All Aboard the Bacchus Bus: An Insight into the English Wine Scene with Johnathan Garry

14th September 2023

Little Waddon Dorset

All Aboard the Bacchus Bus: An Insight into the English Wine Scene with Johnathan and his Top Tour Picks…

There’s a lot of what I do that doesn’t feel like work (working in wine can do that to people) but it’s most likely hosting our annual cross-county vineyard tours where I feel most fraudulent! To that end, here I am, attempting to do some work by reporting on my ‘Top 5 Tour Picks’ from across the English wine scene-the South West scene more specifically.

The Back Story: After picking up our tour goers in our private transportation, we then spent three days and two evenings travelling across Dorset and Devon, visiting 4 primary estates whilst also enjoying a private river cruise wine tasting hosted by my good self. This wine tasting, afloat the River Dart, was dubbed ‘Wider Wines of the Devon’. Across all the experiences, we got to savour the splendours of 8 fine English producers.

Stop #1 Langham, Dorset

Whilst visiting Dorset, my aspirations were to compare a larger and smaller producer so we could appreciate both ends of the spectrum. There were overlaps, of course, quality being the guiding star but in addition, both Langham and Little Waddon have their own approaches to minimal-interventionist winemaking; exploring this also, was key for the 2023 Bacchus tour.

Viticulture at the Langham estate dates back to the 1980s albeit as a hobby for the owner of the estate: John Langham. It was his son, Justin, who planted the first commercial vineyard in 2009. Langham now boasts over 30 hectares under vine (note, England has just under 4000 hectares under vine, whilst the largest producer is Chapel Down with just over 300 hectares). Crucially, it’s Langham’s commitment to producing unfined and unfiltered wines with minimal sulphite use: ‘unadulterated Dorset wine’ you might say! And it falls to their Head Winemaker, Tommy Grimshaw (the youngest in his class too I might add) to oversee this mammoth task. Tommy cut his teeth during a summer job at neighbouring Devon’s Sharpham Wine Estate before taking up the job as Assistant Winemaker at Langham. Tommy then seized the opportunity to take up the top job in just 2020. Listed in Harpers’ 30 Under 30 list and awarded Commitment Champion for the sector last year, he’s a name to pay attention to.

LANGHAM’S TOP PICK: Pinot Noir ‘Blanc du Noirs’ 2019, £52.50

Dubbed ‘Tommy’s Baby’ this is the first vine to bottle wine that superstar winemaker Tommy Grimshaw has overseen and released; well, I was smitten from the off! But that’s not all and they do say the proof is in the pudding don’t they. This wine came to fruition when Tommy and the team found a limited number of barrels from the 2019 harvest that were simply too good ‘to hide away in a blend’. The wine was subsequently given the Langham’s top treatment and 50% of the fruit was aged in old French oak barrels. And it’s true… this is a corker! Rich, with layered complexity; it’s a full of life Pinot and it just… sings! Put it with the confit duck leg that was served alongside it at lunch… well, well, well, could we have wished for a more sublime first stop to our tour? I think not! Gastronomic perfection.

Stop #2 Little Waddon, Dorset

Little Waddon, a stone’s throw from the iconic Jurassic Coast, is owned and managed by Simon and Karen Priestly. This minute 1 hectare vineyard (Langham being over 30 hectares you may recall) was originally planted in 2012 but was purchased, by the husband and wife duo, and brought back to life in 2018. “It was on it’s last legs… I had worked in film previously so I was used to slogging my guts out on long stints, but nothing prepared me for this venture!” Simon told us.

During the tour, we were greeted by Simon himself (whilst Karen, unknown to us, continued adding the remaining flourishes to our final meeting point). We were treated to the most intimate tour of the vineyard as Simon took us on the journey of LW’s development and their ongoing commitment to regenerative winemaking.

Regenerative winemaking could, perhaps, be best summarised as ‘growing great soil’, but crucially, this is achieved by monitoring and supporting what happens above the soil, just as much as below! “It’s about biodiversity and we sacrifice a lot of what we could produce to promote this but it’s all in the name of great, honest wine.’’ As you can imagine, we hung off Simon’s every word. At the end of the vineyard tour, we were greeted by Karen and what a sight it was that was bestowed upon us. Karen had painted a picture, with no little touch left unconsidered. We were wined and dined by Simon and Karen on their most beautiful veranda that overlooked the vineyard. If you ever visit Little Waddon, you’d be permitted to claim you’d actually found ‘paradise lost’. You’d be forgiven too for feeling like you’re the sole beings left on this fair and fragile planet of ours.

LITTLE WADDDON’S TOP PICK: Col Fondo 2021, £22.00

Although the couple now boast 7 wines in their portfolio, their Col Fondo was one of the originals and certainly the first LW wine I tried back in 2018. It’s a beautiful expression of this style that gives subtle, well integrated, yeasty tones and orchard fruits, such as ripe pear, as well as offering a generous and refreshing finish. For a Col Fondo, it’s clean as a whistle and I love it! Fun fact, Col Fondo is an ancestral style of wine that goes through a second fermentation in bottle but, crucially, the lees are left in the bottom as it remains sealed under a traditional crown cap. Col Fondo is Italian for ‘with bottom’ after all… Bottoms up, I guess.

Stop #3 Swanaford, Devon

Our big and small comparison continued into Devon. Here, at Swanaford, Ben and Caroline bring in their fruit from their small 4 hectare estate that enjoys magnificent sun exposure thanks to the south-east facing slopes set within the Teign Valley. The husband and wife duo tend to 10,000 vines and produce a portfolio of five wines including three traditional method sparkling wines, using the classic Champagne varieties, along with two still white wines including a Bacchus. All of which, we enjoyed, sat within their beautiful wooden Tasting Barn.

SWANAFORD’S TOP PICK: Classic Cuvée 2018, £28.95

A classic blend of the Champagne varieties including 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier which boasts fresh floral and citrus notes, balanced with elegant toasty notes. This wine offers not only tremendous value but superb quality for a traditional method English sparkling wine. It was quite poetic really when I received word that this wine had just received Gold from the Independent English Wine Awards whilst we were making our way from Dorset to Swanaford.

Stop #4 Darthaven, Devon

For our afternoon’s entertainment, it was my pleasure to host a river cruise wine tasting showcasing the ‘Wider Wines of Devon’. No Top Picks here as such. The sun was shining, we were cruising on the river and the wine was pouring. Everything was TOP!

River Cruise Picks:
Heron Farm Traditional Method Sparkling Brut 2018, £32
Heron Farm Seyval Blanc 2021, £16
Lyme Bay Shoreline 2022, £18.99
Lyme Bay Bacchus 2021, £18.99
Alder Vineyard Madeline Angevine 2021, £14.95
Beeleigh ‘Bordeaux Blend’ NV (produced by Mark Sharman, the previous owner of Sharpham Wine Estate, Devon), *private purchase

Stop #5 Sharpham, Devon

Remember how Tommy Grimshaw found his passion for wine whilst working at Sharpham in Devon? Our final stop saw us bring our mammoth tour to a close right here! An iconic wine estate with commercial wine making traditions dating back to the 1960s! However, visiting in 2023 allowed us to visit Sharpham Wine’s new home: Sandridge Barton. Sharpham Wine will soon be producing its wines from fruit sourced from three vineyard sites: Sandridge Barton, Stony Field and Reservoir Field. Not only this, but Sharpham now boats its own tourist centre including a restaurant, shop, courtyard and onsite accommodation. Don’t let the magnitude of Sharpham’s new offering fool you, however, Sharpham Wine is set within the quaintest of spots and everything is beautifully in keeping with the stunning Devonshire landscape.

Paddy, from the winemaking team, and Libby, from the vineyard team, were both kind enough to guide us on our tour. A tour that saw us; ride up in the ‘Gater’ (think Jurassic Park car vibes but without the scary dinosaurs) to the top vantage points where we could, not only admire the various vineyard sites, but also look down on beautiful Devon. Looking up also allowed us to admire the sensational Red Arrow display taking place as part of the English Riveria Airshow (special thanks to Paddy and Libby for taking us to the most perfect vantage spot and for helping me make our agenda work so we could soak all this up). Needless to say, the wine continued to pour throughout our tours of the vineyards and winery. Being the most superb hosts, Paddy and Libby then took us to their special ‘Vine Room’ for an exceptional vertical tasting of their limited release red Pinot Noir. We enjoyed old vintages from the estate’s library stock including the 2014 and 2015 vintages as well the ’18, ’19 and ’21 releases. An exception experience and the most perfect end to our magnificent tour of the South West.

SHARPHAM’S TOP PICK: Bacchus Stop Ferment 2022, £19.50

OK, OK, you’re right, this isn’t a glass of bubbly but… my word it is fun-as fun as a glass of giggles I’d say! A delightful summer-sipper with elderflower aromatics abound and lashings of tropical fruit. This is a delight; off-dry in style due to stopping the ferment before completion and thereby retaining some of the natural sugars from the Bacchus must. This wine is fun and frivolous and it will bring the summer vibes to your garden party!

Reading this got you thirsty to explore the thriving English wine scene for yourself? Johnathan and his Bacchus Bus(es) set off on another adventure across the South East, visiting Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, between Friday 24th and Monday 27th May 2024. Check out the full offering right here.


Johnathan Garry, Bacchus Wine Tasting
Johnathan is currently studying his Diploma in Wines. Johnathan runs his own Wine School currently delivering WSET Levels 1 and 2 in Wines. His Merseyside based company, Bacchus Wine Tasting, specialises in hosting private and public wine tasting events. As well as this, Johnathan runs his online Bottle Shop with a strong learn towards English wines. And, of course, he chaperones his annual cross-county vineyard tours.


Johnathan Garry

Director at Bacchus Wine Tasting. He doesn’t tend to overthink titles but ‘Event Host’, ‘Educator’ and ‘Communicator’ (mainly because he loves to chat wine) could all stick. He runs private & public wine tastings, The Bacchus School of Wine, online bottle shop & annual public cross-county vineyard tours. @bacchuswinetasting