Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Discovering English wine...

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The famous King's College Chapel where the carols come from...
Quite a while ago two friends, Si and Heidi gave N an "Experience Day". Basically you can do all kinds of things - like maybe hot air ballooning, driving a racing car, having a cookery lesson from a famous chef - or like the one we had - spend the day at a vineyard! There were a variety of locations in the UK - including Cambridge! So, since I have always wanted to go there - that's the one we booked - and decided to make a weekend of it.

It was so lovely - I love Cambridge. So much beautiful architecture and fascinating history, with so many well-known scientists, poets, philosophers and engineers having studied there. We got on a Punt on the River Cam and had a nice young man punt us around the backs of the colleges and tell us all about their history as well as many funny stories about the places and their inhabitants.

We saw the wealthiest colleges including King's College, Clare College which has magnificent gardens and Trinity College which has the most impressive and ancient library where original Shakespeare folio are housed alongside the original manuscript of Winnie the Pooh.

Punting under the Bridge of Sighs

We had a walk around St John's College - where William Wordsworth and William Wilberforce studied. It must be such a privilege to live and study there. I don't think I would have ever made the grade even if I'd applied! There was one college with magnificent ivy growing all over its castellated walls - and we were told that it was used in the Harry Potter films for the outdoor Quiddich scenes!

St John's Grounds

The day at the vineyard was great fun too - and equally as educational! We had a fortifying cup of tea in the Bistro before we set off on half-mile walk uphill to the gentle Cambridgeshire slopes where the vines were being nurtured. It was a warm day and the only sound was the distant combine harvester gathering in the wheat crops in the distance. Luke - the tour guide - told us about the different types of grapes, some German, some French and how all vine plants, no matter what variety, had to be grafted onto North American roots - or they would never survive the aphids that attack them. At one point in the past the whole French wine industry was in danger of being wiped out.

The grape squashing machine

Luke talking about vines, and roots and aphids..

We walked back down towards the stately Chilford Hall and went into the seventeenth century high barn which now houses the winery. I was impressed by the gleaming, chrome grape press, though faintly disappointed that they were no longer trodden by local yokels :=) I must admit I'd quite fancy a go at grape treading. Imagine the squishy purple juice staining your feet and you squeezed the juice out of them. I guess the stalks or pips might have been a bit uncomfortable though. I supposed the new method is a tad more hygienic too :-)

1,000 bottles of wine in each barrel!

Anyway we learned how to many sparkling wine using the "methode traditionelle" as invented years ago by Cliquot. All that learning was thirsty work so we went back into the Bistro where the wine tasting was all set out for us. We tried seven of the wines that they make there, including the only red one they produce and the delicious sparkling wine. I also rather liked the Rose. We only had a little taste of each one - not a whole glass! Then they gave us lunch, a really tasty lasagne with salad and crusty bread, followed by Eton Mess, a glorious concoction of crushed meringues, strawberries and whipped cream. It was all rather wonderful.

We bought a few bottles of wine as presents for parents, and we received a complimentary bottle for ourselves as part of the package. I chose the Rose.

Settling down to watch Shakespeare at Downing

The night before we'd seen a poster for Cambridge Shakespeare Festival and we took ourselves off to pristine lawns of Downing College to see a wonderfully funny version of The Taming of the Shrew.

Luckily this one wasn't rained off - like the one in Stafford last month. We really enjoyed it and the actors each had to play a couple of roles - but they were amazing. They certainly kept to the bawdy fun of Shakespeare's comedy ane even indulged in audience participation as they raided picnics and asked what "Wait rose?" was.

We were fortified by hot mulled wine at the interval. Kept us toasty warm until the end.


  1. It must be so nice to get back to a normal life of having fun, with no shadow on the horizon. Good to hear.

    1. Hi Gervan!

      Yes it is great to get back to normal - like working again. Also feel a bit like I'm making up for lost time. I think the way forward now it to say yes to everything (unless it's illegal or immoral!) :-) You never know what is round the corner so make the most of everyday! x