If you have children and love wine (I wouldn’t dare suggest that the two are linked) you might feel the days of swilling a glass of alcohol and debating its mouthfeel are in the past. However, it needn’t necessarily be so.
For while our national wine industry has been growing in stature, the experience of wine tasting on home soil has also become more refined. In recent years it has been interesting to see our vineyards improve their visitor experience to be more like the superstar wineries of California and South Africa.
Some of our larger UK wineries are family-run, with owners who see the appeal in keeping younger visitors entertained. It also suits smaller vineyards to offer a diverse range of experiences. Recently, at a little vineyard called the Secret Valley in Somerset, we stayed in a lodge with its own hot tub and woke to see dew clinging to the vines. The children met our neighbours that morning – alpacas, donkeys and ponies – while later, we adults enjoyed wine tasting from the comfort of the lodge. Think all the fun of Center Parcs without the hefty price tag.
These sorts of experiences are becoming more common so – having just celebrated English Wine Week (June 18-26) – we have listed eight vineyards that offer fun for families on holiday in the English countryside. Get your family a map and look out for wine tasting flights that you can sample independently, perhaps while the kids have sat down to their own treat or grape juice in the vineyard café. As they say, parenting is all about balance.
For lego building wonders
Denbies Vineyard, Surrey
Depending on when you visit Denbies, little ones could be gazing up at swooping birds of prey or engrossed in building things out of Lego. The wine estate, which is one of the UK’s largest producers, puts on fun-filled events that need to be booked ahead of a visit. Lego sessions take place on occasional Sundays, while a miniature train takes children on a nature trail every Wednesday in summer. It passes scenic viewing points where they can spot everything from bat boxes to badger setts and weasels, ticking off bird sightings on a chart.
Drink: Denbies Greenfields is an award-winning sparkling wine that has baked apple aromas and a toasty character
Stay: Denbies Hotel (01306 876616, denbies.co.uk) is claimed to be carbon neutral, and has garden views and rooms from £155 a night
For treehouse adventures
The cute rare-breed animals will go down a storm with children who visit Bluestones’ 42 acres, with animal feeding encounters possible as well as the occasional pig race. The adventure playground here includes a zip wire and a treehouse and the self-guided tour – through 10 acres of vines – is open to all. It includes a map and signs and ends with a self-guided tasting.
Drink: Bluestones’ 2017 vintage Classic Cuvée has flavours of lemon tart and toasted nuts
Stay: The vineyard has a family-friendly hostel on site, or try the thatched Red Lion Freehouse (01980 671124; redlionfreehouse.com), with fantastic food and rooms from £160 a night
For exotic creatures
Halfpenny Green, Staffordshire
With reptiles including horned chameleons and unusual mammals such as a jaguarundi cat, the Wild Zoo on this estate is the first port of call for children. Once youngsters have had their fill, parents can take everyone on a self-guided tour of the 30 acres of vines used to create award-winning wine.
Drink: The Halfpenny Green 2019 pinot noir is earthy and smooth, with notes of cherry, strawberry and vanilla; halfpennygreen.co.uk
Stay: The Red Lion Inn (01384 221237; redlioninn.co.uk) is a traditional pub nearby, with 16 rooms from £80 a night
For alpacas and deer
Bardfield Vineyard, Essex
A family of fluffy alpacas greets children at this small but respected organic vineyard in a former medieval deer park. Kids can feed the animals at certain times. A self-guided trail explores the hectare of vines, plus there is a pretty walled garden. Midweek tours are followed by wine tastings conducted in a Grade I-listed barn.
Drink: The award-winning 2018 Bardfield Bacchus is a dry white with elderflower aromas and a crisp finish
Stay: Converted black-timber barns at Bardfield (01371 810776; greatlodge.co.uk) house stylish self-catering lodges with rooms from £80 a night
For treasure hunts
Brissenden Vineyard, Kent
A hit for locals during the pandemic, seasonal treasure trails have continued at Brissenden to encourage little ones to explore the vineyard. Groups of families are allowed to camp out among the seven acres of vines and enjoy a dedicated lawn for games such as rounders, football and badminton. There is also a fire pit for cosy evenings. Families who would rather just do a tasting can book private, bespoke vineyard tours including activities to keep children occupied.
Drink: Brissenden’s Sparkling Brut is made using pinot noir grapes and left on the lees for at least two years
Stay: The vineyard campsite (brissendenvineyard.com) comes with four plots, showers and a sheltered kitchen area, from £750 for three nights
For miniature tractors
Secret Valley, Somerset
Rides in a trailer add a family-friendly element to the guided tours at this small vineyard, where most visitors stay in glamping accommodation. Children can visit miniature donkeys, ponies and alpacas and the littlest of them will love scooting about in a barn filled with mini tractors and diggers. For the more adventurous, there is an outdoor activity centre next door. Trailer tours end in a wine tasting, with children’s games.
Drink: Secret Valley’s white wine is perfectly balanced with hints of sweet, refreshing citrus and a clean, dry finish
Stay: Secret Valley (01278 671945; secret-valley.co.uk) has lodges with hot tubs sleeping six from £215 a night
Discover our guide to Somerset
For biking and pygmy goats
Kenton Park, Devon
Teenagers aged 14 and over can pick up the Exe Estuary Cycle Trail on new electric mountain bikes available to hire at Kenton Park. Younger children, meanwhile, will enjoy the pygmy goats, sheep and ducks on the lake, before the family retires to one of Kenton’s thatched dining huts so that parents can enjoy a relaxed wine tasting while children play.
Drink: The Motley Cru Cheeky Fizz is made in the style of prosecco using the Charmat method
Stay: Nearby Lympstone Manor (lympstonemanor.co.uk) is a luxury country house hotel with a Michelin-star restaurant and rooms from £395 a night
Discover our guide to Devon
For a sculpture park and miniature Edwardian village
Leonardslee Gardens, Sussex
Along with England’s first pinotage vineyard, Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens offers a sculpture park, a wallaby enclosure and a miniature Edwardian village, with adorable dolls-house figures. The children’s favourite vineyard tastings are likely to be chocolate pairings – just save some for yourself. Lessons in opening a bottle of wine with a sabre are best left to adults, though. Families can order picnics and collect them from a clocktower.
Drink: The Leonardslee Rosé is made with syrah and sauvignon blanc and has a distinctive acidity
Stay: South Lodge Hotel (01403 891711; exclusive.co.uk) is a few minutes away, with a sleek spa, a quality restaurant and stylish rooms from £375 a night. For more inspiration on where to stay, read Telegraph Travel's guide to the best hotels in England.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.