Sitting in the sheltered courtyard under an unseasonably hot April sun, gazing across the gentle slopes of the vineyard, listening to the quiet hum of conversation, I could almost believe I was enjoying a sneaky French trip.
Instead, I was enjoying a beautiful glass of award-winning sparkling wine just outside Milborne St Andrew.
Last year, out of 700 wines, Langham Wine Estate won one of the most prestigious awards a winemaker can win – the International Wine & Spirit Competition Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2020.
I’ll be honest – I hadn’t leaped to accept the invitation to tour the vineyard. Whilst I love a bottle of bubbles as much as the next woman, there’s a reason Sadie writes our wine column (and her wife Hannah picks our wine – perfectly – from our vague descriptions of what we like). I am not a wine connoisseur. The subtleties of the craft of winemaking are probably lost on me, and I wasn’t sure I’d do Langhams the justice they deserve.
But. Being a wine connoisseur is not my job, and I’m never embarrassed to acknowledge what I don’t know (how else do we learn?). What I do know is that there is a lot of stigma around vineyards – impressive, intimidating places, many people won’t visit for fear of being looked down upon.
So I pulled on my big girl pants, and headed for lunch at the vineyard.
What a smart person I am.
The wine tour was absolutely brilliant – if you know nothing about wine production it’s a fascinating introduction to the dark mystical arts. If you know your grapes, it’s still a fascinating introduction to the dark mystical arts. Because every vineyard is different (that’s the magic – I know, I read Sadie’s column every month, I’m learning), and every winemaker works in a different way.
The tour was endlessly interesting, and I have a notebook filled with random little snippets and facts, from the homemade barrel storage to the hand labelling of the bottles – Head Winemaker Tommy Grimshaw assured us he and his winery assistant could manage 1,500 of them a day.
When we had seen the winemaking process from the barely-budding vines through to the finished labelled bottle, we stepped out to the courtyard to try some.
What was stand out for me on the tour was the dynamic enthusiasm from the young team. Everyone was deeply passionate about what they’re doing. Also, not once did I feel foolish – there appeared to be no stupid questions, just the joy of sharing knowledge and delight in a questioner’s curiosity.
Lunch was served through the tasting (I’m not going to give wine notes here. And yes, lobster was on the menu…), and I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Vineyard Manager Olly Whitfield. I appreciated that he swiftly moved the conversation from his level of expertise (vast) to mine (limited), and explained ‘we don’t teach people what to taste at Langham – we teach them how to taste’.
He regaled us with stories of his career path as a winemaker which has brought him to managing the vineyard, “glorious on a sunny day, but not so much fun hand-pruning 40,000 vines in January.”
There was also much concern about the risk of frost later in the week, and the damage this would do to the newly-forming buds upon which the entire season’s crop will rely.
Olly also praised owner Justin Langham, who he said ‘is exceptionally tolerant of new ideas. Many vineyards are rigid workplaces, only operating in one tried and trusted format, and rarely risking an experiment. Perhaps because we’re a young vineyard, we’re quite experimental, and Justin encourages that. He listens to our suggestions, asks us to explain why – and often says “okay, you convinced me. Let’s do it. It’s an exciting place to be”.
The vineyard began offering outdoor picnics during 2020 as a way to pivot whilst usual business was suspended. These proved so popular they have become a permanent feature – collect the ready-packaged picnic and enjoy it amongst the vines at one of the tables set into the hedgerows (private hedge dining at his best), or simply stay in the warm sunny courtyard. You can add a self-guided tour for just £10pp, but why not opt for one of the guided tours for £20pp – a vastly more enriching experience. Tours take around 2 hours, with a walk round the vineyard and winery with a member of staff, followed by a tutored tasting of three award winning wines.
In addition to tours, tastings and the Vineyard Café there are regular events in the barn throughout the year; the middle of May finally sees the relaunch of the popular ‘Fizz Friday’ and ‘Seafood Saturday’ evening events, with themed food plus live music.
Visit the website https://langhamwine.co.uk/ to pre-book picnics and tours, to check opening times for the café and also for tickets to the live events.