Chilford Hall Vineyard

By mthomas

Whenever I whizz pass a sign for a vineyard on my travels I always feel a sense of having missed something potentially enjoyable or exciting. Often work and family responsibilities mean that I don’t have time to pull in to admire vines or have an impromptu tasting (I always spit when driving) but over the last week I have been particularly mindful of the importance of creating space for the good things in life. My nan, Dorothy Wiseman, died at the ripe old age of 98.  She lived a very full life including work as a model for a well known department store in Sloane Square. She was primarily a devoted wife to my granddad Bill who defied the odds by surviving the whole of the war in the RAF. The funeral is in Brighton and it will be good to celebrate her life with the family.

Psychology suggests that being open to opportunities is key to ‘good luck’ and that being mindful of the present helps us to flourish. So instead of driving past Chilford Hall Vineyard in Cambridgeshire recently I pulled in to its impressive drive. Home to the Alper family it appears to function primarily a conference centre and wedding venue. Chilford also an arts studio specialising in lithography with a history of printing for Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and other notables. Today the studio concentrates on limited-edition lithography, including work by Paula Rego, R.B. Kitaj and Rolf Harris (who is generally now acknowledged as a ‘serious artist’ and widely collected not to mention expensive).

The winemaking operation comes across as ‘bolted on’ but there is a nice bistro and tasting space with the usual ‘made by artisan’ impulse buys available. The vineyard was laid out in 1972 and currently has 18 acres in production. Award-winning pink and white sparkling wines are produced alongside a range of still wines. I have blogged previously on English wines (Rigeview, Setley Ridge, Breaky Bottom etc.) and without being too parochial or jingoistic think they can be wonderful.

Varieties grown include Müller-Thurgau, Ortega, Schönburger, Reichensteiner, Siegerrebe, Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder and, of course, Pinot Noir.The winery building includes a timber-framed barn which formerly stood in the nearby village of Linton (pictured). Various tours and tastings are available but need to be booked in advance.
The wines include The Chiford Hundred Sparkling Rose (2005), which had lots of red fruit and a nice mouthfeel, retails at £21.95 so is direct competition for the usual French suspects. The sparkling white (2009) at the same price is zingy and green rather than toasty or biscuity (which I tend to prefer) but is a really sound effort and I guess lots of the wedding parties go for it.

The still wines include a Schönburger and Müller-Thurgau blend, Müller-Thurgau and Ortega, and Müller-Thurgau Siegrrebe (around £8 so competing with seriously good wines from around the world but worth a try for interest).  There is a ‘blush’ and a ‘red’ neither of which inspires (also around 8 quid) so perhaps stick to the fizz for the time being and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

As for my Nan, I am going to have a quiet moment with one of those wines that is for special occasions as her life is a reminder to drink deeply from the cup of life…

2 Responses so far

When I last visited Chilford Hall (10 years ago?) I don’t think they were doing sparkling wine, and the still wine was pretty dire. I only remember scruffy-looking fibre glass vessels – no shiny stainless steel. My memory might be defective in some of the detail, but the overall impression was pretty negative.

But is looks like I should now keep more of an open mind – to their fizz at least.

Hi Steve
I was not bowled over by the wines but wasn’t really in the mood for a hatchet job as my focus was more the psychology of opportunitism, managing a busy life and reflection on the emphemeral nature of existence (without being too pretentious…). There are lots of people happy to report scores and they would probably give low marks to most of Chilford’s wines… The Rose fizz is pretty drinkable but there is a huge discussion to be had about the merits and pricing of English wines. They do do well on carbon footprint ratings though…

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