Sussex’s wine industry is not only growing in terms of acreage under vine and the number of bottles being produced each year. Many producers are now also giving serious thought as to how wine tourism can engage consumers through tours and experiences. Nick Mosley heads to Wiston Estate near Pulborough for a tasting and lunch at their new Chalk restaurant to discover more.
Wiston Estate has been in the stewardship of the Goring family since 1743, covering a sizeable chunk of West Sussex with 1,100 acres of natural chalk grassland and 1,200 acres of arable land. The estate is home to a number of small-scale family farms growing heritage grains and grazing animals including herds of sheep.
Back in 2006, family matriarch Pip Goring – who was born in South Africa’s Western Cape region – finally fulfilled her personal dream of starting a vineyard and began with the planting of 16 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay vines on a picturesque south-facing slope.
Since the first crop of grapes was harvested in 2008, the vineyard has consistently produced exceptional fruit that talented winemaker Dermot Sugrue has transformed into some of the finest and most-acclaimed vintage and non-vintage English wines on the market. Wiston Estate is also no stranger to awards having being recognised by the likes of Decanter and WineGB time and time again in recent years.
As the Sussex wine industry continues to mature – and with wine lovers ever keen to enjoy a vineyard visit and learn more about the production of English wine – last year the Wiston team seized the opportunity to open a new tasting room and restaurant. And, just like the splendour of the estate’s rolling slopes of vines, they’re both pretty special.
On arrival we headed to the newly and sympathetically built visitor centre that includes tasting room, wine shop and the starting point for winery and vineyard tours. There we were greeted by hospitality general manager Tom Wade, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on food festival events in the past. Tom guided us through a selection of Wiston’s current range including their non-vintage sparkling rosé which is an old favourite of mine, produced from reserve wines made in different years to give consistency in flavour and style. There’s plenty of red fruits here with fine bubbles and refreshing acidity.
With our whistles thoroughly wetted, we headed over the sunny courtyard to the Chalk restaurant that is located in a stunning refurbished 18th century barn with exposed beams but a decidedly contemporary feel.
The day I visited, it was el-scorchio outside so for lunch we opted for a selection of lighter small plates to share.
Without doubt, the star of our table was the trout cured in Wiston’s own gin, served with yogurt and dill; it was literally melt-in-the-mouth. The roasted heritage carrots with coriander and crème fraiche were not only velvety smooth but also actually tasted of something, unlike shop-bought carrots that never darken in my basket.
Possibly the most memorable dish however was the ‘Kitchen Kimchi’, a homemade spicy dish of fermented greens that – in accordance with the sustainability aims of the wider estate – was produced with the ‘waste’ from other vegetable dishes. Although this plate wasn’t going to win any awards for beauty, it was utterly delicious, no doubt rather healthy and strangely a perfect match with the Wiston Estate Cuvée I was sipping on at the time.
Which leads me to what Wiston Estate has achieved superlatively well compared to the food offering at other wineries. The food and wines aren’t just good friends; they are perfect bedfellows. Clearly a huge amount of thought and experimentation has gone into dishes to really bring out the best of the wines and their ability to complement some punchy flavours.
The more I dine at local vineyards, the more surprised I’m finding how affordable these new breed of restaurants are. The large plates – and they certainly looked a meal in themselves – range from £9.50 for the vegetarian to £17 for the catch of the day. Small plates start at £4 with the local charcuterie sharing board maxing out that section of the menu at a very reasonable £12. Sparking wine by the glass begins at £9. I genuinely don’t think you’d get this quality of food or friendly, knowledgable service at most restaurants or gastropubs in the area.
I left Chalk and the Wiston Estate with a clear impression that the team care deeply not only about their excellent wines but also the entirety of the visitor experience and the fond memories that guests will take home with them. If you’re looking to eat-well and enjoy an afternoon wander in the West Sussex countryside this summer then Wiston should be at the top of your list.
Discover more at www.wistonestate.com/restaurant/