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friends of sawday’s

2 min read, friends of sawday's, opinion

The Daily Telegraph’s Jo Symons shares her top 3 places to stay

3rd March 2015
The Daily Telegraph’s Jo Symons shares her top 3 places to stay

As a seasoned globetrotter with a passport brimming with stamps, how could you be expected to narrow down your list of favourite places to stay? That’s exactly what we asked of Jo Symons, Commissioning Travel Editor at The Daily Telegraph, who tipped us off with three of her stand-out spots.




Fuente de la Higuera, Andalucia (where I’m relaxing in the photo!)

Whether you choose a grand hotel or a small B&B, it’s the atmosphere that makes a stay really memorable.This small hotel, set on a hill outside Ronda, gets it just right. Laid back but with great attention to detail, it has stylish rooms, a lovely small pool, friendly staff and sweeping views across olive groves and plains to the mountains beyond. The food is spectacularly good.



Bruce Castle, Normandy is one of my favourite B&Bs in the world. A convincing replica of an 18th-century chateau, it’s run by the delightful Fontanets who create a happy and welcoming atmosphere. The large sunny sitting room and three en-suite bedrooms are decorated (without a hint of preciousness) with good antiques and paintings and there’s a peaceful and beautifully tended garden. Breakfast – the table laid with antique linen and silver – includes freshly poached fruit and home-made jams. It’s well placed for the Cherbourg ferry, and for exploringthe lovely Cotentin Peninsula and D-Day beaches.



Northcourt, in the peaceful Isle of Wight village of Shorwell, is one of the loveliest of the local manor houses, but the real highlights here are the spectacular grounds that reminded me of a mini Lost Gardens of Heligan. Rooms are large, comfortable and traditionally furnished – and the friendly hosts provide an excellent breakfast. It’s all great value. Superb walking, beaches and the rolling countryside of West Wight are nearby.

5 min read, food & drink, friends of sawday's

Turning surplus potatoes into award-winning spirits: the story of Chase Distilleries

3rd March 2015
Turning surplus potatoes into award-winning spirits: the story of Chase Distilleries

We caught up with James Chase of Chase Distilleries and The Verzon Hotel to discover the pioneering spirit behind great spirits…



Where did the inspiration for Chase Distilleries come from?
I was travelling around New York in 2007 and saw the rise of craft distilleries, yet nothing was happening here in the UK. On returning back to our business at the time, Tyrrells Crisps, I found we had a huge surplus of smaller potatoes, too small to turn into crisps and at the time were just fed to the cows.



We built the distillery in 2007, and were crowned the world’s best tasting vodka in 2010. Gins, liqueurs and soon whisky too have followed suit. In fact, the brand is doing so well that we’re now selling our vodka to Russians – coal to Newcastle you might say. While we distill a range of products, everything in our business leads back to vodka and since selling the Tyrrell business we are 100% focused on spirits.



What makes your spirits different?
Our farm is based in Herefordshire, a region that boasts some of the richest farmland in the world. It’s here that we grow King Edward and Lady Claire potatoes for the distillery, as well as cider apples for our Naked Chase Apple Vodka and Williams Gin.

Having the distillery located on the farm allows us to keep a watchful eye over how our potatoes and apples move from field to bottle. It’s this single-estate approach that makes us different – something you can taste in our award-winning vodka.

Very small volumes are produced: 16 tonnes of potatoes makes only 1,000 litres of alcohol, which after 40 hours can be disheartening, but it is testament to the quality of our vodka– a supreme quality over all of the other mass produced vodka. Most gins on the market buy in what’s called a neutral grain spirit and simply re-distill, which can be sourced in the market for around 50 pence a litre. Our base spirit costs around £4 a litre to produce, so the cider is a great way of showing off the pedigree of our gin.



Where do you get ideas for new flavours?
We try to preserve quintessential British flavours; things like Seville orange marmalade or rhubarb vodka, which we hope will evoke lost memories and tastes. They are all distilled in season but can be enjoyed all year round.

What are your bestsellers from the range (and your personal favourite)?
Our Single-Estate Potato vodka is still the best selling spirit and is of course my personal favourite, closely followed by the Elegant Gin!

What would you have been in another life?
Over the years I have had a growing appreciation for good wine, understanding all the different elements that go into its production affecting quality are fascinating. So I suppose a wine maker, but that’s not too far off from what I’m doing already….


Feeling fruity? Try the Chase distillery cocktail of the month:


The story: Our brilliant barman, Harry, is going off to be a captain of a yacht and sail around the world. We are going to miss him terribly, so he left us this recipe to make sure we will never forget him!

60ml Chase Elegant Gin

10ml Chase Elderflower Liqueur

25ml Fresh lime juice

10ml Gomme (Sugar syrup)

Shake hard, with loads of ice and double strain into a cold Martini glass.


Have the master cocktail makers mix it for you and take a sneak peek tour around the distillery at The Verzon Hotel

Stylish rooms, attractive prices, an informal vibe and some lovely local food make this a great base for the Malvern Hills.

2 min read, food & drink, friends of sawday's

Rathfinny – A vineyard adventure

19th February 2015 barn&

Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it was another 20 years before Mark and Sarah swapped life in the big smoke to take the great leap into wine production on the soils of Sussex. They offered an insight into the trials and tribulations of starting their own vineyard…


Why did you make the big move into wine-making?
Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it took a further 20 years before we found the perfect site for a vineyard and Mark had retired from the city enabling a new venture in wine production. Following a two year course in viticulture at Plumpton College the dream started to take shape. An initial planting in 2012 produced the first harvest in 2014 and an expectation of our first Sparkling wine in 2017.



Out of all of the places that you could have set up in, what was it that made you settle in Alfriston?
The South Downs share the geology of the “Paris Basin”, a triassic geological feature that also encompasses the vineyards of Champagne. Our vines should flourish on the South facing chalky soils that are so essential to the development of the great sparking wines. Rathfinny was the perfect site in terms of size and location to realise our ambitions. Sussex isalso an important location for the development of the English wine industry as a whole. We hope to be contributing up to 1 million bottles a year by 2020 to English wine production.



Has the venture turned out how you expected it would?
We always knew it was an expensive, long term investment. We are on track with our plans in terms of the development of the Vineyard and buildings on site. We have also established a strong team with key members including New Zealand viticulturalist Cameron Roucher, who has left New Zealand to join the new venture, while Epernay-born Jonathan Médard is Rathfinny’s winemaker. It’s challenging and a huge learning curve.

It sounds like you’ve been pretty busy! Do you have any new projects coming up at the site?
We are about to open our Flint Barns – seasonal workers accommodation during pruning and picking but available for special interest groups and schools to visit as well B&B visitors. Our Cellar Door in Alfriston, which sells locally sourced and wine related products, will stock a small release of our first still wine in May and is the starting point of the Estate Tours. The Rathfinny Trail is due to open in May.

We are also holding a three-day Chamber Music Festival in June which will be the inaugural weekend of many for our resident ensemble, the London Conchord Ensemble.

Seasonal workers are invited to stay at Flint Barns during pruning and picking as well as B&B visitors. More “poshtel” than hostel, find chunky doors, reclaimed oak floors, view-filled windows, bedrooms with luxurious mattresses, crisp white cotton, good lighting and shower rooms worthy of Babington House.