I am generally a happy driver, by which I mean, I like driving a car. Especially through beautiful countryside. I grew up on the coast of northern California, which has some pretty nice roads for driving, and I guess I just got into the habit of being happy behind the wheel, most of the time.
So the way from Bristol to the Eden Project, a drive which runs through the SouthWest of England, should have been a great experience. And parts of it were: The long stretch on the A30 roadway that leads from Exeter (where we had stopped off for a couple of days) to St. Austell is stunning, rangy open country. And on the divided roadway, I could almost forget that I’m driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But then the signage to the Eden Project, where we were headed, turned out to be intermittent and a bit misleading, the roads got narrow and then narrower, and after a couple of hours of my passenger (my intrepid father) white-knuckling every close encounter with a stone wall, hedgerow or side mirror of a parked car, I was ready to throw in the towel.
We had planned to drive down to the westernmost tip of Cornwall after visiting the large biomes of the Eden Project, but that would have meant another couple of hours on the road, and neither of us could face that.
Because what we ended up finding, purely by chance, was a lovely cliff-side hotel. Besides having fantastic sea views from our rooms, and being served local mussels in local cider and cream, if we hadn’t stopped just outside St. Austell I doubt I would have gotten the chance to try a genuine surprise, the locally produced Camel Valley sparkling wine. Tracy, our friendly waitress at the Carlyon Bay Hotel, recommended the Cornish wine when I told her about my rattled nerves and my hankering for some champagne. She brought me two kinds to try, the brut and the rosé.
Well. My good mood was instantly restored. Because as it turns out, Camel Valley is turning out some excellent bubbly. In fact, the winery has been awarded a number of international prizes, winning out more than once against major champagne producers. The brut was light, chalky, dry and delicate, finely pearled – a delight. The rosé had a lovely tawny blush, and a slight berry taste I haven’t often experienced.
The funny thing is, while we were making the decision to stay in St. Austell, I had been noodling around on the rental car GPS system and had seen ‘wineries’ listed. When I clicked on those listings, I was given helpful driving instructions on how to get to the champagne wineries – on the other side of the Channel. After all, they are only around 100 miles away, if you have an amphibious vehicle. Couldn’t be much more difficult than the country lanes we’d been on already.
But Camel Valley itself was only twenty minutes away, in Bodmin. Sparkling wine in England actually predates champagne, partly due to British glassmaking techniques. While Cornwall has been producing wine since the 1600s, Camel Valley is a family-run winery that’s only been in business since 1989. But if they keep turning out the kind of wine I tasted, maybe the French GPS systems will start listing them as a destination from the French coastline, as well.
Need I mention that I managed to return the car, a brand-new white VW, without a single scratch or mark, in spite of all the near misses? Now that, indeed, makes for a happy driver.
Camel Valley Wines website
Good English Wine article on Camel Valley Wines
Telegraph article on Camel Valley Wines
The Independent article on Camel Valley and other good British wines
Also, the music that helped calm our nerves: