What was the inspiration for a company running bespoke tours of the Vineyards of Kent?

[Abi] Australia! I worked there for several years and so enjoyed being able to join organised tours and tastings at various wine estates. It gave me a huge appreciation of wine and the whole process from grape to glass! When I returned to the UK, I realised we had a great deal of vineyards in Kent but no way of visiting them to enjoy the end-product without a “designated driver”. The subsequent idea and desire to fill a niche market resulted in Wine Tours of Kent, the business, born in March 2019. I can’t believe we are now celebrating our fifth anniversary!

When did you run your first tours and how have these tours developed over time?

[Abi] Luckily, we managed to get quite a few under our belt in our first year which helped to provide a loyal client base. Like many other businesses, we had to adapt during the pandemic and subsequent restrictions. This period allowed us to develop online tutored tastings. Interesting and fun! As we emerged from lockdown, the business resumed tours and tastings that were booked via the website, known as “shared” tours, pre-organised with a set itinerary and open to all. The Private offering developed alongside the existing tours, enabling a more bespoke experience. This could be a two or three vineyard tour that includes lunch. Lunch might be at a vineyard or at a lovely Kentish pub.

How do you choose the vineyards that you work with?

[Abi] There’s no set rule. We are very fortunate to have developed close relationships with many fantastic vineyard owners and winemakers. We want the guests to have the best experience possible and certain vineyards might suit a particular group better than others. We try to make sure that there aren’t long journeys between stops to make the most of the day!

[Colin] Of course, some guests will request a certain favourite or more well-known vineyards! Others might prefer “still” over “sparkling”, or “white” over “red” and we will try to accommodate where possible.

Who are the tour guides?

[Chloe] We have an extremely enthusiastic group of tour guides, me included. They have all sorts of different professional backgrounds, but love being able to guide, educate and promote the wine estates that are on our doorstep.

Many of the vineyards you work with have great stories. How do you ensure the visitors on the tour are fully engaged with the vineyards you visit?

[Chloe] You’re right, in fact they all have great stories! Prior to arrival, our guides will give some background and perhaps a few “fun facts”.

[Colin] However, we don’t like to give too much away as it’s important for our guests to be able to engage with the owners/winemakers/tutors and hear their stories directly.

What is the demographic of the visitors and what is their knowledge of Kentish wine?

[Abi] Oh gosh! Good question! It’s a real mix that could range from anything like a family outing or special birthday, to a “hen do” or a company treating their clients or suppliers.

[Chloe] Knowledge of Kentish wine? Also, very mixed. Some know a lot about wine generally but not Kent specifically, and there are others who know very little.

[Colin] One thing I can say for certain is that nearly everyone we have taken on a tour is pleasantly surprised by how good the wine is.

What is your favourite grape variety/wine style and why?

[Abi] too hard a question haha. I’m currently enjoying tasting still Pinot Meunier from Kent vineyards too like Chloe. However it really does depend on what I’m eating or where I am on what wine I tend to choose to sip.

[Colin] That’s a tricky one. I don’t think I would like to try to single one out as I love so many. I also feel it’s very dependent on the occasion (although an “occasion” isn’t necessarily needed to open a bottle!). An English rosé never lets you down on a hot summer’s day. Chardonnay had a bad rap for many years but luckily is now emerging from the “ABC” (Anything But) days so perhaps a Chablis style white wine would rank highly for me. For a red, I’ve recently been drawn towards Italy and am now on a journey of discovery!

[Chloe] My favourites change all the time! I feel like there is always something new and exciting to try – especially in English wine. Right now, I am really enjoying 100% Pinot Meunier’s, I think it’s been hiding away in sparkling wine for far too long! And outside of the UK, I’m a big Bordeaux fan.

Do you have visitors from overseas?

[Abi] Yes, we do. Some might simply be holidaymakers from all over, but interestingly we get many Norwegians! I am told that the biggest importer of English wine is Norway, and they love to come here and see it for themselves!

What is your favourite memory?

[Abi] One favourite is seeing the guests enjoying the live music while sipping wine during one of our “Heard It Through the Grapevine” tours. However, I am pleased to be able to say there are many great memories and being our fifth year, I look forward to many more!

Abi Ireland, Founder