Sometimes, we forget that you don’t need to travel halfway across the world to find something special. Rather than heading to Champagne for a weekend trip, my vines stayed a little closer to their roots last weekend as I discovered the enchanting, inspirational Furleigh Estate Vineyard and Winery. Deep in the Dorset countryside, it’s a hidden gem of the South of England, and well worth the pilgrimage for the Northern dwellers. Having been gifted tickets for one of their Grand Tours about a year ago, I had no idea that almost all the Furleigh Estate wines were vegan- they aren’t explicitly marketed as such. What a happy surprise!
Furleigh Estate established a name for themselves with their award-winning sparkling wines, but I was delighted to discover that they make still wines, too.
Whether you’re involved in wine or just passionate weekend drinker, you’ve probably encountered the phrase “English sparkling wine” by now. Wine makers have been trying to grow grapes in our wonderful, quirky, sometimes depressingly, temperamental climate for decades with limited success- recently, however, it’s really started to take off. According to Nick – my lovely tour guide at the estate – there’s now some 502 vineyards in England, who planted over 1 million vines just last year.
Furleigh themselves have two fields on the Estate with 23,000 vines apiece, with a another site containing another 30,000, growing a mixture of French and German grapes. All their wines are made from grapes grown in Dorset, and never imported.
It’s been a week since I went on their Grand Tour, but I’m still bristling with glee over the fact that we were lucky enough be the only ones booked on to Saturday 19th May, so we were effectively treated to a personal tour of the winery and grounds. Thank you, Meghan and Harry!
About Furleigh’s Grand Tour Package
Guided by the friendly, and very knowledgeable Nick, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through some of the Estate’s beautiful, sun-dappled grounds (the weather was beautiful – clearly the gods approved of my weekend antics), enjoying the picturesque views and the bustling wildlife. Investigating the grape vines, Nick told me one of the most interesting wine facts I’ve learnt this year: that, because of a foreign pest called Grape Phylloxera which attacks vine roots, the vast majority of grape vines growing in Europe at the moment are comprised of a European body, grafted onto the roots of American vines, which are most resistant to the pest.
Afterwards, we explored the winery, where the magic happens. For a vineyard with such a big name on the English wine scene, Furleigh is a surprisingly small business, operating from a single production shed. Amazing, really, and it just goes to show that quality really does outweigh quantity. The Estate has a heart-warming history; starting out as a family-run milk farm, it was sold and eventually recovered by the same family, who’ve now turned it in to the award-winning vineyard that it is.
One award in particular stood out to me. Furleigh’s very first sparkling wine cuvée (2009) won Gold at the 2012 Effervescent du Monde Awards. For context, this is a blind-tasting competition that has (or, rather, had) been dominated by the French, and some of the world’s biggest and oldest Champagne and sparkling wine producers. Furleigh taking the Gold award marked a historical moment in wine, where people started to wonder whether English sparkling wine might start to rival its prestigious French cousins, after all.
Before the visit, I’d been lucky enough to wrangle a bottle of their Blanc de Noir sparkling wine (which is made exclusively with the black Champagne grapes: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and loved it. The Classic Cuvée is made from all three of the traditional Champagne grapes, and is just as delicious, in a different way. We were treated to a glass on arrival, accompanied by pistachios (a nice match, and nice alternative to bread for a palate cleanser) and a fun quiz. Spoiler: there’s a French wine region that has outlawed landing a flying saucer! (NB: and it isn’t the one I thought…)
Furleigh Estate Classic Cuvée 2014 (Vegan Sparkling Wine)
Retailing at around £30, their Classic Cuvée is a fine catch for fizz-lovers. A beautiful smell of blossom flowers and soft fruits greet you from the glass. Tasting it, you discover why the judges rated it so highly; the classic biscuity, yeasty notes are subtle, gently recalling the Champagne style, followed by a twist of vibrant lemon, offering that refreshing crispness we know and love from good sparkling wines.
White Pinot Noir 2016 (Vegan Still White Wine)
This was an unexpected treat. I’ve never encountered a white wine made with Pinot Noir grapes before, but my oh my, I would’ve brought back 15 bottles if my bank account would have permitted it.
It’s entirely possible to make white wine from black grapes (you can read more about how red, white, and rosé wines are made here) but I’ve never come across this example before. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, preferring cooler climates like Northern France – and, now, Southern England. It’s flourishing here. Like regular red Pinot Noir, the white wine was gentle, subtle, and downright exquisite. Furleigh’s had a lovely long finish, with flavours of crisp green and red apples, and currents. Very drinkable, especially now that summer is approaching.
Bacchus Fume Non-Vintage (Vegan Still White Wine)
Every Bacchus I’ve ever tried has had the most amazing smell of elderflower, and this was no different. My partner – who has long scoffed when I talk about the different “bouquets” and “notes” of wines, and insisted that wines all smell the same and just taste like grapes – was blown away by the strong smell. It’s like dipping your nose in a glass of elderflower cordial. It tastes much better though – on the palate, the elderflower is far more subtle, existing more as a floral edge to stone fruits like white peach and nectarine, and tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple. An excellent pairing would be something spicy and Asian- vegans could opt for a dish that contains ginger, lime, or seaweed, and be on to a real winner.
Sea Pink 2017 (Vegan Still Rosé Wine)
Before pouring, Nick told me that for every new vintage of Sea Pink, there’s a waiting list a mile long- after sampling, I see why. It’s another blend I’ve never tried before: Pinot Noir and Rondo, a grape of German origin, which is unusual in that its flesh is actually red, unlike most other black grapes, which usually rely entirely on their skins for their colour. Sea Pink has a beautiful pink hue tinged with orange, and stylistically, could rival a lot of French Provence Rosé. Delicate and sweet (but not sickly; it’s still very much a dry wine) with flavours of strawberries and sweet spice, pomegranate and sweet tangerine, it instantly earned its place in my purchase quota for the day. It retails for around £12, which I think is an absolute steal, considering how well it compares to the French counterparts.
I brought a bottle home, and am super keen to make a post for a vegan food pairing ASAP. Like many Rosés, it’s best served slightly chilled, alongside salads and seafood. Obviously the seafood isn’t an option, but something with strong, fresh tastes, like olive bread or salads with pomegranate seeds, or perhaps orange juice-soaked quinoa fruit salad, would work a treat. Actually, thinking about it, my all-time favourite vegan treat of smoked salmon, cream cheese and caviar bagels would work really well with this wine.
Tyrannosaurus Red 2014 (Vegetarian Still Wine)
Furleigh estate also make a red wine, called Tyrannosaurus Red, which isn’t vegan, but is vegetarian (the fining agent is egg white). This is a light style of red – much like a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais– that would work well as another option for vegetarians or flexi-vegans looking for a perfect bottle to quaff on a summer evening. I love the name, too; the Estate is situated close to The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. They even have a little mascot!:
From the scenery, to the wines, to the welcome I received from the Furleigh team, every detail of the day was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend, and I even found a superb vegan Viognier on the Friday night, on the menu at the inn we were staying at! Incidentally, that won my Wine of the Month for May, if you want to read the review. . .
I can’t recommend a trip to Furleigh earnestly enough. It took us roughly 4 hours to drive down there, but it was so worth it. Grand Tour tickets are £25 per person, which is more than reasonable, especially when you consider that the sparkling wine you enjoy on arrival is served in branded Furleigh Estate glasses, that are then yours to take home. I LOVE my new flute (well, flutes: I’ve commandeered his too, hehehe).
Incidentally, Furleigh Estate is hosting its first Vineyard Tour with Vegan Wine & Canapés very soon. It takes place on the 13th June 2018, and costs £25.00 per person. There’s limited tickets, so get ’em quick.
Have you discovered many English wines yet? Let me know in the comments!