There are some historic vineyards like Hambledon and Adgestone in England. Chilford Hall Vineyard and Winery is one such olden establishment, sprawled across the rolling Cambridge countryside, known for its fresh and fragrant award-winning wines.
An estate as old as 1966 Linton
Late entrepreneur Sam Alper OBE had a keen interest in wine and art. He participated in the 1983 Great English Wine Rally, driving samples of his wine to the George V Hotel in Paris, and was a board member of WineGB. He also designed the Sprite Caravan and was the founder of the Little Chef chain of restaurants.
Alper purchased the Chilford Hall estate in 1966, paving the way to the development of the winery and a wine destination with a distinct identity. The vineyard has been in the Alper family since then, until recently when it was placed on the market with a guide price of £2m. The sale will cover the 22-acre vineyard, the winery, winemaking equipment, and about 45,000 bottles of wine, all of which form part of the assets of Chilford Hundred Limited.
Chilford Hundred Limited holds winemaking contracts with eight other growers in the region, with three more expected to join the list in the coming years. The corporation also provides viticulture consultancy and vine planting services.
A merging of the old and the new
The first vines at Chilford were planted in 1972, which makes Chilford Hall one of the oldest established commercial vineyards in England today. The winery building itself stood in Linton until 1976, when it became due for demolition. It was rescued beam by beam and re-erected at Chilford, where it now stands around a grassy courtyard. The timber-framed walls are now lined with rows of temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation vessels in a merging of the old and the modern. The building also houses a converted Dutch barn and the bonded cellar “includes white marble pillars from the Long Bar at Waterloo Station”.
Today the vineyard has expanded to cover more than 20 acres. It grows over 17,000 vines of nine different varieties to match the soil and climate conditions of the Cambridgeshire downs. There are 2.35 acres of undeveloped land at Chilford, which provides an opportunity for further planting and development.
The Chilford bouquet of award-winning wines
The Chilford estate grows Müller-Thurgau, Schönburger, Ortega, Reichensteiner, Pinot Noir, Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder, and Siegerrebe grapes, which produce more than 18,000 bottles of still and sparkling wine annually. Because all the wine is produced exclusively from the grapes grown and harvested at the estate in any given year, the blends vary slightly from one year to the next, making every vintage unique. The wines range from £10 to £28 and are clean-flavoured and affordable.
Chilford produces excellent red, white, rose, and sparkling wines. The free draining chalky soil, similar to the terrain of Champagne in France, is particularly suitable for the production of hallmarked-quality sparkling wines. Vinification is carried out under strict quality control and close supervision of head winemaker Mark Barnes, which ensures the fine quality and increasing success of the wines. Unsurprisingly, Chilford wines have received numerous awards and accolades from both the National and Regional United Kingdom Vineyards Associations.
Try this sparkling wine from Chilford
Try the Chilford Hall Graduate Brut 2016 vintage. The traditional method sparkling is primarily made of Müller-Thurgau, with a dash of Pinot Noir. The appealing aromas of ripe apple, pear, and peach are enhanced by citrus zests and a hint of nectarine. It is reminiscent of a decent Prosecco, but with crisp acidity and a certain off-dry note.
A landmark on the English wine tourism map
The Chilford estate is a key site on England’s wine tourism map. Vineyard tours and tastings are an important part of the estate’s business, which contribute to a memorable vineyard experience in the UK. There is a designated marquee and bistro on the land for these purposes. There is also a wine shop on the site, and a separate vineyard visitor centre offers which offers a selection of local food items and gifts.
Fiona Alper, Sam’s widow, wants to retire from the wine business and hopes that the sale of the estate will mean that someone with passion and energy takes over Chilford Hall and takes the vineyard and winery to the next level.