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  • JULIE WHITE

The Visitor Centre today is ... Llanerch Vineyard

Surrounded by beautiful countryside, we visit the oldest and largest commercial vineyard in Wales and home to the UK's first vineyard hotel

view from vines of llanerch vineyard hotel and visitor centre

Llanerch Vineyard and Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel and vineyard, located in the heart of the stunning Welsh countryside, near the village of Hensol, in the Vale of Glamorgan, UK. If you’ve never been to Wales, then please make a trip. I used to live in this patriotic enclave with its mountains and lakes and more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. A land of song, where sheep outnumber humans by three to one, the country is packed with myths and legends, its own language and culture and a thriving arts and food economy.


Welsh wine has witnessed huge commercial growth in the last few years, fuelled by the massive trend in wine tourism and direct-to-consumer retail channels. If you're new to Welsh wine, then I urge you to try it.


There have been vineyards in Wales since Roman times. With over 30 vineyards now operating across the country, we have visited several excellent vineyards and thoroughly enjoyed their wine offerings. Welsh wine is registered as a product with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the EU and UK, the name of a geographical region or specific area that is recognized by official rules to produce certain foods with special characteristics related to location. The region produces wine from over 20 grape varieties, resulting in some of the finest and most globally recognised wines in the UK, including several gold medal winners at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards.


Welsh wines are known for their fresh and vibrant flavours, with the cool and often damp climate of Wales lending itself to the production of white and sparkling wines with delicious, crisp acidity. Geography is vital to the flavour profile of Welsh wine, with all the Welsh vineyards situated above 49.9 degrees north, they all experience an extended growing season with long daylight hours that are key to the development of strong aromatic flavours.


Reports of Welsh wine sales which, alongside English wine, increased by 31.3% to 9.3 million bottles in 2021, have convinced Welsh producers to tap into the wine tourism trend with the development of new visitor centres, retail and tour experiences, on-site restaurants and even hotels. Tourism accounts for up to 50% of revenue for some wine businesses, particularly those producing low volumes. Consultancy firm Promar estimate the direct value of wine-based tourism to the Welsh wine industry is in the region of £10 million per year, compared to the value of actual wine production of just under £0.4 million for the same period. But more than just bringing in the pounds from tourists, the industry supports local economies and provides over 600 jobs in mainly rural areas.


Welsh Wine Week is an annual event which runs wine tastings and events across many social media platforms, to drive trade to and promote the Welsh vineyards sector.


It is in this burgeoning market that Llanerch Vineyard has developed an award-winning visitor experience, alongside some terrific wines, and we couldn't wait to visit.


The brand history

What were you doing at 24? Ryan Davies, the founder of Llanerch Vineyard, was a young entrepreneur who, despite having no experience in hospitality or business, had ambitions to build a wine tourism business akin to those he had witnessed in New Zealand and Australia, but closer to home, in rural Wales.

Image of Ryan Davies owner of Llanerch Vineyard from Wales online

Ryan, who studied Geology at university, loved the outdoors and was initially looking for land to start an extreme sports business. What he came across was a bankrupt 22-acre vineyard.


The history of Llanerch Vineyard dates back to 1986 when the first vines were planted.

At the time, Welsh wine production was still in its infancy, and Llanerch Vineyard was one of only a handful of vineyards in Wales.


Set in a beautiful, secluded spot, nestled in a sheltered dip, the vineyard has its own micro-climate and a collection of old dairy buildings, including an 18th-century farmhouse, ripe for conversion. With excellent transport links and a location only 20 minutes from the Welsh capital Cardiff, the vineyard had too many benefits to ignore. Ryan purchased the business in 2010, and over the years, Llanerch Vineyard grew in size and reputation, with the vineyard winning numerous awards for its high-quality Welsh wines.


To deliver Ryan's dream, the vineyard underwent a major renovation, with a new winery and visitor centre being built to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

view from vines of llanerch vineyard and hotel

In 2015, Llanerch expanded its operations to include a luxury boutique hotel, offering guests the chance to stay in the vineyard, the result of a £2 million investment. The hotel has since become a popular destination for wine lovers and foodies and recently won the prestigious AA’s Wales Hotel of the Year 2022. It has over 900 excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and was fully booked when we visited.


Llanerch currently has 11 acres, and Ryan is also in the process of purchasing an additional four acres. The grapes are harvested and transported to Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire, less than an hour away, where the wine is made. Three Choirs is a conglomerate winemaker, where smaller vineyards can save money by pooling their resources, yet still create their own unique vintages from their grapes. (Three Choirs is another terrific vineyard and tour and we will hopefully return soon to write an updated guide for them).


All the wine made, which can exceed 20,000 bottles a year, is consumed or sold on-site by wedding guests, visitors, via the restaurant or during wine-tasting tours, and I certainly helped add to that number.


Today, Llanerch Vineyard is one of the largest and most successful vineyards in Wales, with a reputation for producing high-quality Welsh wines and offering exceptional hospitality to its guests. The vineyard is a testament to the ambition and tenacity of its young founder, and to the thriving Welsh wine industry as a whole.


The Visitor Centre design

llanerch vineyard hotel and visitor centre entrance and sign

The buildings at Llanerch Vineyard have grown rather organically. The original farmhouse has nearly been swallowed up by numerous extensions as the site continues to grow.


Just a week before we arrived, Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, and soon-to-be Queen, had visited.

sign outside llanerch vineyard unveiled by the duchess of cornwall  camilla

Entrance

view of llanerch vineyard entrance

Venture inside the foyer and you're greeted by a floral wall, perfect for those Instagram moments.

floral backdrop for photographs at llanerch vineyard entrance

Inside you will find a small reception area which doubles as a very low-key retail space.

It was all very calm and peaceful.

entrance foyer and reception desk llanerch vineyard and hotel

The Tour

llanerch vineyard tour guide

Our visit coincided with a rare, but very welcome, hot day in July. Starting off in a marque at 35°C was not ideal, and I certainly made sure I sat in front of a fan. There were twelve of us on the tour and we represented all genders and ages. They also offer private tours for groups of up to 18 people.

llanerch-vineyard tasting glass white wine

Adam, our guide, was extremely friendly and did acknowledge the temperature and proceeded to tell us about how the wines were made. He explained about sediments, decanting, how to store and taste wine and the whole wine-making process for their red, white and rosé. We all raised a glass and toasted the fine weather. Cheers.

white wine in tasting glasses llanerch vineyard

Adam guided us through the first tasting, a Cariad Dry White from 2018, for me bursting with Granny Smith apple notes, pear drops and a touch of citrus and made from 100% Reichensteiner grapes. Cariad means sweetheart or darling in Welsh. Each vintage is slightly different, due to the environmental conditions that year.


We were encouraged to use the information cards in front of us, to try and identify flavours, but also told not to worry as there were no wrong answers. Having already cleansed our palette toasting as we started, Adam went on to explain that none of their wines had tannin in them, great for me. as someone who reacts badly to higher tannin wines. A blotchy red face was not what I wanted that day. He was honest enough to say that some people would not appreciate this particular bottle, due to the acidity. I really liked it as it reminded me of the driest white we tasted at Three Choirs a year earlier. It was certainly welcome in the heat.


The next tasting was a blend, Llanerch's Cariad 2018 Off-dry white, which uses mainly Solaris grapes. They add Seyval Blanc to make it 11% abv and it is very light in colour.


The whole tasting experience in the marquee was very informative, with some gentle humour and Adam came across as someone who really enjoyed his job. We even got wine and food pairing advice. It turned out that Adam was more than just a tour guide. He later told us that he was one of two people responsible for tending to the very vines we were walking through. That's why he knew so much.


Glasses in hand, we headed off out of the tent and into the vineyard.

vines llanerch vineyard

We stroll through the Reichensteiner vines, planted in 1987 and the oldest vines in the vineyard.


A nice touch was that Adam spent time telling us about the previous vineyard owners, the Andrews family. With an interest in gardening, a stint on a wine-making course and an ideal south-facing plot they began turning a passion project into a wine business and all the trials and tribulations along the way. Their original viticulturist Lawrence still attends to the vines today. Peter and Diane planted the first vines, Kernling, a hybrid of Riesling, after Diane read an article in a newspaper about the success of British vineyards. Inspired, she travelled to Burgundy, France to study viticulture and the first wine was produced in 1989. The wines proved a success, after much trial and error, and by 2004, Cariad wines were available for purchase in the likes of Harrods and Selfridges. A year later, Peter and Diane sold the estate, to spend more time with their grandchildren and the new owners sadly went into receivership during the UK recession in 2007.

tour guide llanerch vineyard in the vines

During the years that the vineyard was closed, the vines continued to grow, to rot and the farmhouse was vandalised. Ryan, the new owner, had to remove thousands of diseased vines and replant many and set his mother the task of creating a bed and breakfast for guests in the farmhouse. The next step in the renovation was to build a space for weddings, the Calon Lodge, with views over the vineyard, followed by a bigger Woodlands Marquee for up to 200 guests. With the increased demand for accommodation, the owners needed more space and the hotel was added to the site in 2015 and they could then offer 37 rooms.

grape vines llanerch vineyard

Every year they run out of wine and with only 7 acres of vineyard, this led to the business looking for more land for more vines. Recently they purchased another six acres of land and have planted another 6000 vines. This should allow them to stock outside retailers, rather than solely selling wine on-site.


A spa and a pool, a farm shop and a wildlife tour are planned. This is someone with lots of ideas we are told. Owner Ryan apparently also loves harvest time when he and all the other members of the staff are in the vines picking grapes together.

grape vines llanerch vineyard

We were taken through the field towards some welcome shade. This gave the selfie-obsessed members of our tour time to catch up with us. Several young ladies, who had maybe enjoyed a few additional wines prior to the tour tasting, spent most of the tour ignoring the guide, shouting and straying off the path and busying themselves with Instagram video-making. Really, what a waste. Adam certainly had to gently coax them back into the group.

tour guide in llanerch vineyard

The vines are sprayed, so not organic, but we are informed that they would like to be. Maybe with changes in the climate then they could be. The soil is red clay, which makes growing difficult as the vines don't like getting their feet wet. In 2017 they lost 1000 vines due to poor drainage, which they have obviously invested in sorting out.

cariad white wine in tasting glass on the tour llanerch vineyard

We wandered next into the Solaris vines. By this time we were sweating. The two grape varieties are grown in different ways from each other. Adam explained how pruning works and how rootstocks are developed. It was time for another tasting. The next wine was the Cariad Blush Rosé 2019, found perched on a stake at the end of a row of vines.

rose wine bottle on a post llanerch vineyard

It's a blend of Reichensteiner, Solaris, Phoenix, Triomphe at 11.3%. Even my non-rosé fan husband enjoyed it. It certainly went down well on a hot day. The strawberry was strong here and it was nice and dry but subtle. Adam and I discussed how the wine was similar to wine we'd had in Niagara on the Lake in Canada and how we had witnessed a growing boom in rosé drinking amongst men.

view from the vineyard at llanerch vineyard hotel

Last stop was the Triomphe vines and the Seyval Blanc vines, in the lowest, wettest part of the vineyard, from which they produce their Cariad Sparkling Blush which is their most decorated wine. They are growing Rondo now, hoping to produce red wines in the future.

tour guide in llanerch vineyard by vines

We wandered back up to the visitor centre and received a glass in a box, to take home, which was a nice touch. It became the first vineyard that gave us a memento.

tasting glass gift memento from end of tour llanerch vineyard

Our tour had lasted about an hour and as several guests headed for the bar, we stuck around as we had afternoon tea booked.


The Restaurant

During the lockdown, the company brought forward a planned expansion and opened a south-facing restaurant with a glass frontage and views over the vineyard. A roof terrace was added after we visited. Serving up to 300 covers a day for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, the restaurant was a welcome escape from the extreme heat we experienced on our visit.


It was our anniversary and we had booked Afternoon Tea, but little did we know that this would be the best afternoon tea we'd ever had.

interior of llanerch vineyard restaurant
view of the interior at llanerch vineyard restaurant hotel

The restaurant design was by South Wales based Design Management Partnership, a RIBA registered multi-disciplinary studio of designers and architects. With the aim to bring the outside in, it has wood tones and modern floral accents and stunning views across the vines. There are even natural elements such as walls of moss and beehive inspired planters.

tables in the llanerch vineyard hotel restaurant in wales
moss wall planters in llanerch vineyard hotel and restaurant in wales

We have to mention the afternoon tea again. Just check out this spread. Truly exceptional. We certainly felt spoilt. Well worth every penny of the £30 per person cost. Afternoon Tea is served from 12:00pm to 5:00pm, Monday through Saturday, but must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. We took some home in a doggy bag.

afternoon tea cake stand of sandwiches and cakes at llanerch vineyard in wales
menu on paper from llanerch vineyard hotel restaurant

The Outdoor Terrace

Although there was some outside seating on a lower terrace and in the grounds when we visited, they were just completing a rooftop terrace, which is available on a first come first serve basis. They serve lunch Monday to Saturday on the upper terrace during warm summer days.

outdoor terrace in the sunshine in llanerch vineyard with a view of the vines

The updated rooftop bar and terrace is certainly a welcome addition, perfect for sampling some wine and charcuterie. Being covered, it provides a space that will protect you from the elements.

view of llanerch hotel and restaurant from the vines
seating on upper terrace llanerch vineyard with view of vines

The Hotel

Following a £2 million investment, in 2019 the LLanerch Vineyard Hotel opened. This was part of the visitor experience that we never got to enjoy sadly. They offer wine escape packages that include an overnight stay, a vineyard tour, dinner and breakfast. There are 10 acres of lake-side woodland fringing the property which you can enjoy at your leisure.

view of llanerch vineyard hotel expansion

The bedrooms look large and airy and the views are fabulous. I would book in next time as I always look to stay on a vineyard or at least near one if I can. That is because it makes it easier to enjoy a tipple and not have to drive anywhere. The vineyard stays can range from small bed and breakfasts to large luxury resorts, and can be found in wine regions all over the world. This trend is driven by the growing popularity of wine tourism, as more and more people are interested in learning about wine and experiencing the unique atmosphere of a vineyard. We have enjoyed staying in Niagara on the Lake in Canada where you can cycle from vineyard to vineyard. And we're off to the Finger Lakes region in New York state in a few weeks to stay in vineyards there. We'll be reporting on all of these in the coming months. Another place we have stayed at is the charming vineyard and gites of Clos Vieux Rochers in France (report coming soon - though I am planning to revisit Rob and Steve this year to see what's changed since my last visit). Nothing beats breakfast watching the dew evaporate amongst the vines, or sipping wine as the sun sets over the fields.

interior view of llanerch vineyard hotel room with bed and sofa and views from window

Tasting Lodge

In June 2022, a new tasting lodge was completed, where guests can sample wines whilst enjoying the rolling landscape. This was completed after our visit.

exterior view of llanerch vineyard tasting lodge

Natural materials such as wood panelling and real foliage are part of the design, with sleek lines and marble counters bringing in some sophistication. But check out those views.

interior design of llanerch vineyard tasting lodge bar and shelving
interior of llanerch vineyard tasting lodge with bar and view to vines

Bar and Games Room

Another area we never got to experience might have been closed off due to covid restrictions. The bar and games room have televisions and a pool table. Super cosy.

pool table and two players llanerch vineyard hotel

Wedding and event spaces

The vineyard hosts up to 90 weddings a year, either in the Calon Lodge or the new Marquee. They look like fabulous venues and would be well worth checking out if you have a special occasion to celebrate. We actually renewed our vows in a vineyard, Trius Vineyard in Niagara on the Lake in Canada. We booked that location after doing a tour and seeing that they had a small private tower area that was perfect for a small occasion. So it's not just weddings that you can host in a vineyard. We enjoyed wine and cheese and charcuterie up in our private space, overlooking the vines and it was simply perfect. With the food so good at Llanerch, then why not consider a big birthday there or maybe a special anniversary?

interior view of wedding venue and flower arch llanerch vineyard
llanerch vineyard wedding venue lodge with aisle and views to vines

In conclusion

Llanerch has an awful lot going on and is definitely hitting it out of the park when it comes to making wine tourism opportunities. It feels more like a luxury resort, but without being overly stuffy. Everyone we met was friendly and approachable. The venue spaces are beautifully decorated with a mix of natural and sophisticated materials. But it is the view over the vines that has always been considered in the overall design. It is glitzy and sleek, maybe too much for some. They might imagine therefore that the tour and tasting would be a little light on authenticity, but Adam our guide tends to the actual vines and our hour tour was full of information and detail. You could ask anything and I think he would have enough knowledge to answer even the wine connoisseur's questions. There are always two things that I tell every brand that they have to get right, and it's not having the fanciest, architectural, design-led venue. You just need a good product and the right people. Money has obviously been spent here and while I am not privy to any return on investment data, I can imagine that they attract repeat business from guests, purely because they offer more than just a vineyard tour and tasting.


Having a restaurant of that quality on site is an undeniable commercial bonus and creates opportunities for a deeper connection to the brand, repeat business and casual visitor spending. The food was delicious. I genuinely have never had a better afternoon tea at such good value for money anywhere and we've had them in some of the most prestigious of venues, such as Gleneagles in Scotland. It was generous and came with a few extra touches. With the spaces on offer for an extended visit, there is an opportunity for some deeper engagement with the brand and they might consider some literature and photographs maybe on the history of the vineyard and all of the renovations, something akin to a coffee table book, that guests can peruse over a glass of wine on the roof terrace.


We also never felt rushed in any way. After the tour, there was plenty of dwell time, where we could taste more wine and enjoy the view. It certainly persuaded us to buy a few bottles, which is the whole idea. Guests get to engage with the brand on a much deeper level if they are given time to do so. I always say...finish your tour in the bar!


One thing we did notice, was that there was little in the way of Welsh language spoken or in text. We used to live in North Wales and I spent hours typing up both Welsh and English text, even though I am not a Welsh speaker. With sites such as the Brecon Beacons reclaiming its Welsh title Bannau Brycheiniog National Park recently, a bit more Welsh would certainly give the experience a greater sense of place and identity, even to the non-Welsh tourist. The Welsh names for the wine are one thing, but why not embrace the language even further? It would provide so many more opportunities for storytelling, education, engagement and marketing. You only have to watch the reaction from non-Welsh guests to actor Martin Sheen's speech to the Welsh national football team that he recounted on a TV quiz show, to see how the language can be put to great, emotional effect. It's a powerful tool for engagement and advocacy. If the story of the vineyard's history reads like a film script, then why not draw from that and fully immerse guests in the Welsh culture?


The overarching memory we were left with, once we were home and had opened one of our bottles of Cariad white, was just how impressed we were with Ryan the owner. It is not many people in their early twenties that can envisage such an establishment. I am sure he had plenty of support. He's only in his thirties now, so who knows what is next for Llanerch. I wish them all the best.


How long was the visit?

Each tour lasts for approximately 1 hour and includes a wine tasting. We stayed for over three hours, but that did include time in the restaurant. On a fine day, it is worth spending a little extra time to enjoy the wines and the view. I certainly would like to stay there in the hotel and experience the spa.


How much are tickets?

We paid for our own tickets and this was not part of any advertising.


Vineyard Tours run all year long. During the winter the tours and tastings are conducted inside but you can still walk through the vineyard after the tour at your leisure, with a big coat on and an umbrella!

Cost: £25 per person (individual tours).

There are events and group tours on offer so it is worth checking with the venue and booking direct with them.


Opening times

It's always worth checking with the venue for their current opening times, as they can vary.


 

Where we stayed:

We were on a 3-week road trip through Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and on to Somerset. We visited the vineyard from our base near the book capital of the UK, Hay-on-Wye, which was a journey of 1 hr 20 minutes. I can't recommend our accommodation, unfortunately, but I can recommend the area.

view of the street in hay on wye with bunting and road markings

Hay-on-Wye is fun and extremely busy in the summer. Although famed for its many bookshops, there are lovely pubs, riverside walks and plenty of charming independent shops.

street view of hay on wye with bunting and people
view of the river hay on wye

The black and white villages of Herefordshire are well worth a drive to. Although there might not be much going on in them, they are very pretty and Instagram-worthy.

exterior of one of the black and white houses in herefordshire

Symonds Yat Rock is a viewpoint well known for its picturesque views, trails linking to the River Wye, range of circular walks into the forest, and bird-watching.

view of the river at symonds yat

Getting here:

Llanerch is easy to get to, as long as you are driving, as it is just two minutes drive from Junction 34 of the M4. As it's set in stunning countryside, other transport options are limited. Cardiff Airport is only a 20-minute drive from the vineyard. Get a taxi if you can so you can all sample the wine, or better yet, stay over in the hotel.


What else is there to see close by:

Foodies are well catered for in the Vale of Glamorgan. Forage Farm Shop and Kitchen provides fresh, seasonal food, and champions local Welsh produce. Most of their produce is sourced locally, with a large proportion coming from the Penllyn Estate.

How about a gin tour at Hensol Castle Distillery, South Wales’ first full-scale gin distillery, visitor experience, gin school and bottling plant, housed in the cellars of a 17th-century castle?


The Royal Mint Experience is a short 13-minute drive away from the vineyard and where you can see coins and medals being made in front of your eyes. There's an interesting museum and you can read about it in one of our upcoming reports.


Cardiff is a lively capital city, especially on big sporting days at The Principality Stadium. Only 22 minutes by car from the vineyard, it has a Castle, the Techniquest science centre for visitors of all ages, and Europe’s largest waterfront development, Cardiff Bay, full of shops, restaurants, bars and attractions.


Are you a fan of the Gavin and Stacey BBC TV show? Even if not, Barry Island has five beaches, colourful beach huts and a seaside resort and a pleasure park and is a short 20-minute drive from the vineyard.


If you love walking then The Wales Coast Path winds its way along nearly 50 miles of coastline providing an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and offering terrific views, hidden beaches and dune-backed coves. Nash Point lighthouse could be a great start to your walk, just over half an hour drive from Llanerch.




Visited: July 2021

Photographs: ©Julie White unless noted otherwise


Disclaimer - The views and opinions expressed are solely my own. I paid for the tours in full and any comments reflect my personal experiences on that day. Please drink responsibly. Please visit and garner your own thoughts and feel free to research the brand and the visitor centre in question.



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