Saffron Grange vineyard near Cambridge offers tours, tasting and more
Situated in an area of the region where woolly mammoths once roamed, Saffron Grange is a close-knit, family-run vineyard nestled in the hills just outside of Saffron Walden – and members of the public can go along and sample some of the produce.
The site produces quality English sparkling wines and, since opening to the public in 2019, it has been quietly racking up the awards – most recently achieving silver in the Decanter World Wine Awards for its 2016 Classic Cuvée.
The land was acquired in 2006 and planting began in 2008. When preparing the ground, so to speak, to unleash their wine onto an unsuspecting public, the team worked with specialist consultants to analyse the soil. This revealed the land, when combined with the unique climate and topography of the region, was perfectly suited to growing grapes for premium sparkling wines.
We asked owner Paul Edwards and his son, Nick, the director, to bring us up to date. Paul, a microbiologist/biochemist by trade, who previously worked in food and drink processing, said: “Having launched in 2019, and gone through the usual trauma of setting up a business and starting sales, we got a very good platform towards the end of 2019 and we hit the Christmas period with a flourish – only to enter into Covid and all the trials and tribulations during 2020, and more recently.
“But despite all of that, the business is doing really quite well. We’ve learnt an awful lot more about what to do with our website and our online sales. The vineyard tours and the number of people visiting us have been generally less than we would have liked, because of the issues of Covid, but our online sales have been much better. Our to-the-trade sales have clearly been affected by closures, but are now picking up with gusto.
“So right at this moment, our launch stock, which we’re gradually releasing for this year’s vintage, is going out the door faster than we’re bringing it in. That’s just us doing a bit of planning on getting our deliveries ‘in tune’.”
Nick, whose wife Aimie is operations manager (Paul’s wife Ross is a director), said: “It’s worth noting that last year’s tours were clearly affected with Covid. We were only able to open for a small window, but certainly this year’s tours are doing extremely well.
“Hopefully, we’re able to maximise the fact that a lot of people are not able to go overseas and visit the vineyards that maybe they once did – and they’re very keen to come and see what we’re doing in England. It’s been really exciting; our first tour started three or four weeks ago now and they’ve all been extremely busy, so we’ve got a busy summer ahead of us, which is great.”
The tour, led by Paul, or vineyard manager Dan Turner, starts off just outside the vineyard, in a new shop – part of the new winery building – which opened a few weeks ago.
“Then the visitors get a tour of the vineyard and they get to understand why we planted our vines, the importance of this location and the chalk that we’re on here, which is so important for making really good premium quality sparkling wine,” explained Nick.
He adds that the uniqueness of the chalk in the area and the fact that East Anglia is the “driest part of the country” are two contributing factors, noting the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, 38.7 degrees, was in Cambridge in 2019.
Nick, who has a background in IT, said: “Once they’ve finished the tour, they then come back and do a tasting of our latest three wines and we give them a bit of a guide on how to taste sparkling wines.
“Two of them [the latest wines] are from the 2018 vintage – that really hot summer – and we’ve also got a 2019 rosé, which is certainly proving very popular.” Guests also get to enjoy charcuterie boards and cheese boards, which are all paired to individual wines, while sitting outside in the sunshine.
Before embarking on this exciting venture, Paul and Nick went to Plumpton College in East Sussex – “the only place in England where you can study oenology and viticulture,” observes Nick – to learn more about winemaking.
So is English wine really anything new? Nick said: “I think it is new in terms of what we’re doing, in terms of the quality that we’re producing. There have been vineyards here for a long time but there haven’t been as many as now.
"Certainly the number of vines being planted across the country at the moment is colossal – there are millions and millions of vines going down each year because what we have now, from a climate perspective, is where Champagne was 20 years ago. So we’re now able to consistently ripen grapes that we’ve never been able to ripen before.”
The 2021 season of tours and tastings has now launched at Saffron Grange and will run through to October’s harvest.
To book a place on the tour, visit saffrongrange.com/vineyard-tours. Tour vouchers are also available.