From vineyards with cool lodgings to hotels with their own nascent wineries, Kate Lough picks her favourite stays in Sussex for wine lovers.
In recent years, the UK’s wine scene has gone from strength to strength, with vineyards popping up along its southern hillsides, from Kent to Cornwall. Better still, this blossoming of our native viticulture has inspired an accompanying slew of stays meaning wine lovers can tour, taste and then tumble into bed. Here, we take you on a wine tour of Sussex, from a cool winery near Rye to a Sussex sparkler not far from Lewes and a well-known hotel group on the South Downs, which is on the cusp of its first harvest.
Oenophiles with an appetite for good design and even better food, take note.
We start our homegrown wine odyssey near the East Sussex coast — just outside medieval Rye — at Tillingham. Only 20 minutes from Camber Sands, this biodynamic vineyard is the name on every brand-savvy Londoner’s lips. Founded in 2017 on an idyllic 70-acre working farm that is also home to Mangalitsa pigs, Tillingham is the perfect option for the casual wine lover. Start with one of its informal tours with the young, passionate team to learn more about the vineyard’s low-intervention techniques and taste your way through its still and sparkling wines.
After relaxing in the cosy bar in the Main Barn, make your way upstairs to the award-winning restaurant for a fantastic tasting menu helmed by ex-Silo chef, Brendan Eades. Exquisitely paired with Tillingham wines and making the most of the area’s natural larder — including Rye’s catch of the day — the food is just as much of a draw here. Then, all that’s left to do is stumble to your rustic-luxe digs in the adjacent Hop Barn: our favourite is generously-sized Room 11, with its vast freestanding tub, sheepskin-coated Scandi interiors and south-facing views over the vines.
Breakfast is another multi-course delight, with homemade breads and whey butter, granolas and yoghurt, followed by eggs with ogleshield and bresaola. Stretch your legs and your lungs with a turn around the vineyard, a mooch around Rye or a scamper on the beach to work up your appetite back for lunch: you’ll love the fruits of Tillingham’s prized pizza oven in the open-sided Dutch barn.
Further along the east Sussex coastline towards Brighton is Rathfinny, a pioneering vineyard that wants to make ordering a glass of ‘Sussex’ akin to a glass of Champagne. In a chalky valley in the South Downs, with the English Channel glinting in the distance, Rathfinny spans a whopping 600 acres and is known for the magnificent sparklings that its owners, Mark and Sarah Driver have placed at its heart since it was established in 2010. The vineyard opens up its complex machinery for year-round tours and tastings that show guests every inch of the winemaking process, so that you come away with a newfound appreciation for the hard work that goes into every bottle.
Make a weekend of it by booking into the country-chic Flint Barns, which are a short walk or drive from the winery — waking up in its homely, comfortable rooms amid the vines, with the light streaming in, is a joy. Most of your time will be spent in the gorgeous courtyard (in summer) and the cosy sitting room by the log burner (in winter), sampling more glasses of sparkling. For dinner, you can choose between the Flint Barn Dining Room where we feasted on mussels, skate and triple cooked chips, accompanied by more of its Classic Cuvee.
From Wednesday to Saturday, Rathfinny’s Tasting Room Restaurant opens up for lunch and dinner, offering a more gastronomic experience with panoramic views over the vines. Foodies have another excuse return from this May, when the vineyard’s Summer Kitchen will pop up for delicious deli-style lunches, alongside ‘Dine in the Vines’ communal feasts, chef takeovers and lobster dinners.
The Pig in the South Downs
The Pig in the South Downs is one of our favourite Pigs to date, not least because it is also the first to have its own vineyard, which will harvest its first vines in the autumn. It’s a long-term ambition of Pig founder and English wine obsessive Robin Hutson, who has been championing home-grown bottles in his hotels for a decade.
In this Sussex-made Pig, in Madehurst, two acres of vines sit pretty in front of the 17th century Georgian manor, with its bounty produced in tandem with local winemakers Sugrue South Downs. The diminutive vineyard’s chalky soils have the perfect conditions for planting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes — the fruits of which you will soon be able to pair with the hotel’s excellent lunches and dinners.
After sampling its various vintages, stay over in the Pig’s luxurious lodgings: our favourite being the elegant and spacious Room 2 in the Main House, with its giant four poster bed and avocado freestanding bath. Combined with a few brisk walks on the South Downs and an expert facial in the Potting Shed treatment rooms, you have quite the weekend away for the wine enthusiast.
Lead image: The Pig in the South Downs
We may earn a commission if you buy something from any affiliate links on our site.