Drinks tour of Devon

    tour of devon
    The Sandridge Barton vineyard. Credit: Steven Haywood

    Sally Coffey meets the sustainable drinks producers who are diversifying the rural economy on a delicious drinks tour of Devon

    A drinks tour of Devon

    South Hams in Devon is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a place of rolling hills, sandy coves, and charming villages, which takes in one of the finest stretches of coastal South Devon.

    Dartmouth Castle from across the River Dart Estuary in Dartmouth. Credit: Stuart Black / Alamy 

    Along with fishing, farming has long been one of the main industries here, but in recent decades, savvy farmers and other forward-thinking producers have diversified to take advantage of increased tourism and a demand for locally sourced, sustainable drinks to complement the fantastic food also found in this part of the South West. It’s great news for the region’s many visitors, who can reap the rewards on a tour of Devon.

    Drinks tour of Devon: Luscombe soft drinks

    On Gabriel David’s family farm, deep in the Dart Valley – a farm whose history can be traced back to the Domesday Book – they’ve been leading the way in terms of rural diversification for decades.

    Unlike many dairy farms, which began making delicious cheeses and yoghurts, Gabriel’s family diversified into making cider. The family had been doing this for around 15 years when Gabriel returned from living in Sicily to take over the family business in 1997 and shifted the focus to soft drinks, and so Luscombe was born.

    Gabriel started making apple juice, followed by apple and pear, and apple and ginger – natural enough progressions from the farm’s cider background – and then Sicilian lemonade, still one of the brand’s most popular drinks today.

    Where possible, Luscombe harvests its own fruit for the drinks – the elderflower comes from Luscombe’s own plantations, though the apples come from Kent in South East England as the apples there are sweeter, “Devon apples tend to be more suited to cooking and cider,” Gabriel says.

    But it is very much a homegrown Devon business, with production kept local, and the drinks are now stocked in many nearby pubs and restaurants. Gabriel  was also instrumental in launching a food and drink awards system for Devon – Food and Drink Devon which now runs the awards has around 350 members – and he believes the quality of the produce in Devon is now much higher than in most regions of the UK thanks to both good ingredients and dedicated producers: “It takes so much effort to make something, why not go that bit further and make something good?” he says.

    In 2021 Luscombe was awarded a Royal Warrant after supplying Highgrove (the private residence of King Charles III and the Queen Consort) with drinks for years, an accolade proudly emblazoned on the bottles, but Gabriel will not divulge any royal favourite flavours.

    Drinks tour of Devon: Sandridge Barton wine
    tour of devon
    Sandridge Barton House is avaialble to hire.

    Follow the River Dart downriver and you’ll soon come to Stoke Gabriel, which sits across the river from one of England’s newest wine destinations: Sandridge Barton. Though Sandridge Barton with its state-of the-art visitor centre, self-guided and guided tastings, farm-to-table seasonal restaurant Circa, and farmhouse and riverside self-catering accommodation, only opened in 2022, the vines have been producing the grapes for the famous Sharpham Wines across the river for decades.

    tour of devon
    Sandridge Barton vines. Credit: Steven Haywood.

    New for 2023 is the Vine to Wine tour (from May to September), which will take visitors through the vineyard processes from grape-picking to winemaking, with a tour of the new Stonyfield vineyard and four wines to taste en route, followed by a winery tour and then a tasting of two cheeses from nearby Sharpham Dairy.

    When British wine expert and writer Oz Clarke OBE opened Sandridge Barton in 2022, he said: “Devon is booming in terms of its winemaking and Sharpham’s new home at Sandridge Barton is another really big step forward in the region gaining national and international recognition.”

    Drinks tour of Devon: Cove Vodka

    Another Devon farm that has diversified into the drinks business, is A J Lidstone & Son, the family farm behind Cove Vodka , located near Hope Cove on the South Devon coast, to the west of Dartmouth. Leanne Carr’s family have farmed potatoes in the South Hams since the 1960s and now they are making hand-crafted vodka out of potatoes.

    tour of devon
    The beach and harbour at Shaldon. Credit: Travel Pix Collection / AWL Images Ltd

    The vodka is made of Devon spring water, potatoes, yeast, and enzymes. And that’s it. The result is a smooth and creamy copper-distilled vodka that captures the essence of the county. “Who doesn’t love the sea and home-grown food?” Leanne asks.

    Leanne also makes a damson liquor, using damson from an orchard in Taunton, Somerset, (just over the Devon border), and the farm makes its own coffee liquor with the Salcombe Coffee Company. Cove Vodka is stocked throughout South Devon, including at the atmospheric Bayard’s Cove Inn in Dartmouth.

    tour of devon
    Bayards Cove Inn is one of the oldest buildings in Dartmouth. Credit: John Hill / Alamy
    Drinks tour of Devon: Salcombe Brewery beer
    tour of devon
    Credit: Adam Weatherley

    It’s close to Leanne’s family farm that another local Devon drinks business took an unexpected turn. Salcombe Brewery  is a family-owned company set up by John and Gerry Tiner. The story goes that the couple were on holiday in Hope Cove when John had a pint of Shingle Bay beer. When he told the barman how much he liked it, the barman said it might be the last time he tries it, since the brewery, then Quercus Devon Ales, was shutting down.

    Shortly afterwards, John bought the brewery and set up business. Salcombe Brewery’s beers can now be found in many of the traditional pubs in the area, or you can visit the brewery for a tour, which includes a tasting session. There’s also a shop open 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday and the brewery runs its popular ‘fill-up Friday’ when people can bring containers to fill up with beer, which works out at a very wallet-friendly £1 per pint.

    John is on the board for the Devon Environment Foundation and a donation from each Seahorse beer – this writer’s personal favourite – goes to the Seahorse Trust, so you can help protect the local environment as you drink.

    Drinks tour of Devon: Exeter Gin

    To the east of the River Dart lies the River Teign, which spills out to the sea at Teignmouth, opposite pretty Shaldon, and this is where you find the home of Exeter Gin, run by Karen Skerratt and her husband Mick.

    Karen decided to make her own gin when she realised there was no local gin from Exeter. You can try it in lots of local places, including the fantastic Crabshack in Teignmouth, but a visit to the distillery to do a tour and tasting or even make your own gin, is recommended.

    A lot of the inspiration for Karen’s gin bar comes from her “gin-swilling minx” of a grandmother, of whom her fondness shines through. Local history has inspired the taste, though, with Karen and Mick using botanicals popular with the Romans, who occupied the region between AD55 and AD380, including tarragon, basil, cardamon, cinnamon, and marigold.

    While Karen and Mick source some ingredients, such as rhubarb, from local farms, they’re not averse to a little local foraging. Karen’s grandfather was an award-winning gardener and it’s his influence that ensures Karen always wants to put out the best possible produce, “I want to make him proud” she says. And I’m quite sure she does.

    For more food and drink inspiration in Devon, go to fooddrinkdevon.co.uk.

    Read more:

    The best cream tea in Cornwall and Devon

    Win a luxury stay at elegant Bovey Castle in Devon

    South West 660: The new coastal route for South West England


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