My friend Vilma bought me a voucher for a trip to the Chiltern Valley Winery and Brewery near to Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. It was last year’s birthday present. The vineyard is way out in the country, down narrow country lanes, it was a good job we had sat nav.
Our tour started promptly at 11am, in the shop. Steve, our guide, explained that the vineyard started life as a pig farm. When it was purchased in 1980, the new owner decided that pig farming was not for him. He contacted the Department of Agriculture to get them to test the soil to see what would grow best there. When the report came back, his choices were rhubarb or grapes. He plumped for grapes. The first harvest was in 1984 and the vineyard has moved from strength to strength ever since. In the 1990s they moved into brewing beer. They were awarded a Royal Warrant in 2007 – the Duke of Edinburgh is rather partial to Barn Ale, one of their beers.
Steve took us into the brewing area, and showed us the big wine press and the bottling plant (which was rather impressive). He explained the processes while we were there. The sparkling wine is produced in the traditional methode champenoise with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle.
The beers are also made in traditional ways, using pale, crystal or chocolate malted barleys – Steve explained this better than I can, but in essence, the longer the barley is roasted, the darker it becomes, so pale is roasted for the shortest time, crystal longer and chocolate longer still. (I did become rather excited when the word chocolate was mentioned but the malting is named after appearance rather than taste.)
And then to the tastings…
I was rather partial to the English Sparkling Wine (absolutely delicious) and the Dry White, although we didn’t try all of the wines that they make there. I have a feeling that there would have been others that took my fancy. After the beers came the liqueurs. I’m rather prone to sloe gin but I bought a little bottle of the Irish Cream. I actually prefer it to the better known variety, I found it a softer taste.
You really do need a car to get here, it’s down narrow country lanes, but it’s well worth a visit.
© Susan Shirley 2016