Goodwood, home of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, is a stunning estate located in the beautiful rolling downs of East Sussex. If you’re familiar with the house then you’re probably familiar with one of it’s many events, most likely the Festival of Speed or the Revival.
The Revival is renowned in the local area. A whole weekend of vintage everything, namely between 1940 and 1965, where classic car owners from around the country bring their prized vehicles to show and race around the track. Everyone comes in vintage attire, and I mean everyone. The site is also in full character, with styled signs and actors mingling with the crowds. It’s like stepping back in time, a welcome break from the stresses of the modern world.
Having spent a number of years working and studying at the University of Chichester, Goodwood has been on my doorstep and it was certainly on my list of places to visit, yet I hadn’t made it there. That is until I was invited to try out the new Goodwood Levin Down Gin, named after a local spot, where they source a ‘significant’ amount of juniper for the mix. The gin is also made with locally sourced mineral water so has that sense of capturing place that locally named gins tend to follow.
An event like this needed something special in attire, and I had the perfect thing. A dear old school friend of mine gave me a dress a few years ago, lovingly made by his late mother. She had been inspired by Goodwood and the vintage character that surrounded it, and it was wonderful to be able to wear that dress there, for her. A white dress smothered in red hearts made me feel like quite the diva, especially teamed up with my rather battered jacket covered in gin pins.
We were greeted at Chichester Stationby Lucy Harridge, Head of Marketing & PR – Entertainment & Hospitality and Edward Timbrell, who is the Motor Circuit Workshop Manager. He was driving a Land Rover Forward Control, a lovely old vehicle that had room for a good eight people in the back, accessed by a rickety set of wooden steps. Not ideal for someone wearing a petticoat and heels but I clambered in anyway, and like to think I did so with relative style and grace. We were taken to Goodwood House for a quick briefing, tea, coffee and biscuits and then we went rambling.
We had an additional vehicle to choose from, a Land Rover Series 2, driven by Jamie Gerathy, a Goodwood Driving Instructor. My Dad used to drive one of these when I was in secondary school. I have fond memories of unbolting the ‘lid’ in the summer, which spent a few months on the front lawn, leaving a brown rectangle in the grass when it was put back in in Autumn. Being so old, seatbelts weren’t required, and I used to love bouncing around in the back as we trundled around town. My father passed seven years ago and having the opportunity to relive such a happy time with a poignant thing for me…and kindly, as much as everyone swapped back and forth between vehicles each journey, I was granted that seat for every trip.
Levin Down is beautiful. The name comes from old English term ‘leave it alone hill’ as it is too steep for the plough. With this, large clumps (some very extensive, being almost three metres tall) of juniper communis has been able to grow there. Trekking up the path, the view across the valley became increasingly beautiful, and then we found the juniper. Having spent the last seven years writing about the stuff, I must confess this is the first time I’ve ever actually foraged for any and I took great pleasure in wielding a set of shears to snip off a few sprigs for the group. Crushing, smelling and tasting the berry in the wild is a wonderful way to get your head around the heart of gin. It’s aromatic character bursting from the berry and making you realise exactly why people love it so much. If you have any juniper growing wild near you it may well be worth a forage. Aside from gin it also makes a great ingredient for meat marinades.
We trundled back through the countryside, stopping off at the Goodwood Farm Shop. While most people know the place for it’s motorsport, it is in fact a working farm Estate, one of the largest lowland estates in the UK with something like 150 cottages on its grounds. The farm shop stocks meat, dairy, honey, pickles, preservatives and all sorts of other wonderful things. We stopped in for beer and cheese and were greeted by a lovely lady called Zoe Mann who is the Goodwood Farm Food & Event Catering Manager. She talked us through their beers and three delicious cheeses produce as well as being sure we had a good glug of beer and as much cheese as we fancied eating. As we were wrapping up, the estate beekeeper arrived looking for something for dinner. The sense of community on the Estate is lovely, and also the sense of pride in their position and their work on the Estate.
Back to the House and it was time to try the gin. We try it neat, and then in a fully fledged G&T. The profile is an interesting one. There are all manners of different botanicals in the gin, everything you’d expect and then more unusual ones like mint, and wild gorse flower. That said, when you try it, it’s actually surprising difficult to pick these components apart. Whilst it’s nice to try a gin and be able to say, “I get this component…and then this one”, with Goodwood Levin Down Gin it’s all so very well integrated it becomes it’s own thing. The notes meld together, delicate and cooperative and all the wonderful botanicals in there, act as supporting roles for the main thing, the juniper. This makes sense to me, not just because traditional gins are juniper forward, but because the gin is built around their local juniper on Levin Down. This is what makes this gin local to them, a local produce, just like in the farm shop.
Whilst trying the gin, we were offered various canapes that had been created around the gin, a wonderful selection and welcome after a busy morning foraging. (List for appreciation and inspiration).
- Goodwood Gin cured salmon, caviar, crème fraiche, blinis
- Smoked duck, blackberry Goodwood Gin gel, potato rosti
- Pulled lamb, mint yoghurt, flat bread, pomegranate
- Tomato tartare, basil, lemon & Goodwood Gin gel, rye toast
- Goodwood Gin, pear, beetroot, Great Taste Award winning Levin Down cheese, filo, micro rocket
We were also greeted by Goodwood Estate’s Andrew Coggings, the Managing Director of Entertaining and Hospitality, who talked us through the event and even took us on an impromptu tour around the house. The team had hoped the Duke could spare a visit but they explained that he is incredibly busy during the Goodwood Revival as he likes to get around talking to every group and area at the event. The rooms are absolutely stunning, and were all set up and ready for a Revival dinner, and served as a great advertisement for the house as a wedding venue, a venture that the team are looking to build on in the coming years. I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere more beautiful to have a wedding, so if you’re in the market, it’s well worth checking out and you can find more information here.
Pottering around all the rooms made it challenging for the lovely staff serving the treats, though they seemed quite happy following us around with their trays and sharing stories about the building. Naturally inquisitive, I asked about everything I could think of, and was rewarded with stories and sneaky peeks into back of house areas, eventually culminating in some time in a beautiful room with walls covered in tapestries, where the late Queen Elizabeth II had held a privy meeting with several people in 1955. It was a poignant moment.
The history at Goodwood House is laden with interesting facts. The first Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of King Charles II rented the building to experience the fox hunting in the area. The Charlton Hunt is an infamous hunt that is claimed to be the first ever fox hunt, which began in a tiny hamlet down the road. Whilst relatively quiet, the house became a regular escape from London, and before long the Duke brought it in 1697. There is a lot more to discover around the house, wonderful rooms, all with incredibly character. And exquisite pieces of history one of my favourites being the ‘weighing chair’, which weighed guests on the way in to the house. If they hadn’t put on at least 3 pounds on the way out then it was said that they hadn’t had enough fun.
I could have spent longer exploring, but our time was up and we moved on to the Revival. The energy surrounding the place was palpable, with Land Rovers lined up along the embankment and the whir of the track breaking through the crowds, thunder at the centre of a labyrinth of pits, stalls and dancefloors. We took time to visit the bar, where they had Levin Down Gin for sale as G&Ts and a couple of different cocktails,
The GG Mule
50ml Goodwood Gin, 5 mint leaves, 15ml fresh lime juice, top with Old Jamaican ginger beer
Garnish: Large sprig of fresh mint
Ingredients: 50ml Goodwood Gin, 50ml fresh lemon juice, 50ml honey water mix (1-1), top with Schweppes soda water
Garnish: Fresh lemon wheel
We moved on through the crowds to find an area of antiques, vintage clothes and handmade furniture. Finally meeting back at the shop, I was tempted to stay as there were shuttles running to and from the station into the night. Alas, I took the opportunity to leave with everyone…and have been regretting it ever since.
So what do I think of the gin? I think it’s tasty, and more than that, it has a real purpose. The gin has a character that is elegant, refined. It has finesse. And that’s exactly what I would hope for from a gin made to evoke such a place as Levin Down, and of Goodwood. A taste of the estate, what better souvenir to take home from one of their many events? An easy sell to visitors and a product that is in keeping with the philosophies behind everything else they do on site. It’s a more accessible market to simply bringing out a gin and hitting the shops. Goodwood Gin is a perfect example of what made gin so popular at the start of the boom: the attachment to place, a taste that evokes an area, a part of history, the people now. There is a dignification, pride. I just love that even now, years after that crest of a wave, we are still seeing this happening and certainly with this gin, being done so very well. It’s a real testament to the limitless nature of creation in the gin industry.
You can buy Levin Down Gin direct from Goodwood Estate here.
Thanks to the amazing staff at Goodwood for having us along and being such wonderful hosts. And thank you to Su-Lin, SLO London for the invite.