Meet the manager: Head winemaker

How did you get started in wine?

Primarily I ended up in the industry because my parents, Bob and Annie, set up the vineyard. I always enjoyed the work, especially in the winery, and over time I got more immersed in the wine sector.

What was your first job on the vineyard?

I was about 13 and was tasked with putting in a supporting cane for each vine. I was paid about 1p per cane and had 8,000 canes to get through; it took me a few weeks.

If you weren’t working in wine what would you be doing?

I found maths easy so I did that to degree level. I had planned to follow the financial route and thought I would end up taking a job in the City. When I finished university I realised that everyone in London was just trying to earn enough money to escape to the country to do what I was already doing at the vineyard. I realised here was the best place to be.

What is your winemaking style?

Making wine in the UK is like cooking fish – all you need to do is cook the fish perfectly; you don’t need any fancy sauces or techniques. There are very simple characters in the wine and they are easily lost, so we focus on doing each job perfectly and, like fish, it is just about getting it to the right temperature. We have never tried to add complexity or make anything complicated we are just trying to present everything simply.

What is the most memorable wine you have tasted?

I remember the first-time dad made a sparkling rosé from Pinot noir. I tasted it in 2000 and remember thinking how lovely it was. It really stuck in my memory and was probably the first wine I liked. Now, it turns out really good every year, and even in a difficult year like 2012 we still made one of our best wines.

Was there a smooth transition taking over winemaking from your father?

We don’t really have anyone who ‘makes the wine’. Someone has to take the final decision but that is never taken in isolation and there are always lots of people who taste the wine. Now the only difference is that it is me presenting everyone with different things to taste. In terms of how the conversation goes, I don’t think it has changed in 20 years.

How do you approach each harvest?

With a lot of patience and knowing not to be disheartened at any point in the process. During some harvests the grapes come in exactly perfect, like in 2015. In 2013 nothing was perfect, but once we started to tackle the blends we discovered that there was a lot of balance. No harvest is the same and sometimes it will take more or less time to solve the puzzle than it did the year before.

What is the best thing about being an English producer?

Our grapes are on the vine after flowering 30 to 40 days longer than anywhere else. The grapes develop really slowly, so you get the lighter and delicate flavours like strawberry, raspberry, pear, elderflower and gooseberry. Being on the vine much longer also means the grapes have a higher level of protein so we can have traditional method sparkling wines with a great mousse without having to lees age for an extended period of time.

Which is your favourite variety to work with and why?

I would lean towards Pinot noir because it is unique when it is grown in England and there are options of where you can go with it. If you were going to invent what an English wine tastes like you would include a strawberry characteristic, so it just feels like the most appropriate thing for us to have. Pinot noir is never unripe or too ripe; it’s the goldilocks grape variety.

Which winemakers have you taken inspiration from?

Well, my dad, for a variety of reasons. I also went to King Crawford Wines in Blenheim, New Zealand, for a harvest and there was an approach to work and a direct way of communicating with people that I felt suited the winery.

Do you think English and Welsh producers can learn from other countries?

What is important is understanding how your wines are placed in the context of other wines and the winemaking tradition. We don’t make wine in an isolated capacity. When you look at New Zealand or Australia, they came along in the context of other wines and still made everything work. We are about 20 years behind their curve so you can always look at some point in their history and think that is where we are going as an industry.

What modern technology could you not live without in the winery?

We have done everything in a non-technological way, but I would definitely say a computer, in particular excel spreadsheets. Making wine is a bit like operating a set of accounts and keeping logical records so being computerised makes it a lot easier.

Still or sparkling?

For us they are both by-products of each other. The reason our wines are so good is that we make both; it gives us so many options. If we need acidity we can balance the wine and we don’t have to make a certain amount of still or sparkling. A lot of non-vintage sparkling production comes about from necessity, but we haven’t needed to do that. There are not many people who do both in the way we do, but I think more producers will start to do so.

What do you love about Cornwall and what makes it unique from other regions?

Culturally our wine really makes sense in Cornwall. It is the Saville Row of food and drink. When I first started getting into wine and read about terroir I thought it was some sales thing. It is a philosophy and tradition that your wine has a context within society where you live, and it is bizarre, but our wine has this natural context in Cornwall. There are only three single vineyards with their own PDOs in Europe, which includes our Darnibole vineyard. The Bacchus from that field is always different and I didn’t think terroir was actually real but I have to eat my words with that particular wine because the winemaking process is exactly the same but there is this great mouthfeel.

Corks or screwcaps?

We had terrible problems with corks so in 2004 we bottled 50% of our still wines with corks and 50% with screwcaps to test it. From a trade and retail customer point of view they were easier to open so we quickly ran out of the screwcap wines. At the time it was quite a big decision because there was a lot of negativity towards screwcaps but with cork we were always taking a chance with the closure.

What is the best recognition you have received for the wines?

The Royal Warrant probably trumps everything, but before we received that, in 2014 I was shortlisted for the best sparkling winemaker in the International Wine Challenge. That was the first year someone not from Champagne had been shortlisted. We had four sparkling wines in the competition, the 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Brut, the 2012 Brut, the 2010 Pinot Noir Brut and the 2009 Chardonnay Brut. It meant that all the wines had done well to get us into the shortlist. Everyone will make one wine which is good but when you have a set of wines which are all good at the same time it was a great achievement.

Finish this sentence: In ten years time…

I would like to be training one of my children. That is the aim. They’re currently aged seven, six and three. We almost have five different businesses here rolled into one, so I am sure something will suit someone’s personality more.

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