tinwood estate, the farm that went from cabbage patch to champers

Tinwood Estate at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex near Chichester was once a farm that grew vegetables, primarily iceberg lettuce. But owner Art Tukker, fed up with the vagaries of the market, happened upon an idea. More than 100 acres of vineyard later – the first tranche was planted in 2007 – and the wine estate was born.  

According to Vlada, our informative guide, the south of England is home to 500 vineyards, so competition is fierce. Filling us in as part of the estate’s daily offering of tour and tasting, she detailed how all grapes are apparently handpicked, though it sounds like back-breaking work given the size of the job. One worker is also tasked to man the ‘Dragon’, basically a large hairdryer on wheels, should it fall below freezing in order to defrost the grapes – with the fruit freezing again every 12 minutes on very cold days. Who knew all this was going on in the middle of the night just to get a bottle of wine to our thirsty tables?

Talking of thirsty, how about the vino? As part of the tasting, there is an offering of three and, predictably, it starts with the ‘gold’ award-winning (International Wine Challenge) blanc de blancs. Made from the chardonnay grape, it goes against the ABC ethos – anything but chardonnay – offering a truly refreshing, clean taste. In fact, Vlada says it tastes so fresh “you might as well throw away your mouthwash and start the day with it”. 

Second off the blocks is the brut, which our guide says is the most “champagnest”. While English vineyards cannot use the term Champagne, as it is obviously restricted to the eponymous region in France, Sussex wine has recently been awarded Protected Designation of Origin status by the government. The brut does have the kind of dry palate of a champagne and is not received quite as kindly by our tour group as the first. Last is the sparkling rosé, which offers a fruity hint of berries and is a hit with another of the men in our group who declares “real men drink rosé”. However, this third iteration does not sparkle in the straw poll at the end where the blanc de blancs is voted the clear winner. 

It is a bit odd, however, that the great blanc de blancs is not available to buy in local shops. This is because Tinwood is “protecting its brand”, says Vlada. It is a very competitive market, as she alluded to earlier, and rivals such as Ridgeview – in which Tinwood owns a 25 percent stake – Nyetimber and Chapel Down are all household names precisely because they’re available in the likes of Sainsbury’s. But if you are craving a glass, you can purchase the wine from the estate itself, online and in a select number of restaurants across the region. 

By Robin Newbold

Vineyard tours/tastings run daily at 3pm, twice on Saturday at midday and 3pm; £21 per person
Tinwood Farm, Halnaker, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0NE

Photo credits: Gilbirt Ganyon