Winning tickets to the The Battle of the Proms at Highclere with a picnic included was a great surprise. However, the icing on the cake was an overnight stay in an Antrim suite at The Vineyard Hotel and Spa at Stockcross near Newbury.
The Vineyard Hotel was originally an 18th century hunting lodge owned by the Foley family.
Grace, the daughter of Lord Thomas Foley died in 1748 without an heir. The land was sold to a Rev Hartley in the mid 19th century. Later, owned by the Sutton Estate it ended up being rented out as flats in the 1960’s.
In 1969 Foley Lodge was converted into a restaurant and banqueting centre before being refurbished in 1978 as The Foley Lodge Hotel.
It was in 1996 when when Sir Peter Michael purchased the property that it was relaunched and renamed The Vineyard.
When we arrived, early evening and stepped through the front doors, our attention was captivated by a floor to ceiling glass wine vault swathed in blue and green hues of light. Welcomed at reception, we were shown to our Antrim suite No. 225 ‘Stag’s Leap.’
The suite was split level and spacious with an outdoor balcony overlooking a golf area slightly secluded by some trees. A sink-into sofa with soft fabrics was paired off nicely with artworks and antiques. An aura of comfort surrounded us.
Air conditioning, soundproof rooms, safe, Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV, tea and coffee facilities room service, bathroom accessories. Ironing facility, hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers etc. In fact I could only think of one simple item that was missing – a pencil and notepaper (usually found in many places)?
We only had a late snack of tomato soup from the The Vine Bar as we had already eaten. It was very nice and served by a very polite and friendly waiter. They do offer a variety of small plates paired with wines from the cellar.
Afterwards, we decided to take a closer look at the glass wine vault. As you walk over the glass and look down you see 5,000 bottles of wine underfoot – a sample of the 30,000 bottle collection.
Described as ‘A temple to Californian wine’ with 3,000 bins and 100 wines by the glass on offer, this is considered to be one of the best wine hotels outside of London.
Steven Spurrier, a British wine expert, described as a champion of French wine, organised a tasting on May 24h 1976 of six top California Cabernets and Chardonnays to celebrate the American Bicentennial. He added four Bordeaux wines and four white Burgundies to act as markers to evaluate the Californians. The judges chose a California wine over the French for both the red and white flights (selection). The tasting became known as the ‘Judgment of Paris’, ending an era where it was thought that fine wine came only from Europe. The judges response was that the California wines would not age and the French wines would win if tasted again in 30 years.
A large, canvas painting showing the ‘Judgment of Paris’ by London artist, Gary Myatt can be seen just beyond the glass vault. (Sir Peter Michael had himself painted into the canvas).
John Stratford has been the head concierge at the Vineyard for over 5 years and certainly knows how to treat customers and guests. He is a great ambassador for the hotel and a well respected member of the team. He was the winner of the Customer Service Star of the Year, sponsored by Star Quality Hospitality in 2019.
He chatted to us about the hotel and took my husband on an information tour of the works of art and other items of interest.
Many of the paintings depict man at one with the landscape and nature giving a sense of nostalgia – time gone by. Some other artists show the influence of Impressionist and various Post-Impressionist styles, culminating in the modernism of Henry Moore in the working model for his seminal sculpture, Locking Piece.
Sir Peter Michael, owner of The Vineyard had a dream as a young man to produce handcrafted, single-vineyard wines modelled on French tradition.
This entrepreneur, after making millions in the business world, bought a square mile of Californian property in 1982 for a million dollars. He had to start from scratch on a bare mountainside with no grape growing history. His dream project began at the age of 40.
The technology side of life was based south of San Francisco so it is perhaps not so strange that he chose California. At weekends he was able to cross the Golden Gate Bridge into the mountains and valleys of northern California where he experienced a great relaxation and joy. He discovered the amazing things that were going on there with wine and realised they hadn’t reached their potential.
40 years later, his ranch spanning some seven hundred acres is widely left as a natural wildlife corridor with just over 100 hundred acres planted to vine. The Knights Valley Estate has not only seen his family grow and holds many memories, but for generations to come, Sir Peter is determined to keep his commitment of being stewards of a very special place.
A remarkable story and certainly a wonderful, relaxing and luxurious hotel sitting close to Highclere and other attractions in the Berkshire countryside.
An impeccable service with the worlds best wines, accompanied by gourmet cuisine – a luxury I would love to experience again!