Great wine, great art, great food. This unique combination of three delights is offered at The Vineyard. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux Association and awarded five AA red stars; this “Restaurant with luxury suites attached” is owned by Sir Peter Michael.
Since 1998, when The Vineyard opened, he has lovingly nurtured it to reflect his vision and passions, receiving a host of accolades, one of the most recent being Decanter /Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2012. His success in the hospitality industry matches that of his other entrepreneurial ventures in the varied worlds of high tech, wine, art and music – he is probably best known to the general public as the founder of Classic FM.
Sir Peter Michael’s position as patron of art and sculpture is evident both inside and outside the two storeyed Portland stone building.
For guests arriving at night, the flames dancing on the ornamental pool at the front of the hotel create an immediate impact. The magical changing patterns of light, from William Pye’s metal, stone and water sculpture, Fire and Water are especially visible from the restaurant and guest bedrooms.
On entering the recently remodelled reception area another dramatic spectacle awaits – a stunning glass walled and floored wine vault. Extending to the basement, it contains over 880 bottles from the extensive and comprehensive cellar. Almost as a substitute for the absence of a vineyard on the estate, it leaves guests in no doubt that this is a serious destination for wine.
The near (but not unhealthy) obsession with wine is also evident in tasting classes, as well as tasting menus with matching flights of wine at three price levels, and in a magnificent wine list of 3000 bins (The Long List), in which California takes pride of place, and from which 100 (The Short list) can be taken by the glass.
Clearly visible in the room (California Bar) beyond the glass vault is the mural “After the Upset,” completed in 2012 by Gary Myatt to commemorate the 1976 Judgement of Paris. This celebrated blind wine tasting resulted in Californian wines being rated higher than the finest French vintages. The shocked, incredulous faces of the major French wine aficionados are graphically depicted, with Sir Peter Michael, who owns a winery in California’s Sonoma County, looking on, (no doubt with a certain glee?).
An equal love of art and sculpture manifests itself on the walls of the lounge, restaurant, long corridors, gardens and guest accommodation. Articulate – An Introduction to Art at The Vineyard – provides a tour and commentary to familiarise visitors with the major attractions. These include notable collections by Ronald Searle, Boris Smirnoff and Doris Zinkeisen, alongside favourite pieces such as Bucolique by impressionist Henri Martin. With its idyllic depiction of rural life, Sir Peter claims “It is the most perfect picture that epitomises everything about The Vineyard”.
Sensual pleasures of a different kind are provided by the 5 Bubbles Spa. The circular pool with Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and four treatment rooms allow guests to relax and be pampered in peaceful surroundings. A wide variety of massages, manicures, pedicures, facials are on offer using Darphin and The Vineyard’s own Red Grape products.
The split level restaurant has benefited from a recent refurbishment, its grandeur with sweeping staircase and decorative balustrade being enhanced by impressive lighting and soft furnishings, reflecting a more contemporary design. Well-spaced tables with fine napery, blinds and sumptuous drapes add to the elegance of the room, whilst works of art and sculpture provide a rich backdrop to the dining experience. It was pleasing also to see the owner dining here, as he regularly does.
Pre- and post-prandial drinks might be taken in the California Bar or the spacious, comfortable lounge which has plenty of individual armchairs and a fire. Alternatively, guests could take their time admiring the numerous pieces of art and sculpture throughout the hotel.
Given their luxurious quality, retiring to one’s room is equally attractive. Of the 49 rooms, all of which are named after iconic wines from around the world, 32 are suites. Room 210, where I stayed, is named after Joseph Phelps of Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast, California. As with other deluxe suites, which feature separate sitting rooms, the design is that of the renowned Serena Richards Interiors.
Decorated in bold tones of violet and grey, with the use of ecofabrics, it provides spacious accommodation with an understated elegance. With a first floor view of the ornamental lake, both sitting room and bedroom benefit from French windows and thick cotton drapes. Tastefully furnished with a two-seater settee, striped armchair, antique table, sideboard and mirrors, soft lighting, modern conveniences come in the form of a flat screen TV – thankfully not too wide – soft lighting and a mini bar. (For me, the lack of tea and coffee making facilities is a bonus, giving an excuse to call for room service or visit the lounge and California Bar.) The bedroom is superbly comfortable with plump feather pillows and crisp Egyptian cotton sheets. The marble tiled bathroom offers the softest, fluffiest towels and bathrobes with a range of designer toiletries.
Overseeing the whole operation is the charismatic and inspirational General Manager, Hayden Bowl. At interview he enthused about the opportunities and challenges involved in running such a distinguished property. With a management style that is ‘the host of the house’, he is much in evidence during most of the day. Hayden is vigorously proud of his team – “his family” – and is fully aware that happy staff means happy guests. Preferring to give immediate praise rather than assessing snapshots of individual performance, he appreciates the importance of personality – sometimes more so than paper qualifications – when recruiting and promoting staff. A great believer in continuous staff training – “knowledge is cool”- Hayden can see the benefits of, for example, wine tasting and matching with food, which gives added value to both staff and guest. Sharing an appreciation of the art works is also important in staff development, given The Vineyard’s unique selling points.
A customer-led approach, so guests see their stay as very much a home from home, is central to his philosophy of hospitality. Understandably, he is excited about Daniel Galmiche’s new dining concept, which offers maximum freedom of choice in food and wine. This also extends to a more guest friendly approach to such things as the dress code.
Certainly, the general sense of enjoyment and relaxation amongst guests at dinner – so noticeable by its absence in similar ranked establishments – is a testament to the success of Daniel’s and Hayden’s vision. It is also reflected in the seamless, friendly and informative service seen throughout my stay, from the welcome at reception, dinner in the restaurant, through to breakfast and departure. Overall, The Vineyard offers so much more than luxury accommodation and fine dining: Sir Peter Michael and the whole of the restaurant and hotel teams have created a destination venue of which they can be justifiably proud.