One of only 20 attractions, and only English vineyard, to be recognised with top prize

Balfour Winery, based just outside Staplehurst in Kent, has been recognised as one of the country’s top visitor attractions, and the only vineyard to receive a Gold medal accreditation by VisitEngland – according to the organisation’s Accolade Awards.

The winery, which is just 45 minutes by train from London, achieved the top rating based on the scores obtained following an annual VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme assessment. It comes amidst a big change in consumer habits, with a sharp rise in interest in both visiting – and enjoying the wines of – vineyards in Britain.

Balfour are now eyeing attracting visitors from further afield, laying down a challenge to be one of the most visited wineries not just in the country – but around the world. They hope to welcome a new generation of consumers with a focus on sustainability at their 400-acre estate, alongside plans to open a restaurant in Winter 2023.

Wine tourism is growing fast in the UK, with wineries expecting a further 20% increase in visitor numbers over the next five years. In 2015, Balfour was one of the first to build a dedicated visitor centre and in 2022 over 15,000 people visited Balfour Winery and 2023 is on track to be a record as more people discover England’s emerging wine country.

The accolade puts an English winery in the same category as such culturally important venues as the Richard III Centre, Sherwood Forest and the Arsenal Stadium.

Speaking after the Gold accolade win, Balfour’s Commercial Director, Sarah Easton, said : “The recognition from VisitEngland is really fantastic for us at Balfour. To be listed amongst some of the most popular and renowned attractions in England is really exciting, and shows just how far we are coming as an industry. It’s a massive testament to the team’s hard-work on our famous Balfour hospitality and also to what makes us unique at Balfour; our beautiful visitor centre, 400 acres of ancient woodlands, vineyards and wildflower meadows and famous hospitality.

The boom in interest in English winery visits over recent years has been incredible to see. We’re now looking at some of the most iconic, and most visited, wineries in the world – and we believe we can compete in this country by offering a unique combination of world-class wines, service, and environmental credentials and by making it easier to visit us at Balfour with a free shuttle bus service”.

According to VisitEngland, tourism is one of England’s largest and most valuable industries, supporting hundreds of thousands of businesses, employing about 2.6 million people and, in 2022, generating £66.3 billion in domestic visitor spending. It also represents, on average, 24% of the income for English wineries.

VisitEngland Director Andrew Stokes said: “These accolades are a testament to the outstanding experiences and customer service that attractions in England give visitors. They also recognise different aspects of the visitor experience with attractions who really go the extra mile, whether it’s offering exceptional food and drink or magical storytelling. The attractions honoured today go out of their way to make visits memorable, creating reasons for people to travel to new locations, also boosting local economies across England.”