enterprises growing: the tours and the catering. 

Because I will just ramble, I’ll let the pictures talk for me. 

The feast
Charcuterie feast
Photo: Vine + Country

Go on a tour

Vine + Country Tours and Catering | Website | +44 7846 74 70 70 

Pleasantly full, and feeling quite happy, we hopped back in the an for Jamie to take us back to the Brit’s mum’s house. Such a lovely day. And in case you hadn’t noticed, all of these entrepreneurs are living their best life, sharing what they are passionate about. Follow your dreams, people!

If you’re ever in the south-east of England, go on a wine tour with Vine + Country. They will treat you like gold. And feed you those fabulous brownies. (Which I intend to try and replicate, very soon.)

~

A big thank you to Jamie at Vine + Country Tours for taking us around East Sussex wine country, and to Off the Line Vineyard and Tickerage Wine for welcoming us at their facilities. Cheers!

This post was sponsored in part by Vine + Country Tours. As always, opinions are my own.

 

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