Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Dedham Vale Vineyard

Essex is an area of England we have not visited so when our daughter gave Hubby a vineyard trip for his retirement gift Dedham Vale Vineyard was a perfect choice ...  in North Essex this English vineyard nestles in the Stour Valley, Constable Country, on the Essex Way.

Driving down the high hedged roads, which seemed to get narrower and narrower, we discovered the vineyard in its beautiful setting; a pool, huge weeping willows and of course vines.

Dedham Vale is set in 40 acres and has been producing wine for over 25 years, their Tasting Barn serving tea and coffee was very welcome after our 140 plus mile journey. A fabulous area for hosting wine tasting, lunches, private functions it had the added bonus of opening out onto a large grassy area and the pool.
Weeping willow by the pool
Dedham Vale's beautiful setting
Ben, the owner, started the tour with a bit of history about how it became a vineyard, it is so interesting to learn how ideas grow and develop. The visit is described as a Grand Tour and it really was. A glorious sunny day we, a group of around 26, set off across the grass to walk the vines.

Dedham grow mainly Germanic grapes, some on this site and more recently other fields in local areas, something they are expanding. Dunklefelder, with its red juice and skin, is the only true red grape grown here and Dornfelder is used to produce the pink colour in their Sparkling Rosé. They grow Bacchus, Pheonix, Rhondo, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay are also grown here, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are grown in their other fields for producing their English Sparkling Wine.

Where it all begins 
Vines stretching across the vineyard
Perfect view on a summer's day 
After walking amongst the vines Ben took us into the oldest building on the vineyard - where the magic happens. The age of the barn noticeable from the herringbone brickwork outside .... inside was very different with shiny stainless steel wine making equipment including a cylindrical press and a spikey corking machine.
Ancient brickwork
Pressing machine - a bag inflates inside to press the grapes against
the walls which have tiny slits that allows the juice to flow out
Ben explaining how the process works 
A few of the stainless steel vats
It's a corker !!
After our superb tour of both vineyard and the winemaking barn we returned to the Tasting Room which had been laid ready for lunch. Before enjoying our tasty ploughman's we enjoyed tasting Dedham Vale wines, five in all, two white, a rose, their red and finally their Brut Sparkling.

Dedham Vale wines - photos are from their website

Colchester Oyster 2016 - 12%
A sparkly clear white with a hint of green hue this Reichensteiner wine had a slight nose of fruit. An off dry wine with a flavour of apple and slight citrus.

Bacchus 2016 - 12%
Ben recommended this with food, especially fish and seafood; lemon and elderflower with a hint of minerality this had a slightly longer finish.

Rosé 2017 - 12% 
A lovely salmon colour this dry rosé was light, fruity with good acidity

Reserve 2016 - 11.5%
Debham Vale's only red this was lighter in body which as expected at 11.5%. A blend of Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Dunklefelder and Rhonda with light tannin from being in French oak this was a deep red in the glass, fruity in flavour with a medium length finish.

Sparkling Brut 2015 - 12%
Produced using the Traditional Method this sparkling wine had fine bubbles, a citrusy flavour with a touch of yeastiness. My favourite wine of our tasting.

A glass of Bacchus 
Thank you Dedham Vale for a very informative tour and tasting of your superb wines in a super setting, we had a lovely afternoon. Thank you too to our daughter, it was a great gift we both enjoyed.
Summer sun in the vines 

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham

Last weekend we celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary - some say we don't look very different but personally I'm glad the perm has gone!!

24th June 1989
This year our celebrations were in Birmingham, two nights away, although just 26 miles from home. To our delight we had discovered that the London Concert Orchestra was at The Symphony Hall on our actual anniversary. A concert of Hans Zimmer and John Williams movie themes conducted by Anthony Inglis - it couldn't be more perfect and we enjoyed every note !


Arriving at Hampton by Hilton on Broad Street at midday Saturday the city was relatively quiet. After checking in we took a stroll to the Library of Birmingham. I have visited before but Hubby hadn't; it's an amazing building with two roof gardens, a superb skyline view and the Shakespeare Room. This room is at the very top of the Library and was moved here piece by piece, when you see the intricate wood and glass you can see it was an amazing achievement.

Library of Birmingham - intricate modern styling
It looks more like a theatre inside
Superb skyline views 
The Shakespeare Room
On our walk through the City we passed by the Town Hall, outside which was the Chelsea Flower Show garden made in recognition of the Windrush - a floral display that had so much meaning, I'm so pleased we were able to see it.
The Windrush Chelsea Flower Show Garden
Steamboat and train 
Iconic London bus
Last year at Love Wine Birmingham we discovered many local producers and suppliers, one being Loki. They are located in the Great Western Arcade which wasn't far from the Library or Town Hall .... and so a visit was a must !

It's a superb wine and spirit shop, over two rooms downstairs filled with wine, champagne and spirits with a larger seating area upstairs with comfy sofas and coffee tables. Loki have around 40 wines in special wine machines that will serve tastings in three different measures. We have seen, and used, these in Calais Wine too in their Tasting Room, it's a great way to sample wine before buying. At Loki you load up a tasting card, each time you sample a wine the card takes that payment, you have the choice of the size of tasting, each wine clearly shows the prices ranging from 99p upwards. We had a very enjoyable time trying new wines - had we had time to stay we could have settled in upstairs and purchased a bottle of our favourite to enjoy (Loki charge £5 corkage). We will be calling by again when in the city and I do hope we meet again at this year's Love Wine Birmingham.

What a super entrance
A few of the tastings on offer
The tastings upstairs 
I tried a few white wines and a couple of reds, whilst Hubby focused on just red wine - these are the wines we tasted, the descriptions are Loki's own from in front of each bottle at the machine:

Pegasus Reisling 2015 New Zealand - honeyed rich and elegant with classic acidity with a bit of sweetness 

Domaine de Vissoux Beaujolais Blanc 2015 France - from a small hamlet near Fleurie, well presented fragrance of white flowers, rich and round with flavours of grapefruit, white peach, pear and apricot

Mahi Sauvignon Blanc 2016 New Zealand - unique aspect is the proportion of wild ferment which adds the most amazing texture and weight without being too overpowering

Bodega Norton 'Lote Negro' Malbec Blend 2013 Argentina - powerful but compact showing dense inky bramble fruit, plums and wood spice from 16 months in new French oak barrels

Domaine Viranel Aromes Sauvages 2015 France - a funky wine with big full tannins and rich bold fruit from the Languedoc 

Bodega Izadi Rioja Reserva 2013 Spain - 16 months in both French and American oak barrels to soften the tannins and add a dash of spice 

Altano Duro Vinho Branco Symington 2016 Portugal - really rounded texture with a lovely floral lift, produced using a blend of indigenous Portuguese grape varieties


After a lovely afternoon at Loki we ventured to Brindley Place, a lively area by the Worcester and Birmingham Canal with plenty of bars and restaurants. A great meal in All Bar One accompanied by a good bottle of wine -  Fico Grande Sangiovese, with all the partying around us, it certainly made Saturday night lively.

Perfect sitting on the terrace
There were plenty of hen and stag groups enjoying a warm summer evening; after dinner we strolled back to our hotel but Broad Street carried on partying until past 3am ..... resulting in a quiet Sunday for some hee hee

Not a quiet Sunday for us, after enjoying a great breakfast at the hotel we wandered around the canal area. There were quite a few narrow boats, plenty of original steep footbridges, old warehouses converted into bars and new builds blending in with the surroundings. Although in the centre of the City it feels fresh and relaxing even with all the people and activities going on.

Old warehouses and new skyscrapers
A mixture of time blending in together
The happy couple of 29 years 
Those old bridges were very steep 
One such activity on Sunday was the football - England played Panama in the World Cup. I'm not a football watcher normally but I don't mind if there is a big event on, and it doesn't get much bigger than the World Cup. As our concert was mid afternoon and the match was on at 1pm we seated ourselves in Wetherspoons The Soloman Cutler to watch the big screen, the first time I have been in a pub to watch any game be it rugby or football - quite and experience; my gin and tonic very much needed!

As I mentioned before the concert was amazing. The Symphony Hall is the perfect venue for live music, I was transfixed with the Da Vinci Code in particular. The fireworks, lasers and Anthony Inglis' variety of disguises made the whole event superb, a perfect way to celebrate.

A stroll back along the canal to the Mailbox and dinner at Cote Brasserie; and a stroll back along the canal to Brindley Place for pud at the Slug and Lettuce where I discovered a new drink that is available in the supermarkets.
Trio of puds - they were all delicious 
Bailey's Iced Coffee Mocha - fabulous 
As the evening sky turned red we took our final stroll back to our hotel, the end to our anniversary in Birmingham - what a superb day, thank you Mr H! I wonder what next year's celebrations will be ;-) 


Perfect sunset to end our perfect day 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme

Northern France is a superb holiday destination, not always one that comes to mind when thinking of French sun, sea and sand but it has it all .... and more.

This year we travelled Newhaven to Dieppe on DFDS, a four hour sailing that both directions began in fog. I don't think I have been on a ship where you can just see the wake and hear the ship's fog horn sounding, quite a nervy trip if you think too much!

The fog did not prevent me enjoying a glass of Sancerre, it is such an unbelievable price on this crossing, or enjoying a fish and chip supper. I say supper as it was late evening when we arrived in Dieppe, an experience to find our hotel and then room for sure!

Travelling north we had all day to discover the north east coast of Normandy and we were delighted to discover a funicular railway when we arrived in Le Treport. Built in 1907 and restored in 2006 the railway is 'self-service' as in a lift, you press the button once inside the car. It's an amazing journey with spectacular views over the town, across the estuary to Mers-les-Bains and further to Picardie's white cliffs.

Funicular at le Treport
The view from the top overlooking Mers-les-Bains
Arriving in Saint-Valery-sur -Somme later that afternoon we were met by Monsieur Guetre and shown around the apartment we had booked for the week via Home and Away. A very modern well maintained complex with security doors, glass paneling, a lift, carpeted corridors and pir lighting (which I had great fun playing with). The apartment itself was immaculate, a great living area with a balcony overlooking the grounds making it very peaceful and the perfect place for a glass of wine. Monsieur very kindly gave us a cake as a welcome gift, a speciality of the region and as we had picked up a few bottles of wine when we did the supermarket shop on the way - the balcony called ......

Getting the holiday off to a good start 
We had visited Saint-Valery-sur-Somme before a few years earlier on a day trip on the wonderful steam train and then the following year for a day trip with our daughter when we were staying a little further north in Etaples. It's a super little place full of history, cobbled streets, the tourist steam/diesel train that runs to Le Crotoy and the harbour full of yachts.

Sails galore
Steam Train just leaving for Le Crotoy
The Diesel returning from it's trip 
We sat rail/harbourside enjoying a beer seeing the last steam train depart and then an hour later the last diesel return. There is a turntable at Saint Valery where the steam train uncouples, turns, moves down the track, reverses and hooks back up, and at one at Le Crotoy so the steam engines are always pulling the train. However the diesel pushes or pulls the carriages, and sometimes it pulls backwards. It was such fun to sit and watch, right next to the rails, no barriers as we would have here, the trains ran right into the town, crossing footpaths and roads (with barriers and lights) - such a great sight four or five times a day. We could hear the train from our balcony, always good to catch a toot !

Waiting for the trains :-)
And here they are 
Saint Valery has plenty of history too; William the Conqueror launched his invasion of Britain from here, Joan of Arc was kept here before being taken to Rouen and the Somme was a major battlefield in World War I. The Cité Medieval's buildings are beautiful, as are some of the older houses in the town. From the old city walls you can see right across the Baie to Le Crotoy showing just how vast it is. 

Cité Medieval
Joan of Arc traveled through here
Joan of Arc prisoner of the English, from Crotoy to Rouen
she crossed this town gate on 20th December 1430
The Medieval church
Beautiful old houses in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme 
To our surprise when we descended back down from the old cité to the estaury/harbour across the water was a shepherd with his two dogs and a huge flock of sheep. Judging by the noise they were certainly enjoying their dip in the water. They were not the only animals we saw on the beach this holiday, one of our trips our was to Le Hourdel which is on the very tip of the estuary. At low tide the Baie has many sandbanks which a colony of seals has made its home for many years. Although across the water you are very close to them; it was super watching them play in the sea and wobble around on land. Further out to sea on the bigger banks were dark patches, more groups of seals, there must have been hundreds all told. It is only low tide you can see these amazing animals as the sea covers the banks completely at high tide, in fact the Baie is quite a dangerous place with many warnings about being stranded as the sea comes in around you.

A Shepherd and his sheep in the Baie
They seemed to enjoy the water
Seals at Le Hourdel
It's quite a moving part of the world, there are signs of war all around, both ancient and more recent conflicts. On the beach at Le Hourdel is a huge German Bunker and in all the towns there is evidence of where modern buildings replace ones bombed in the war. There are many military cemeteries in this area with their white gravestones in immaculate grounds standing in lines as if still on parade. As we drove around it was surprising how many fields were full of poppies, quite overwhelming at times. 
The German Bunker - that's me next to it, it was huge 
Fields of poppies - such a moving sight 
For us part of our French holidays is about looking for our favourite and finding new wines. This region of France does not have vineyards but it does have large wine stores in Calais. It was an hour's drive so worth a day out. This holiday we were travelling in my little Citroen C1 so although we could look we were limited on buying. Quite a few have come home, it was surprising how much the C1's boot would hold, and we did enjoy a few on our balcony whilst on holiday.

Cellier des Dauphins is one of our favourite French wines
- a must on any holiday
A new wine that I really enjoyed
French sparkling wine is superb
We had a super time in Saint-Valery-sur Somme, our apartment was perfect and we could have spent the whole week in the town without travelling further as there was so much to do, so many nice bars and restaurants and of course train spotting. One of my favourite moments was re-enacting a photo of our daughter from our visit a few years ago - not quite as good as the original but fun to do ;-)