A weekend away at Tillingham Wines

The Winemaker

It made complete sense when Ben Walgate, Winemaker and Owner of Tillingham Wines said that he had grown up on a farm. To Ben’s very core you can see the respect he has for his surroundings and the love and admiration for nature and wildlife. “It’s all about the Biomes”, he says several times. There is a reason why Ben has decided to plant all his vines completely Biodynamically and organically. He believes this is the future for growing grapes. He is entirely working in an experimental way as so far, nobody else in England is taking care of their vines in quite this way.

Ben Walgate, Winemaker at Tillingham Wines inside the oast where the Qvevri are buried in the soil
Ben Walgate, Winemaker of Tillingham Wines with the young vines in the vineyard

Ben’s journey began at the age of 18. Leaving behind the farm life, he quickly realized the only thing that interested him was wine. With a decent 6 years stint working as CEO and Winemaker of Gusbourne Estate (a widely respected English Winery in Kent) his roots were calling him, and he found himself back again on a farm. This farm, near the gorgeous Beaches of Camber Sands, is 70 acres where he has planted 20 acres to vines starting in 2016.

farm view from the window of hotel room at Tillingham wines

The Project

It is only 3 years underway and appears to be growing in all directions. I was lucky enough to play guinea pig and try out the new hotel in Tillingham which is a converted Barn on the property. Rooms start from £150 for a standard double and there are suites for £250 and all give beautiful views of the vineyards. You will have no problem feeling at home here, and if you are lucky there may even be a yoga session going on in the room downstairs. With floor to ceiling windows, the room exudes a complete aura of Zen. 

hotel room at tillingham wines
A standard double room
view from hotel room window at tillingham wines
The view from our hotel window8

Hotel rooms include breakfast which just adds to the outdoor experience. Sausages and Bacon come direct from the farm and the coffee is roasted just down the road and brewed through a Chemex pour over. All very nice touches and the best coffee I have drunk all year. They also trialed a 4-course dinner with us that evening, which naturally included tomatoes from their own gardens and all local produce

Dining room at Tillingham wines
dining room at Tillingham wines at nighttime

Watch out for stage 3, 4 and maybe 5. There are plans for glamping areas, firepits, and decking areas to host events. Although it wasn’t mentioned, this could be an awesome place for a couple to tie the knot.

The Vineyards

As the vines themselves are still getting their roots established, it will be this year’s harvest and 2020 onwards that sees them being used in the wines. There are 21 different varieties planted, so I can only imagine Ben’s experimentation will continue and we will see some fun and exciting looking wines coming into the market in the next few years. As biodiversity is the key, don’t expect manicured vines. Vineyards are in amongst the trees and bushes, with cover crops planted between all the rows. The ideas of different plants everywhere is to attract all forms of wildlife. For an area to work in harmony you want to make sure you have all these elements in place.

The Tour

I loved every part of our tour with Ben. Pack your walking shoes (I did it in flip flops – perhaps not the most appropriate footwear). The vines are all planted on different slopes with different aspects. There you will find yourself walking up through the vines planted with cover crops attracting buzzing bees, through farmlands filled with sheep and pigs and down through small forest areas. You might go past Ben’s house, which means you will meet his 3 pet goats.

pet goats of tillingham wines

We tasted some wines in the vineyard, others in the winery and the last inside an Oast House, an original 17th century building that was used in the past for drying hops. This is now the location of the 13 Qvevris that are buried in the soil.

Qvevri upsidedown
Oast building that houses the Qvevri
Qvevri in the ground

There is no sitting down and writing notes, no tasting sheets, and you will not hear a rehearsed script. This tour is much more about a feeling. A feeling of connection with nature, the vineyards and for any wine geeks like myself, Ben is still happy to answer every and any question I had for him. 

For £15 you with can have a wine tasting and a brief tour – I believe Ben is thinking about creating maps so you can take yourself around the farmland.

The Wines

If you are a natural wine lover, the wines of Tillingham are right up your street. Ben believes in doing things traditionally and with as little intervention as possible. This means the smallest amount of sulphur with no additives or manipulations. There are wines aged in the more modern stainless-steel tanks and oak barrels, but equally he is big fan of Qvevri (similar to a clay amphorae pot) which is how they used to age the wines 7000 years ago. He is currently the owner of 13 200 liter Qvevri. He has additionally got in some concrete eggs as another ageing alternative.

Oak barrels, concrete eggs, qvevris and plastic tubs

With Ben’s hands and natural winemaking skills, expect pure intense fruit flavors, little hints of oxidation, and quite a few wines with some spritz. All of them are unique and made on the small scale. Around 30,000 bottles in total made last year. They sell out fast.

Of the many wines tasted 2 really surprised me:

Qvevri Rullem 2018

Mainly Muller Thurgau with skin contact and 7 months ageing with Flor.
The nose is subtle, aromatic and very pretty with loads of dried mango and tinned peaches with hint of crushed minerals.
The palate is filled with oranges, thyme and rosemary with powdery chalky tannins, and vibrant acidity.

Rose 2018 

A blend of Rondo, Orion and Madeline Angevine.
Aromas of strawberry compote, vanilla bean and cream with background notes of almond flakes coming from hints of oxidation.
With a medium body, there is loads of fleshy peach on the palate with lively fruit and soft subtle tannins.

tillingham wine pinot noir

The English Wine Industry is growing, developing and getting more exciting every year. Tillingham Wines is not following the crowd but potentially leading it. Grab a bottle before they all sell out, and when you are next planning a romantic night away or a reconnection with nature, think about staying in the vineyards of Tillingham. Find out more from their website.

Tillingham wines rangerover

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