Visit Essex revels in bumper grape harvests and celebrates ‘gin on the side’

Visit Essex revels in bumper grape harvests and celebrates ‘gin on the side’

Ahead of English Wine Week (15-23 June), the county’s tourism organisation, Visit Essex, is shining a light on the county’s stunning vineyards, award-winning wines and the growth of its independent liquor trade.

Essex has become the fifth1 largest grower of grapes in the UK and the largest producer in the Eastern region. Wine is one of the UK’s fastest growing industries and last year saw a bumper crop, thanks to warmer climes, a wet summer and a hot September. In fact, 20-22 million bottles of wine were produced, up 60% from the previous highest yield in 2018.2 The Eastern region harvested 10.23 tonnes of grapes per hectare, doubling the previous highest yield in 20223.

With the rise of vines in Essex, Visit Essex is keen to promote the quality of the county’s wines, which are now served in top hotels and restaurants. Vineyards have also become a place for tourism, accounting for 32% of total vineyard income in the East. The rise of cellar door sales, wine tastings, plus the use of venues for weddings and events has seen the sector soar.

Lisa Bone, Strategic Tourism Manager at Visit Essex, explains: “In Essex we have the perfect climate and geology to grow vines. Vineyards are popping up all over the county, it’s transforming our rural landscape and making it even more attractive to visitors. It’s great to see how entrepreneurial our winemakers and distillers have become to enhance our tourism offering.”

Vineyards in the north west of Essex benefit from the same chalk seam that runs through the Champagne region of France. The result is delicious, award-winning sparkling wines, like those produced at Saffron Grange vineyard. The vineyard has received many accolades for its wine, including a Bronze Decanter World Wine Award in 2023 for its Classic Cuvee Brut, 2019.4 They also offer a range of events for tourists to enjoy, plus tours and tastings.

Tourist attractions are also investing in the liquor trade with a growth of gin as a new side line. Hedingham Castle has just launched its very own gin, DeVere Finest Gin. Jason Lindsay, owner of the castle, came up with the idea during lockdown. He said: “I had an epiphany during lockdown, realising how amazing the castle would look on a square bottle. At the same time, we were all too aware that we had to create a top-class gin.”

Jason teamed up with Thames Distillers in London, infusing their base gin with handpicked linden flowers, harvested from lime trees that grow on the castle’s ancient ramparts during a window of just two weeks in the year.5 The result is a bespoke, unique creation.

To discover more about the county’s award-winning vineyards and distilleries, head to www.visitessex.com.

To visit Essex by train, Greater Anglia provides a comprehensive service across much of Essex. The Stansted Express offers routes to Stansted with stops along the Essex/Herts border. Saffron Grange vineyard can be reached via the Stansted Express train to Audley End station, whereas Hedingham Castle is just a short journey from Braintree station, via Greater Anglia from London Liverpool Street. To purchase tickets, visit www.greateranglia.co.uk.