Speaking About English Wine Tourism with Derek Walklate

17th August 2023

Speaking About English Wine Tourism with Derek Walklate

It’s no doubt that English Wine Tourism is on the rise and that English Wineries and Producers know it’s an important aspect of the growth and image of the English Wine Industry.

The Wine Industry as an entire entity has two aspects in common, Tastings and Tours, these are the lifeblood of the Wine Tourism trade, a baseline for the industry, one of the easiest ways to help you build a stronger relationship with your customers, welcoming them into your winery, showing them the ins and outs, and then treating them to a tailored tasting of the long awaited final product.

England has always been a country of innovation, dragging industries into the 21st century and beyond, but no matter what advances are done, there will always be a glass of bubbly in hand because it’s the only way for people to really embrace your sparkling wines, so when it comes to innovation, it’s no surprise to see some English wineries extend their offering beyond the classic Tastings and Tours, when Biddenden Vineyards decided to put on a theatre show in front of their vines, a glass of bubbly was in hand, and when Bolney Wine Estate decided to theme it’s wine tasting each week or when wineries utilise the special events of the year, like Halloween and Christmas, putting up decorations and dressing up, a glass of bubbly is always in hand.

I reached out to Derek Walklate, a part-time Tour Guide & Cellar Assistant at Stanlake Park Wine Estate, I wanted to get his view on the English Wine Tourism Industry as he’s on the front lines.

Tell Us About Yourself

My working background was in Auditing and IT Security which included lots of international travel. I was lucky to have the opportunity to do many wine tours in Australia, South Africa and California as well as many European locations. Having grown tired of commuting and desk-based jobs I took part in a grape harvest at the nearby Stanlake Park Wine Estate. The winemaker asked me if I wanted to stay on afterwards and do other tasks so within a few months I was planting, pruning, bottling and disgorging, I loved it. After a couple of years (and a knee injury) I moved onto doing wine tours and my experience allowed me to conduct tours from a practical level as well as the theoretical side of wine production.

How Does English Wine Tourism Compare To The Rest Of The Wine Tourism World?

The main differences are the expectations and knowledge of the customers. Any guests/customers visiting wine regions in warmer climates have a basic understanding of what to expect with regards to the wines, the surroundings and the history of the region. When it comes to wine tourism in the UK, many customers have little or no knowledge of English wines and really don’t know what to expect. We have thousands of tour customers every year at Stanlake Park and after the tours many of them tell me that they’ve learnt so much and the tour was far better than other tours they’ve done in more traditional wine regions, so we must be doing something right.

What Do You Think Needs To Be Done On A Whole, To Increase Wine Tourism In The UK?

It’s a very difficult question as the industry here is still in its infancy but it is changing. As people’s perception of English Wine changes there will be an increase in UK Wine Tourism and I think we can see that happening when talking to customers today. We need to market the industry better as a whole and we should be shouting from the rooftops when an English Sparkling Wine beats Champagnes in international competitions; the general public need to be aware just how good our wine is these days.

What Can English Wineries Do To Increase Wine Tourism On A Local Level?

Most traditional wine tours will follow the same path but they need to be made more interesting for customers. At Stanlake we make our tours informative and fun whether you’re a wine aficionado or are even tea-total! Transport is also key as customers don’t want to drive to a vineyard so make sure there are good public transport links or nearby taxis. Coach and minibus companies are missing out on revenue if they don’t include local wine trips in their itineraries. A local vineyard/winery should be at the heart of the community too whether that’s donating a raffle prize or having a stand at a local food festival.

Other Than The Classic Winery and Vineyard Tours, What Other Events Do You Think Can Be Held To Help More People Discover English Sparkling Wine?

We do many tasting events including beer, cheese and wine pairings and will often have other local producers sharing their produce and expertise. We even have Wine and Pilates classes which are very popular and seeing 30 participants doing a downward dog with a glass of Bacchus Brut in hand is a sight to behold! Our Italian winemaker is as keen on his food as he is wine so we often do Italian food evenings or seafood pairings. Also, the management team will hold wine tastings at several reputable restaurants in the area in partnership with the chefs for a full-on gourmet evening. Whilst seeing English wines on wine lists is not so rare these days it still has a long way to go for it to considered ‘the norm’. There are many ways to promote English Sparkling Wine locally outside of the classic Winery and Vineyard tours.

Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?

My most memorable would be at river level in the Grand Canyon next to the helicopter following our flight from Las Vegas although being left alone with several opened bottles at a Champagne House in the town of Bouzy is also up there but my memory may be a little hazy for that particular day.

Thank you, Derek, for sharing your words, knowledge and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Derek Walklate. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission, to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.