Review: Denbies Vineyard Hotel, Dorking
Looking for a grape escape? Muddy checks into the Vineyard Hotel on the Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking - the perfect getaway for those who like walking, drinking lovely wine and eating fabulous seasonal food.
Set on more than 600 acres of rolling countryside, there’s no doubt the Denbies Vineyard Hotel is something special. Tucked behind the large visitor centre, and with its own restaurant and now a brand new wine library opening this summer, it’s a wonderful getaway for those who like walking, drinking lovely wines and eating fab food.
The estate was founded in 1984 by local entrepreneur Adrian White, and continues today to be run by the next generation White family. Originally a pig and cattle farm, Sir Adrian made the move to grapes on the advice of a a neighbour, a geologist, who suggested the chalk soils, climate and south-facing slopes were similar to the Champagne region in France. At a time when English wine was considered something of a joke, he was taking a chance. But the gamble paid off and what started out as 30 acres of vines is today 265 acres – about 300,000 vines in total – making Denbies one of the UK’s largest wine producers. There are about 15 different varieties, all suited to cooler climates, including classic varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc plus Bacchus, Ortega, Reichensteiner and Rondo.
The Denbies Estate is about a mile out of Dorking down a country lane just off the A24. It’s an easy 15 minute walk from Dorking Station with access to Central London in around an hour, and about a 20 minute walk to Dorking Deepdene which has trains from Gatwick.
It’s a sunny spring day, and the vines are in leaf, though not quite heavily laden with fruit. There are walkers – many with dogs – and joggers tramping the footpaths through the vineyard. It’s a beautiful scene, and we could quite easily be in Bordeaux or the Loire.
The Continental vibe seeps into much of the Vineyard Hotel offerings – even the main hotel building, the original Farmhouse, a pretty white cottage built in the 1850s, wouldn’t look out of place in the French countryside. The Vineyard Restaurant and the adjoining Wine Library tasting rooms come off the side of the Farmhouse overlooking the vines, both with wall-to-wall bi-fold glass doors which open to an outdoor terrace and lawn. There are several rooms in the Farmhouse, and the rest are in a smart new annexe called The Brakes, spread across two floors.
SCOFF & QUAFF
After an escorted tour around the vineyard with Steve, a fountain of knowledge about not just the vineyard, but also the local area, we head to the Wine Library to sample some of the goods.
Jeremy Blood is our wine educator, and its a fun and laid-back walk through some of Denbies best tipples starting with the Sparkling Bacchus, a light and citrussy fizz, and ending with a Redlands, a velvety red. In between, there was a Whitedowns Rosé, Whitedowns Brut and Greenfields (all sparkling), the Cubitt Blanc De Noirs and Denbies Chardonnay (both white) and the Denbies Bacchus (red).
It’s rare that I meet a wine that I don’t like – super sweet wines aside – but there’s something about tasting different wines side-by-side that really hones your taste buds develops your senses. I adored the lightness of the Sparkling Bacchus, and I’ve long been a fan of the Whitedowns Rosé, a creamy and smooth pink fizz.
After the tasting, and probably not a moment too soon, we head to the Vineyard Restaurant for dinner, armed with pairing suggestions from Jeremy. You don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to eat here – and it’s a more relaxed option to the more formal Gallery Restaurant but something a bit more special than the Conservatory Restaurant, the other restaurants at the Denbies.
It’s a small season menu – three starters, four mains and four desserts – which changes often available at two courses for £27 or three courses for £34.
I chose the Mackerel Fritters with piccalilli and apple compote and a micro salad for starters, within I paired with a glass of the Bacchus, while Mr M chose the Chicken Liver Pâté with a fig and honey chutneys and toasted brioche, which he had with the Greenfields.
Moving on to mains, I chose the Teriyaki salmon with stirred retables and glass noodles, and Mr M went for the Pan-fried chicken, with smoked chicken croquette and a sweet potato purée and vegetables. The food was excellent – fresh and light, well presented and perfect the tasting.
Breakfast offers up the usual cooked options as wells toasted Belgian waffles, wild mushrooms on sourdough and crushed chilli and lime avocado on toasted sourdough with poached eggs. There’s also a small Continental offering of greek yoghurt, fruit, cereal and pastries, plus porridge.
There are 17 ensuite rooms here, spread across the original farmhouse and a new annex that opened in summer 2019. Decor is simple and stylish with crisp white walls, dark timber floors and striped carpets alongside splashes of autumn golds in the soft furnishings. A nod to the surroundings is featured in the vine wallpaper drawn from the Jane Austen House Museum in Hants.
There are plenty of luxe touches – fluffy robes, bathroom products from French skincare brand Caudalie, and a selection of Fairtrade teas, coffees, hot chocolate and biscuits.
There’s an emphasis on sustainability at Denbies, the vineyard has made a commitment to be carbon neutral and is solar powered where possible.
Yes, and dog friendly too. There are interconnecting rooms and larger suites available for families, as well as dog-friendly rooms.
OUT & ABOUT
There are seven miles of paths throughout the estate, which are open to the public. There’s a 50-minute Vineyard Train Tour which takes in some of the most beautiful view points on the estate, and from spring 2022 a Secret Vineyard Tour. Denbies also conducts indoor winery tours and tastings, and there’s also a cinema experience which charts the Vineyard through the seasons.
Two cabanas on the lawn near the hotel look out over the vines, and these can also be booked for up to 10 people for food and wine tasting experiences, and sparkling afternoon tea.
There’s an escapes rooms on the site, and it’s also home to SHP Health which offers Pilates, yoga, tai chi, massage and reflexology, as well as physiotherapy. Bikes are also available to hire via a local company.
If you’re venturing off the estate, Box Hill is right next door – great for walks – and the National Trust’s Poleden Lacey is also nearby. Dorking is also worth having a wander around, particularly if you have a penchant for antiques – the old quarter is home to several antiques and vintage stores.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you like wine, walking and great food, then this is the place for you.
Not for: If you’re more of an urban creature, stick to city breaks.
The damage: The Denbies Vineyard Spring/Summer Seasonal break (available Thurs-Sun) is £145 for one person or £265 for two people including overnight accommodation, dinner in the Vineyard Restaurant, a wine tour and tasting, and breakfast. A two-night break is £450 for two people.