In rural Berkshire, there’s a little corner of California where you can enjoy fine wines from one of Britain’s most celebrated cellars. Food, wine and art blend beautifully at The Vineyard, a five-star hotel in Stockcross, near Newbury. Often described as a temple to Californian wine, the hotel is owned by Sir Peter Michael, who was the driving force behind Cosworth Engineering and Quantel. As you check in you’ll spot an impressive glass-floored wine vault holding 5,000 bottles. Above this, two huge glass wine racks flank the entrance to the easy-going California Bar where a large mural celebrates a landmark event in the wine world – the so-called Judgement of Paris.
In Paris in 1976 an Englishman, Steven Spurrier, staged a blind tasting of French and Californian wines. Local judges favoured the unknown American selection over the best of France, shaking the winemaking establishment and transforming the image of new world production. It was the day Californian wine came of age.
The event inspired Sir Peter Michael, who went on to launch a winery in Sonoma County, northern California. Later, in 1998, he opened The Vineyard hotel whose vast cellar holds up to 30,000 bottles, including 800 wines from small, family-owned estates in the Golden State.
Wines are matched by deluxe dining, with executive head chef Daniel Galmiche bringing precision, panache and vibrant flavours into the kitchen. His Judgement Tasting Menu pairs food with 12 wines – six Californian and six French. After each course, diners are invited to give a verdict but there’s no pressure – the mood here is relaxed, and your sommelier lends friendly, expert insight.
Standout dishes on our visit included guinea fowl and parsley terrine, with blood orange, chicory and almonds, and autumn fruit, with mulled wine sorbet and wild anise emulsion. As for the wines, it was too close to call – but all were excellent. The Vineyard also serves more than 100 wines by the glass and you’ll enjoy leafing through the encyclopaedic list.
The owner’s eclectic taste in art emerges in the public areas, with works by Henri Martin, Ronald Searle and Doris Zinkeisen on display. Each of the 49 rooms or suites is named after an iconic wine. Our traditionally furnished luxury suite comprised a spacious lounge, generously sized bedroom with king-sized bed, perfectly plumped pillows and crisp linen, and a smart marble bathroom. Other suites provide contemporary twists to the country-house vibe.
If you want to unwind further, there’s a luxury spa (with a ‘5 Bubbles’ rating from the Good Spa Guide) which houses a pool, steam room, Jacuzzi and sauna. Rejuvenating treatments include the VitaMan De-Stress back massage. With nearby attractions including Newbury Racecourse and Highclere Castle (location for hit drama Downton Abbey), The Vineyard offers a stylish base for weekenders but whether foodies and wine lovers will be tempted to leave the hotel is another matter.
The Vineyard is a 70-minute drive from London. Trains run regularly from Paddington to Newbury station,
a 10-minute taxi ride from the hotel. Alternatively, hire a car with Hertz at www.iod.com/carrental