Drinks,  England,  Travel

Exploring East Sussex Wine Country

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 southeast 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 for alcoholic beverages, you might think of ales or bitters; maybe 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 their offerings, and those all over the south — and from Wales! — the recipients of some coveted industry awards.

As I write this, it’s the tail end of English Wine Week 2019 (May 25 – June 2). If you’re British and haven’t popped into a 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. (Psst! This is an excellent day trip from London.)

As UK weather is typically very rainy in winter, it was a pleasant surprise to have a dry and mostly sunny day. Though a bit windy, it was a lovely day of wandering the vines, tasting 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. It’s home to the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings, cute little villages, gorgeous country and seaside escapes, and a thriving food and beverage scene. Sussex’s reputation has also significantly elevated by the quality of wines produced in the region. As a result, these wineries give 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!

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

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

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]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.[/perfectpullquote]

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

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]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.[/perfectpullquote]

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 ten years ago to study viticulture at Plumpton College. (This is also where Kristina from Off the Line went to shore up on her wine education.) Upon completing his education he and his wife Zena bought two hectares of land to grow grapes for their sparkling wines. A smaller footprint means they are able to do the work themselves — this is a family-run business.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]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.[/perfectpullquote]

How the cork starts.

On our tour we learned that a cork starts out much bigger than how it comes out. I was also reminded of how sparkling wine is traditionally made. The science of things is beyond me and so fascinating. 

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 the potential to be awkward, no one can feel awkward when greeted with such warmth. (Their tasting room is currently under construction, 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 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. And the brownies. Hello. It was a decadent feast, all made with locally sourced products. This 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 — all made by Jamie.

Go on a tour

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

Pleasantly full, we hopped back in the van for Jamie to take us back to the Brit’s mum’s house. It was such a lovely day. If you’re ever in the southeast 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.)

Side note: In case you hadn’t noticed, all of these wine entrepreneurs are living their best life — sharing what they are passionate about. Follow your dreams, people!

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

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

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