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Amongst the vines

Words by Ysy Lees

Lympstone Manor’s waterside vineyard proves that nature and nurture play equal parts in this unique winemaking journey.

When I think of Michael Caines, I envision carefully curated menus, fresh seasonal produce and delicate dishes that blur the line between cuisine and works of art. However, the renowned chef has stepped beyond the world of food and into that of hotelier and consequently, winemaker, through the acquisition of the Lympstone Manor Hotel. Situated in Devon overlooking the tranquillity of the Exe Estuary and the Jurassic Coast, this commanding yet elegant five-star country house hotel epitomises luxury in every way imaginable. A proud member of Relais & Châteaux, an association of individually owned and operated luxury hotels and restaurants, Lympstone Manor offers 21 exquisite guestrooms and suites, six shepherds huts and Michelin star fine dining. Crucial to the Lympstone Manor experience is Michael’s passion for wine; the hotel is also home to two basement cellars comprising 600 bins, a wine tasting room with state-of-the-art Wine Emotion dispense machines and a bespoke-built granite wine tasting table. The latest feature includes the Pool House Restaurant & Bar, an informal dining area set around a heated outdoor swimming pool, croquet lawn and tennis court overlooking the expansive countryside. 

Venturing further into the 28-acre grounds, you’ll find the crown jewel of Lympstone Manor; a breathtaking vineyard containing 17,500 Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir vines. These vines were first planted back in 2018 to produce classic Champagne-method sparkling wines for guests to enjoy at the beautiful country house and beyond. Vineyards, like dreams, take time to become a reality, for roots to penetrate deep down, for grapes to ripen, for secondary fermentation and for the complexity that only comes from lengthy maturation on the lees to develop in the bottle. The saying ‘good things come to those who wait’ could not ring truer in this instance with the recent and highly anticipated launch of the first sparkling wine from the vineyard, the 2020 Classic Cuvée. This delicate wine is a classic blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay, with the latter predominantly aged in French oak for nine months prior to blending. The resulting wine provides a classical style of sparkling, showing notes of apple, spiced pear and toasted brioche, with a rich and creamy mousse. 

Due to the ripeness of the blend and the fruit the vineyard provides, this wine requires minimal residual sugar to remain poised, elegant and balanced, resulting in a long and complex finish. Sourced exclusively from the vineyard at Lympstone Manor, the wine is aged for a minimum of three years on the lees and marks a fantastic achievement for the hotel. Michael explains: “It’s an incredible milestone for Lympstone Manor Hotel to launch its first Classic Cuvée from the 2020 vintage, under the Lympstone Manor Estate title, an award-winning single vineyard estate with a growing collection of wines. I would have never imagined saying “award winning” when I was inspired to plant a vineyard back in 2015, but it was an instinctive decision, inspired by my travels to vineyard locations all over Europe.”

Alongside the sparkling Classic Cuvée, these vines have produced two other wines in the form of the Lympstone Manor Estate 2020 Triassic Pinot Noir and the Lympstone Manor Estate 2022 Isabeau Rosé, named after Michael’s daughter. The former was the very first wine to be released from the Lympstone Manor vineyard and is produced from 100% estate grown Pinot Noir, offering the oenophile a juicy yet balanced palate that displays great poise. Overt black summer berries intermingle with subtle toast from the French oak and are supported by delicate hints of sappy stems to deliver a beautiful and long finish. Aged for 18 months in French oak, of which 30% was new, this wine will continue to develop further nuance and complexity as time does its tantalising dance. Since its launch, the wine has received outstanding feedback from industry professionals and has scooped a clutch of prestigious accolades including a Gold Medal award, a Best English Red Trophy and a Best Producer Trophy for First Vintage at this year’s International Wine Challenge Awards as well as a Bronze Medal award at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. 

The 2022 Isabeau Rosé similarly extracts the full potential from the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier grapes to create an equally as supple yet contrasting wine through the process of taille pressing. This rosé marked the first release of a still rosé wine from the estate in 2022, using some of the finest fruit from the vineyard to create a field blend in a classic Provencal style, perfect to sip alongside food or as a dish in its own right in the form of an aperitif. Hints of wild strawberries melt into fresh citrus tones with subtle nuances of grapefruit, savoury notes and minerality fusing together in a deliciously bright blend. Balanced with a mouth-watering acidity, the wine offers just a hint of orange peel on the finish that you wish would linger just a little longer. These thoughtfully curated wines are to be followed by further releases next year including a barrel-aged Chardonnay to mark the seventh anniversary of the opening of the hotel.

While Lympstone Manor is the proud producer of these grapes, the bottled product would cease to exist without Lyme Bay Winery. This award-winning winery was founded just over 30 years ago and began its journey with fruit wines before moving towards English wines. Speaking to Head Winemaker, Sarah Massey, about its growth and evolution, she explains: “We had a vineyard that was first planted in 2009 and from there, we’ve grown to working with lots of premium growers all over the south of England, from here in Devon all the way across to Essex. We’ve moved to not having our own vineyard anymore and now we just work with the best grapes that you can find. When Michael had this idea to plant a vineyard, he approached James Lambert, Managing Director at Lyme Bay Winery, whose ethos he respected. Not only are we local to Lympstone Manor but I think he liked what we did with our wine and combined with the plethora of award won recently, wanted to see it for himself.” Lyme Bay Winery is one of the few (but growing number of) wineries that work with growers rather than managing its own vineyards. Its chosen sites are located all over the country, so it always has access to different grape varieties that grow better on different soils and in different microclimates. Michael adds: “This was just the start of an incredible journey that we have shared with Lyme Bay Winery, who are getting a growing reputation for producing award winning English wines.” 

While there are several ingredients that go into creating such special wines like the Classic Cuvée, arguably one of the biggest contributors is the vineyard itself; uniquely located by the River Exe it has quite a few things that work in its favour. Sarah tells me: “Having its own body of water next to it really helps regulate the temperature. You don’t get lots of frost pockets like you would if you were away from water.” When Michael first visited Lympstone Manor, he was equally as excited at the prospect of planting a vineyard in Devon on the southwest-facing parkland as he was about transforming the dilapidated mansion: “Most of the great vineyards of Europe are all located near rivers, the Médoc châteaux of Bordeaux on the Gironde, wine estates along the Rhône, Loire and Rhine rivers, the great port vineyards of the Douro. So why not the Exe estuary? Our climate is mild and the success of other local vineyards has convinced me that it will be possible to produce outstanding wines here.”

The location of the vineyard also means it gets the most of the sun as it rises and sets. Sarah continues: “You’re getting as many daylight hours as you can and you have really good drainage because it’s on that beautiful slope. If you’ve been there, you’ll know that you get this incredible hot pocket down at the bottom of the vineyard which can create some really brilliant wines.” Surrounded by rolling hills, shimmering water and an all-encompassing sense of peace, the vineyard’s unique location benefits both the grape and the guest with its ability to nurture and encourage growth.   

Sarah herself discovered a love of wine from a young age: “I got a job at my local vineyard in my teenage years doing tour tastings and fell in love with it. I went to Plumpton to study and very much got the bug for the physical side of winemaking. I then spent time in Burgundy and California before going over to Australia and eventually coming to Lyme Bay Winery.” Her passion for wine is evident not only in her winemaking but in the way she enjoys the drink: “If I go to a restaurant, a lot of people choose their food then their wine but I choose my wine then my food. What you’re drinking depends on what you’re doing and who you’re with but when it comes to personal preference I’d never say no to a sparkling wine or champagne.” 

This entrenched passion for wine is very much reflected in the winemaking process at Lyme Bay Winery. When asked whether the grape defines the wine or the wine defines the grape Sarah tells me: “When I make a wine I kind of have an intention of where I want it to end up but I very much listen to the wine and let it lead me in the right direction. Stylistically, the wines we make are very much intended to go with food; awesome, serious, complex wines that really benefit from comparing with dishes. They’ve all got different food that they would be best with but I also think a lot of them are quite drinkable by themselves.” 

When it comes to wine trends, Sarah has noticed that people are starting to lean towards aromatic wine as well as having the inclination to spend more on higher-quality bottles: “The last few years have been interesting with Brexit and COVID so we’ve had a lot of changes and going back and forth but one thing that has been pretty consistent is people are more and more willing to spend a bit more money and enjoy a nice bottle of wine than spend less and get a lesser quality bottle.” Lympstone Manor’s Classic Cuvée certainly falls into this category as a bottle well worth the spend; what you get in return is Lyme Bay Winery’s promise of utmost quality. Its goal of using the best wine from the best grapes from the best vineyards married with the unfaltering standards of Michael Caines and consequently Lympstone Manor, guarantees an unparalleled drinking experience that spills beyond the boundaries of classic wine.


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