Swapping grain for grape

The Ch�teau de Bioul
The Ch�teau de Bioul

My hands are already stained purple, but I can’t resist grabbing another plump grape from the vine, which is eye-catchingly shrouded in autumnal golden leaves.

It’s maybe the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted, all gooey with juice and perfectly ripe.

The peaceful grounds of Domaine du Chenoy

The peaceful grounds of Domaine du Chenoy

I’m not in France, by the way. I’m actually just across the border, in a country much more widely renowned for its beer. Belgium is so synonymous with grain over grape that the cutesy-cobbled city of Namur, about an hour’s drive from Brussels, has a street called Rue des Brasseurs (Brewers Street) which centuries ago housed an impressive 18 breweries.

But now, there are none in the centre of Namur. Instead, we’re here to visit the luscious green fields of the Wallonia countryside (a region in the predominantly French-speaking south, of which Namur is the capital) where three trend-setting vineyards lie.

Visit these essential stops on the Wallonia wine route.

Domaine Viticole du Chenoy (domaine-du-chenoy.com)

Where: La Bruyere.

How much: E9/£8 for a one-and-a-half to two-hour visit of the vineyard and the cuverie, plus a tasting.

We are greeted by 80-year-old Philippe Grafe, who only started making wine at the age of 65, but now produces around 40,000 litres every year - he sells to restaurants in the area and it can also be bought from online (belgianwines.com/nl).

Tipple to take home: The Perle de Wallonie is a delicious dry sparkling wine made with three grapes - johanniter (40%), bronner (30%) and merzling (30%). It’s left to ferment for 15 months in the bottle (the same as Champagne) but uses only five-and-a-half grams of sugar per litre. Expect fruity aromas (peach, apricot), with a touch of lime at the finish (E14.25/£12.70 a bottle).

Chateau de Bioul (chateaudebioul.be)

Where: Bioul.

How much: Hunting dinners from E115/£103; new tours will be from E15/£13.50pp

What do you do when you inherit an 11th century castle? Turn it into an 11-hectare vineyard, of course. That’s exactly what former comedienne Vanessa Wyckmans-Vaxelaire did.

Afer showing us around her home (she is the 5th generation to live here) Vanessa walks us up a steep hillside behind the castle’s looming stone brick walls to snoop around the vines. The different varieties include johanniter, muscaris and pinotin (reminiscent respectively of riesling, muscat and pinot noir).

The grapes are perfectly adapted, she says, to northern climates, so there’s no need for any chemical fertilisers and they will be certified as organic in 2019.

Tipple to take home: The sharp passion fruit flavour of the Terre Charlot (E12.50/£11.10) is particularly memorable. But my absolute favourite? The Brut des Houilleres (E18.50/£16/50) is one of freshest, perfectly balanced sparkling roses I’ve ever tried.

Domaine du Ry d’Argent (domainedurydargent.com/en)

Where: Bovesse, Namur.

How much: E10/£8.90 for a one-and-a-half-hour tour, including a tasting of four wines.

After working with his neighbour Philippe (from Domaine du Chenoy), young talent Jean-Francois Baele converted a weathered family farm into a vineyard.

Set in a perfect location between the Sambre and Meuse rivers, it’s on the same south-facing hillside as Philippe’s enterprise, and the two men share machinery.

Walking us around his wine cellar, Jean-Francois tells us Belgium has huge possibilities for chardonnay, as there isn’t the pressure of fungus, which blights other European wine-growing regions.

Tipple to take home: Matured in oak barrels, the full-bodied Le Boise 2009 (E16.50/£14.70) was voted runner-up Belgian red wine at the 2011 awards of the VVS (Vereniging Vlaamse Sommeliers), the professional association of Flemish sommeliers. But my top choice is the Rosee d’Audrey, the Ry d’Argent estate’s first sparkling wine, which has the aroma of strawberries, raspberries and cherries, with a lemony freshness (E16/£14.25).

How to get there

Eurostar (eurostar.com; 03432 186 186) offers an ‘any Belgian station’ ticket from £34.50 one way. This includes a Eurostar train to Brussels and domestic train service for the onward journey.