Meet the manager: Kristina Studzinski

Kristina comments on her role as vineyard manager at Off the Line.

Favourite children’s book?

Definitely, Charlie and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl. It’s such a fantastical story with wonderful characters where good triumphs. I remember my late father reading it to me and my brother when we were children as a bedtime story and giving us chocolate to munch on as he read.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

I rarely eat breakfast; just a cup of tea.

How was pruning this year?

It was a bit stop and start because of the wet and cold weather. We started a little earlier than last year as we wanted to do as much pruning ourselves as possible. Our vines are still young and pruning manually is still easy enough.

What are your hopes for the season ahead?

This is a big year for us as it’s the first year Off the Line will be making wine on site in a new purpose-built winery. I am hoping that the vineyard will crop to its full potential as our vines planted in 2014 reach maturity. As always, I hope the weather will be kind; particularly no late spring frosts and dry and warm conditions for flowering.

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

Having decided on a second career after a legal one, if I wasn’t working in viticulture I think I would be writing or pursuing a career in politics.  I have published a few things and enjoy writing both fact and fiction.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be confident in all that you do and grow a thicker skin particularly when other people try and undermine you.

How did you select your contract winemaker and what should new entrants to the industry without wineries look out for?

While our winery has been under construction we engaged Litmus to make our wines. We chose John Worontschak and wine maker, Matthieu Elzinga, as they have an amazing track record and unparalleled experience of making wines of all styles in England and internationally. The service they offer clients is first class, transparent and their standards immaculate. I would strongly recommend that new entrants without wineries consider contractual arrangements very carefully, for example, what happens if anything goes wrong, turnaround times after delivery of fruit and return of crates, is there any obligation to sell fruit, facilities for juice analysis prior to harvest etc.  In years to come I think winery capacity may be an issue, so new entrants without wineries really need to ensure that there is a contract winemaker with capacity to work with them so that their business is sustainable.

What is your favourite time of year?

Definitely spring. I love the lengthening of the days, bud burst and the feeling of the natural world coming to life.

Who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive?

I would invite Dorothy Parker the American poet, Quentin Crisp and Susan Sontag.  I would hope that the party would be a mixture of serious conversation but also fun and that the cocktails and wine flow freely.

What wine would you take to that dinner party?

My own favourite which is our Hip rosé made from Pinot noir, a complex wine to take your time over.

Why did you choose to focus on rosé and would you ever make a red wine?

Ann-Marie, my partner, and I both shared the ambition of doing something special in England. There is great potential to make quality still rosé here that holds its own internationally and the red varieties we chose to plant, Pinot noir, Regent, Dornfelder and Rondo give us options going forward, not just to make different styles of rosé but a quality still red from Pinot noir and possibly a fizz if we feel that’s best for the fruit in a given year. We are a business first and foremost with a focus on still rosé at the present time.

Does this focus help or hinder when selling? Do customers expect you to have a full range?

I would say it helps as people think of us as ‘the rosé girls’! Perhaps with trade it raises a few eyebrows as we are not focusing on sparkling wine.

How would you describe your work ethic?

Very dedicated, strong willed and hardworking. I love challenges and problem solving which really helps working in viticulture.

To spray, or not to spray?

I practise minimalist conventional spraying so spray according to weather conditions and what I see in the vineyard. We also grow disease resistant varieties, Regent and Rondo that do well in England and require considerably less spraying.

Out in the vineyard which is your favourite variety to work with and why?

I would say Regent as it’s very resistant to Downy and Powdery mildew and is a very reliable cropper.

Do you have any unusual vineyard pests and how do you deal with them?

Not particularly unusual but we had to cull 100 rabbits in 2016. Rabbits are a menace to young vines even sharpening their teeth on trunks. Rabbit guards offer full protection, but the ones supplied to us needed to be cut to facilitate bud rubbing and deteriorated over time. We have mesh around vines with weaker trunks which really works.

How did you choose your current vineyard site?

Having moved from London to Brighton, Ann-Marie and I got to know Sussex and looked for a suitable site in East Sussex. The 13-hectare site we found was a former grassland farm on the lower slopes of the Weald with south-facing slopes and a soil profile of Weald clay over Tunbridge Wells sand which is particularly good for growing Pinot noir. There were already some farm buildings on the site and tracks and there was potential for a winery. It looked to us like the site was made to be a vineyard and winery.

What is your favourite job of the day?

Showing visitors around the vineyard and giving them a taste of what vine growing involves and, of course, showing our wines.

What is your worst job of the day?

Doesn’t happen every day but stumbling across dead creatures. These have included buzzards, a fox, moor hens and even a sheep.

What is the most memorable vineyard you have visited?

I’ve visited many different wine regions and seen some amazing vineyards and it is impossible really to pick just one out. I visited the Rheingau in Germany with members of the South East Vineyards Association in 2014 and we visited a number of producers, big and small, including vine growers working with disease resistant varieties. That region really stood out for me as being forward looking, sustainable and unique.

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