It’s hard to believe I’m only 20 minutes from the hustle of Cardiff, when I arrive in this tranquil, secluded spot – Llanerch Vineyard in Pendoylan; an unassuming treasure trove nestled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Easy to find, yet hidden, I get the sense that I’ve become aware of somewhere very special. Of course this is a vineyard, however it’s not just a vineyard; It has a restaurant, bistro, cookery school, a dedicated wedding marquee and 22 acres of grounds with includes two lakes and a woodland. You won’t want to leave, well luckily you won’t need to, there’s also five star accommodation in the form of a recently renovated 18th century farmhouse which overlooks the vineyard.
I’ve been invited along by Ryan Davies, Director of Llanerch Vineyard. Ryan is a local, having grown up with his family in Pendoylan. He is young, and with guidance from his family took over the place in 2010. He greets me with energy and enthusiasm, eager to show me around. The vineyard covers seven acres, which happens to be the oldest in Wales with the first vines being planted in 1986. This is where we head first.
Talking while we walk, we pass by rows of vines with lime green leaves, pausing momentarily to taste the different grapes. It’s been a late harvest this year due to the weather but when it’s time to pick the grapes everyone working at Llanerch gets involved. Ryan tells me about the final harvest event taking place at the weekend. They’re welcoming locals to help pick the last grapes of the season. In return they’re laying on a band, some Welsh Cawl and of course, their own wine. It’s hearing stories like this during my tour that I start to get the impression that Llanerch is a genuine part of the community as well as of the landscape.
Llanerch harvests approximately 10 tonnes of grapes each year which equates to around 10,000 bottles of their own marque – Cariad, a Welsh term of endearment meaning love or sweetheart. The wine comes in five varieties – a sparkling blush, sparkling brut, a dry white, medium dry white, and a rosé.
As I walk around I can’t help but look back and admire the view of the 18th century farmhouse, framed between the rows of vines, a truly picturesque sight. As no vineyard tour would be complete without wine tasting, we head back to the farmhouse to do just that. I’m introduced to his bar manager, who proceeds to talk me through their wines in their cosy bar. Having learnt about the effort that has gone into the production, my appreciation of the process really adds to the enjoyment. To my palate, Cariad wines are elegant and well rounded.
Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the vineyard, just pick up a booklet from reception. You’ll find a brief history, map of the woodland walk, information on the grape varieties along with wine tasting notes. If you’d like a bit more, from Spring 2016, there will be guided tours by Ryan or another of his knowledgable team.
From the bar, we head to the kitchen, where i’m introduced to head chef Michael Hudson and his team who are passionate and justifiably proud of their food. Michael works with the best locally sourced and seasonal produce. They make me a Chocolate Marquise, topped with fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, accompanied by blackcurrant ice cream and a hazelnut praline paste. Beautifully composed and full of flavour, I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to bring my guest with me for dinner.
Returning the following week, we were greeted with a warm welcome and seated in the Cariad restaurant next to the panoramic window looking into the kitchen. The ambience was relaxing and informal. We took our time over the menu, enjoying two different glasses of the Cariad white wine – the dry white which was soft and fruity, while the medium dry was light and easy going.
To start I opted for the Wood Pigeon with parsnip purée, chocolate oil and a brioche crisp. Opposite, my guest had the Seafood linguine comprising of mussels, crab, prawns, squid with a tomato cream, and sorrel oil. The balance of flavours of each dish thoughtfully crafted.
The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and thoughtful and happily helped with recommendations throughout.
For the mains, my guest chose the Sea bass, which was delicately balanced on a crab polenta cake, dressed with baby vegetables and came with a fennel velouté. Perfectly presented and accompanied by another glass of the Cariad medium dry white. On recommendation, I had a Merlot to compliment my slow braised Welsh beef topped with crispy calamari, all on a bed of creamed potato, with heritage carrots and a pearl onion jus. We agreed, the composition of fresh flavours was at the centre of all of our beautifully crafted dishes.
We finished by sharing a board of local cheeses, chutney and biscuits, and some more wine. Our fine dinner, was completed with a relaxing stay in one of their luxurious rooms.
If you’re looking for a venue – they have a space especially for private parties, corporate events and unsuprisingly a wedding marquee – it doesn’t get more romantic than here.
There is a real family-feel around Llanerch, everyone’s helps each other out to ensure things run smoothly. It’s only fitting that as we return our keys, Ryan is helping out on reception. Llanerch vineyard is a truly tranquil place to wine, dine and relax. I’m glad I’ve found it.