In spite of the appalling weather we ‘enjoyed’ at the end of February, I was very much looking forward to visiting Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, owned and founded by John Hemmant and run with his wife, Bridget, near Bergh Apton, just south of Norwich.
I am a huge fan of English wines and maintain that some of the best are found in Norfolk. I also became a convert to Chet Valley’s Skylark during the Feast Christmas do last year, so all the more reason to look forward to a tour and tasting.
Before we turned our attention to viticulture, however, it was time to line our stomachs, and where better to go than The Swan at Loddon, found just over a five minute drive away from the vineyard. The specials menu pulled us in – I enjoyed stone bass with a tomato beurre blanc while my parents opted for cod and salmon fishcake with lemon butter and a poached egg and, in true dad style, fish and chips. A seasonal special meant that dad’s pint of local Humpty Dumpty came free with his food, an added bonus for anyone who likes beer with their fish and chips!
It was then on to The Vine House, set on one level, with full disabled access throughout. Converted from old stables and a cow shed, the rooms were spacious and airy, perfect for a romantic weekend away and get togethers alike. A courtyard outside offers views over the vineyard, as well as somewhere to sit and enjoy a barbecue or even a stroll through the vines.
John and Bridget took us on a whistle stop tour of the vineyard – the weather prevented anything more. They are in the process of building a new winery and tasting room, all fully accessible, and this should be ready by the time you read this feature. With all the wine action taking place on the ground floor, the first floor includes a balcony with views overlooking the vines, a perfect place to sit and sample Chet Valley’s award-winning collection.
It was then back to The Vine House – with the wood burner now going well and the underfloor heating making the building toasty warm – for a tasting of John’s still and sparkling wines. The Swift and the Skylark Blush were declared our favourites, and it was fascinating to talk at length to John about his background and wine philosophy. He has big plans for the vineyard, and his passion for his wines is infectious.
More family joined us for dinner – we thought dining in after a wine tasting would be a good idea, and it offered a good chance to use the kitchen. I cooked chicken from The Butcher’s House in Long Stratton, Middle Eastern style and perfect for family sharing plates.
The Vine House, which is dog friendly, is well situated for countryside walks and exploring the local area. Nearby Loddon has much to offer, with Rosie Lee’s Tea Room the perfect stop for a refreshing cuppa and a slice of cake after exploring the town. For those after a more filling breakfast, you have Highway Garden and Leisure in one direction and Old Hall Farm the other.
We reluctantly left The Vine House, where the beds, especially, were incredibly comfortable, and finished our weekend with a traditional, and delicious, Sunday roast at The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross, taking the opportunity to catch up with friends.
I think it is the dream of many to stay on a vineyard, so why not take the opportunity to do just that!
- The Vine House sleeps six and costs from £110 per night for a minimum of two nights during the week and £130 per night at weekends in the season. Vineyard tours run regularly from April to early October and cost £20pp for a two-hour tour including a wine tasting and cheese and charcuterie. You can also buy their wines from the cellar door.