Greyfriars Vineyard   The Hog’s Back, Puttenham, Guildford, GU3 1AG

Driving along the busy A31 our Sat Nav told us we’d reached our destination but with absolutely no sign of a vineyard where was it? 

Fortunately we spotted the Greyfriars signs which directed us down a little lane we’d have otherwise missed, and moments later the traffic noise faded and we were surrounded by the peaceful sloping fields of grapevines.  There is a feeling of rustic authenticity about Greyfriars and we were keen to explore and find out more.

The experience

We paid £20 each for a 2-hour tour and tasting which includes a free Greyfriars branded sparkling wine glass plus 10% off any wine purchased on the day which felt like very good value. Sturdy shoes are a must as the ground is uneven and there are some steep steps.

Greyfriars, which primarily focuses on sparkling wine production, has 62,000 vines spread over 50 acres on 3 sites plus a new winery and chalk cave for ageing.  The first vines were planted on just 1.5 acres in 1989 and these are still in use and now considered old vines which produce less yield but fine, concentrated flavours.

James, one of the small team of seven, took us on the tour.  Greyfriars – which derives its name from the local pilgrimage trail – has very chalky soil with vines planted on gentle slopes South/South-East facing to maximise exposure to sunlight.

The tour started by the old vines with a tasting of their Sparkling Classic Cuvée.  We then moved to the old winery (the new one is sited further away) where James explained the traditional method of sparkling wine in detail.  He showed us the machinery they use including the gyropalette which literally tilts the bottles to allow the yeast sediment to move to the neck, before the disgorgement machine whips off the bottle seal to allow the sediment to exit before the wine is corked.  After this we walked to a pretty outdoor seating area where we tried three more wines: the Sparkling Rosé Reserve, the Cuvée Royale and SB – an interesting sparkling wine made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc – which apparently is a popular style in New Zealand.  All Greyfriars wines are produced in a dry style and James invited us to guess the dosage (the tiny amount of sugar syrup that is added before bottling) within the different wines.

We circled back to the main buildings via another of the vine planted fields where James talked about the harvest.  As it has become harder since Brexit to hire temporary grape pickers, they had hoped to get the general public involved in the harvest, but Covid put paid to that in 2020, so they had to borrow machinery to do a mechanised harvest across part of the vineyard, which worked well with less vine damage than anticipated. 

We returned to a warehouse for the final tasting of a still Rosé produced in 2021.  The inclement weather that year meant that only one small parcel of Pinot Noir ripened which they used to make the rosé which is blended with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. 

James gave us each a price list with the wines we’d tried clearly marked in the order we’d tasted them which made it easy to choose our favourites.  I also noticed later that Greyfriars provide very comprehensive detailed information on their website about how each wine is produced, the quantity made and when it was bottled.

Why you should visit

A really engaging and informative tour – especially for those who want to get into the detail a bit more and improve their understanding of vineyards and the wine making process.  Greyfriars produces some really interesting wines and holds a variety of special events throughout the year (check out the website). 

New learning fact

The base wine for sparkling wines needs to be relatively low alcohol as it will be going through a double fermentation process which could otherwise lead to the wine being too high in alcohol and unpalatable.  To do this the grapes need to be almost under-ripe so that they are high in acidity and low in sugar, which the English climate lends itself well to; while by contrast the Champagne region climate is warming leading to riper grapes and challenges in producing the required type of base wine.

Recommended wines to try

Sparkling Rosé Reserve: this gorgeous rosé was produced in 2018 which was a good warm, dry year allowing the Pinot Noir grapes to ripen well.  It has complex aromas of strawberries and cream, raspberry with a little red cherry – plus vanilla and blossom, toasty oaky notes and brioche.  It is dry with plenty of body and a nice long finish. A perfect drink on a hot summer’s day (I tasted it on the hottest day of the year so far)!

Sparkling Classic Cuvée: a very dry, crisp sparkling wine made with the traditional grape combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.  This wine is matured for 4 years on its lees resulting in a well-rounded wine with toasty, brioche notes on top of citrus, blossom and a touch of herbaceous aromas.  Delicious well chilled.

SB: this golden sparkling wine is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes – a style that is popular in New Zealand but rarely seen in the UK.  The typical fresh grassy, gooseberry aromas of Sauvignon Blanc are tempered with a little brioche, lemon and elderflower.  The sweetest of the Greyfriars fizz, this wine is still Brut (dry), with medium intensity – a great summer drink.

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