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Old Walls Vineyard and Regent’s Bistro

We aren’t great wine drinkers, never have been very keen on any kind of alcohol. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy the occasional glass, but it is occasional.  However, we love to support local industry and today we combined this with a family gathering at the Old Walls Vineyard in Bishopsteignton, a village near Teignmouth here in South Devon.

Old Walls Vineyard was chosen for this family birthday gathering as our younger son and daughter in law had popped in there for coffee recently, and said how nice it was.  Furthermore, you can take well-behaved dogs in, so that Barry-the-dog could be with us.

And Barry had one of these

English wine is no longer the vinegar it once was. Indeed, the Sharpham Vineyard close to Totnes was on national News recently, following the excellent grape harvest, thanks to a long wet spring and a very long hot summer.  We visited this vineyard several years ago as background to an article I was then writing, and so I thought it might be appropriate to include some of that article here:

 

The history of winemaking in Britain is long and complex although it is generally accepted that the vine was introduced to these islands by the Romans; the Celts preferred beer and mead.  But between the Middle Ages and the Great War, and whether for political reasons (the dissolution of the monasteries which owned the majority of the vineyards) or because of climate change (wetter, cooler summers and milder winters, which led to increased fungal growth), commercial wine growing fell into rapid decline and had virtually ceased by the end of the Second World War.

And then in 1951, with the planting of a vineyard at Hambledon in Hampshire by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, commercial wine growing returned to these islands.  This was the first vineyard to be planted specifically to produce wine for sale since 1875.  It was planted with a variety of grape called Seyval Blanc known for its resistance to mildew and botrytis.

One of these relatively new vineyards is in south Devon.  Half-hidden in a spectacular setting, its slopes reaching down to the tidal waters of the River Dart (which create a mild micro-climate), the vines at Sharpham were planted in 1981.

The River Dart, with Totnes in the distance, as seen fro the Sharpham Estate (2009) 

Sharpham’s method of wine production, using both traditional and modern techniques and specialising in slow, cool fermentation with the minimum of intervention is serving Sharpham well:  in the English & Welsh Wine of the Year Competition, 2005, Sharpham’s 2003 Pinot Noir won the President’s Trophy for the best wine produced in smaller quantities, along with a clutch of other awards.

But perhaps the greatest English wine achievement thus far has been the success of the father and son team of Bob and Sam Lindo of Camel Valley Vineyard.  Their 2001 ‘Cornwall’ Sparkling Brut won the Gold Medal at the 2005 International Wine Challenge (indeed, the only Gold in the whole world for a sparkling wine from outside Champagne.) Furthermore, the UK government for official functions in Brussels used the 2003 vintage of Camel Valley during the UK’s EU Presidency.

What this clearly demonstrates is that English wine producers who manage their vineyards professionally are getting excellent results.  This coincides with the changing English palate – no longer will a sweet German white wine suffice – for English wine has a clean, fresh taste.  But don’t take my word for it – sup it and see.

* * * * *

But we weren’t at Old Walls today to tour the vineyard or to participate in a wine tasting (both of which are offered at Old Walls Vineyard) but to have afternoon tea, and at lunch time as afternoon tea is now a staple on many establishments’ menus, and you can have it at almost any time after, say, 12 noon.

We all chose our own sandwiches, from cheese, ham, Coronation chicken, or prawn mayo, and I chose ham, and it was delicious. With it we could have a cheese, plain or fruit scone, with cream and jam for the plain and fruit scones.  It was simple fare but all excellent, and pots of tea and coffee.  What was once a simple tea room has recently been expanded into quite a large bistro-style restaurant, with views stretching – on a fine day – to the coast at Teignmouth.

Two interior photos of Regent’s Bistro

Bishopsteignton is a village on the banks of the River Teign, and like many Devon villages, has lots of narrow streets, and with a variety of properties.  I took the following photos four years ago:

It was up Radway Hill that we reached Old Walls Vineyard

And how could I visit a vineyward without buying a bottle of their wine?

The produce, red, rose, white, and sparkling white and rose wines at Old Walls Vineyard 

After our lovely meal we returned home for a little snooze and a read of the Saturday paper with a cup of tea.

Until next time.

 

 

 

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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11 comments

  1. Gosh Old Walls has certainly been updated Margaret. We went a few years ago, our eldest bought us a special voucher for a tour and lunch plus a bottle of wine, we had a lovely day but the restaurant bit was much more basic. It looks very nice now, glad you enjoyed your visit, it’s in a lovely spot isn’t it. Well worth seeing.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, our son and daughter in law say that in recent months it has been improved, Heather. And in summer, the view across the fields to the cost will be lovely – a pity it was so grey and dismal yesterday, but at least it wasn’t raining. The afternoon tea was more ‘country’, served on wooden boards and chunky sandwiches, than ‘dainty’ with tiny finger sandwiches and little cakes, but it was very good and right for the venue, I thought. A ‘pretty’ afternoon tea on vintage cake stands, etc, wouldn’t have been right in such a rustic setting, with a window next to us through which you could look through to the winery and bottling machines.

  2. Your lunch looks delicious, I do prefer to have my meals on a plate rather than a board but it does seem to be the trendy thing these days.
    Coming home to read the paper and have a snooze is a lovely thing to do, it finishes off the outing so well!

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, I actually prefer food on plates, too, Jan, but this was a lovely meal and in a rather rustic setting, so it was acceptable. And perhaps if they were starting out – I think the restaurant has only been developed this year – perhaps a few boards was less of an expense than quality china, just a thought. Also, they wouldn’t break if dropped!
      Today is rainy so perhaps more reading of papers and snoozes!

  3. The food and the scenery both look lovely. I’m not much of a wine drinker but I quite like a sparkling wine. Not keen otherwise. Trouble is with a sparkling wine I tend to drink it like lemonade so I have to be careful!

    • Margaret Powling

      I also prefer a sparkling wine, if I drink wine at all, Alison, but husband (like most men) prefers red. But I can turn it into sparkling with a good dollop of lemonade! I know purists with throw up their hands in horror, but I’ve yet to find a wine that isn’t improved by a little dollop of lemonade!

  4. Another beautiful part of Britain. I wish that we could get a simple afternoon tea, in New Zealand, but no, the cafes all close at 3pm.

    • Margaret Powling

      That’s a very early time of day to close, Ratnamurti! My goodness, afternoon tea is traditionally at 4 pm here in the UK, and once open, cafes stay open until at least 5pm or 6pm, and restaurants much, much later. Indeed, in summer cafes stay open until evening at least. Just think of the trade your cafes are losing! Don’t people wish to go out for a meal after 3 pm? I find this really strange.

  5. I’m another one who isn’t fussed on red or white wines but I like sparkling / bubbly. Australia has many vineyards, primarily in the Hunter Region (NSW), Margaret River (Western Australia), Victoria and South Australia where each area has its own specialties. I’ve never been to a winery but have been on a tour of a (beer) brewery and it was fascinating. I don’t drink beer but was nonetheless amazed at the science and precision, let alone bulk of scale, required. I’m glad your whole family, including Barry, had a fun outing….. Bishopsteignton looks very pretty. All of those white walls and also the pretty pink… A snooze, cupping and weekend newspaper sounds like the perfect afternoon 🙂

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, I make an exception for sparkling wine, too, Lara, although we don’t buy it often. Our friends who had Combe House Hotel here in Devon had spent time in the Hunter region and after they sold their hotel a couple of years ago have now returned to Australia (although they’re not Australian) as they loved it so much there. I do like beer and actually prefer it to wine – not lager, but real English beer. Barry was very good in the bistro and sat under the table in the hopes that someone would drop a morsel of food!

      • Dogs make excellent vacuum cleaners when food scraps are about. I remember my childhood dog would follow my cousin about when she was a toddler as he was always assured of a scrap or three ! 🐕

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