When autumn leaves start to fall once again...
PUBLISHED: 06:33 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 06:33 12 October 2015
This weekend I went for a walk in my beloved Ashridge. Some 20 minutes from St Albans, and about 15 from Harpenden, you can be right in the heart of the Ashridge estate. In my humble opinion; there are few places more beautiful on the planet, but then I am slightly biased.
Driving up the long driveway to the Bridgewater monument, the trees are still a mass of green, but if you look closely, you can see that they are on the turn. The edges are starting to turn that beautiful burnt umber colour, and it won’t be long before they are crisping up and falling to the ground, to create that incredible carpet of orange and gold.
It had been several years since I have walked to the top of the monument - with well over 100 steps, it’s not the kind of thing I do on a regular basis, but with the colour change in the air, I was keen to see the forest from above the canopy, so my friend and I trudged our way up the steps to the top.
When we got there, I was glad that I’d made the effort - one of the big trees just below the monument had already started to shed its leaves. and all around the bottom were the leaves it had discarded. No longer having a use for them, they now lay, providing the first autumnal colour for the many visitors to the estate café and gift shop.
From the Ashridge Estate we didn’t make it far before our next stop - Frithsden Vineyard is just down the road, and located behind the incredibly popular Alford Arms - a very well renowned local pub and restaurant (if you’re ever passing, the bubble and squeak is to die for!)
Having never been to the vineyard before, but having heard many good things about it from friends, I wanted to check it out for myself, and now that I’ve been, I’ll definitely be going back!
The vineyard itself isn’t huge - a self-guided tour is available for £2.50 per person, and includes a map of the vineyard - denoting which vines are for which style of wine, and the tour finishes with a wine tasting of wines produced right here in Hertfordshire.
Never having had much experience of English wines before (much to my own disappointment), I was really excited to be able to try some wine which was so local to where I live.
As a huge supporter of both local business and produce, I was delighted to find that not only was the wine very reasonably priced, but also absolutely delicious! I found that I preferred the “Frithsden Fizz” to nearly all Champagnes that I’ve ever tasted, and Champagne is normally my favourite tipple!!
You’d hardly know that the Vineyard is there, which is why it is so charming. Tucked away along a rural country lane, it was originally planted by the previous owners in 1971, but the vines were “grubbed up” in 2001, and not replanted until 2006 when the current owners - Simon and Natalie Tooley took over.
There are around 6,000 vines - a combination of the Solaris, Rondo, and Phoenix varieties, and all of the pressing and bottling takes place on site. In fact, when we visited, there was a harvest party going on for the people who had been out in the morning picking the grapes. I can barely think of a better way to spend a day, than picking grapes under a still-warm early autumn sun in the heart of the English countryside.
The wine is also sold from the shop at the vineyard, where you can also buy gifts and preserves. A very varied menu is offered at the café, with options ranging from a delicious cheese platter (which we felt compelled to sample), to a quintessential cream tea.
There are two seating areas, all bedecked with bunting, allowing visitors to sit out with a glass of wine after having walked the vines, or if you just wanted to visit to eat something in the pleasant surroundings, you could do so.
Although I had been aware of the vineyard for many years, I was very pleased to see that a local producer was doing so well. They had already sold out of one of their white wines for the year, but told me that they will be unveiling a “red fizz” at their Autumn Fayre, which takes place on Saturday October 17 between 11am-5pm. It’s free entry, and there will be a barbeque available, a nature trail for the children, and entertainment.
For further information about Frithsden Vineyard, and their delicious wines, visit frithsdenvineyard.co.uk or call them on 01442 878723.