Editor’s visit: A slice of South Africa in Sussex

Mannings Heath is a vineyard with high ambitions of creating the UK’s first golf and wine estate, while sister site Leonardslee Lake & Gardens hopes to produce the first Pinotage in the region. Rebecca Chaplin finds out about plans to tackle these challenges. 

The Mannings Heath Estate is a little patch of South Africa amid the West Sussex countryside – a winning combination for wine, surely?

That’s what Barry Anderson, managing director of Mannings Heath, is hoping. He’s moved his family from South Africa to run the latest string in businesswoman Penny Streeter’s wine making bow. As we talk it’s a year to the day since he joined the company, moving his whole family to live on the estate with a plan to make exceptional English sparkling wine and hopes of the UK’s first Pinotage. 

It would be fair to say if this business was a wine, it would be a complex one. It’s both new and old, grounded in two different continents with an absolutely fascinating story. Penny Streeter OBE owns the Benguela Cove Hospitality Group, which runs Benguela Cove Wine Estate in South Africa, Mannings Heath and neighbouring Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens. Her story alone is an astounding one, from being homeless with three children in the early 90s to running a multi-million pound recruitment company and earning an OBE in the New Year’s honours list 2006. 

Her relationship with the wine industry began in 2013 though, when she bought Benguela Cove Wine Estate, explains Barry : “Benguela Cove wine estate was a big residential estate right on the ocean with around 170 acres of vineyard, producing about 500,000 bottles of wine. She bought that and it was her introduction into the wine industry. She fell in love with the industry. At the same time there was this boom in English sparkling wine.

“She then bought Mannings Heath, the first vines were planted in 2017, with an estimated production of 72,000 bottles of English sparkling wine. The plan was to create the UK’s first golf and wine estate at Mannings Heath.

“Her core business is here in the UK anyway, so she started to look for the ideal property for a vineyard here. That happened to be Mannings Heath, which was two 18-hole golf courses, and they turned one 18-hole into nine-hole and a vineyard. She chose the best locations on the property and that happened to be the nine holes where we are now.”

The challenge of two wine estates in different parts of the world would be enough for most people, but that’s not the end of the story. The wine produced at Mannings Heath will be named Leonardslee, after the sister site where another 3.1 acre vineyard is planted. 

Leonardslee Lakes & Garden is run by Adam Streeter, Penny’s son. It’s an estate with more than 200 years of history, which had fallen into disrepair.

“In 2018, Penny was looking for a property for her son Adam to buy. She drove past Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, which had been on the market for years. She jumped over the fence and found these beautiful gardens and old buildings and decided to put an offer in,” said Barry. “She became the proud new owner but it took two years to get it back to its former glory, as it had been left to rack and ruin for about eight years.

“The first vines were planted in 2018 but they officially opened the doors to the public last year. It’s 3.1 acres and, if all goes well, they will be producing the first Pinotage commercially in the UK. Saying that is a bit tongue in cheek because we don’t know if it will work in the climate. 

“We believe it will work because the grape has quite a nice thick skin so it’s not prone to rot, it buds later so hopefully we can get past the bud before it starts to frost, and it’s harvested at quite a low sugar. We’re trying that out in Leonardslee and if it doesn’t work we’ll use that in our sparkling wine production.”

Barry brings with him some fantastic experience of making wine in South Africa, and taking new businesses to success. He’s now moved his family over to live at the Leonardslee estate – a perfect place to be stuck under lockdown, he tells me, surrounded by the historic gardens. 

“Penny approached me, what feels like a lifetime ago, but it is really only a year. I was brought on board to look after Mannings Heath as managing director. I decided to make the big move from South Africa to the UK with my family. It’s a huge thing when you’ve been living in a country for 50 years and to lift everything up and move to a new place. My wife is on a British passport and my grandparents were born here so it’s sort of coming home in a way and we absolutely love living here.

“I’ve been involved in two wine companies in South Africa, the last one being Gabriëlskloof wine estate where I was a director and shareholder. Both wine farms were also start-ups, I worked with them in total for 25 years and, hopefully, this will be my last move to establish the Leonardslee brand. 

“I’m very wine focused and that was Penny’s aim, to build a wine brand as well as marketing the Benguela Cove label. That was my brief and I’ve taken on running a golf course alongside that as well! That was the challenge.”

> Adam Streeter, who runs Leonardslee, which is sister site to Mannings Heath

Mannings Heath’s first vintage will be 2020, with the wine produced at Wiston, also in West Sussex. Its plan is to build a winery on site – with all the planning permission expected to go through soon – and Barry has ripped up the initial plans to create a building that is in harmony with the stunning surrounding West Sussex countryside. 

“I think if you make the commitment to planting vines in the UK, you really need to believe in it because it’s super challenging. We believe in that, and every winemaker will tell you their property is the best property or at least their little bit of terroir, but we believe in West Sussex as a wine growing area – as one of the best areas in the UK. 

“I think that it’s important to state that Sussex will produce some of the best sparkling wines in the UK. We’ve been following Wiston quite closely because of our connection, and looking at the amazing wines that they’ve produced. I think on the back of that we were led to West Sussex. That was the area in which Penny was looking to buy for wine production.”

They now have a total of around 40 acres in the UK, with 37 planted at Mannings Heath. Barry says they have the option to grow, but for now this feels right. 

“We’ve got Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier. We know they do well here but we’re learning that certain grapes do better in different areas. We still don’t know exactly but we’ve spread our variations of clones and we have different sites that we will learn from. 

“We’re giving the winemaker all of the best tools to be able to make little single batches and learn what works well in the ground. Our winemaker at Benguela Cove, (when it’s quiet there it’s our season in the UK) will be coming across to assist us during the harvest. As we grow that may change and we’ll get our own full-time winemaker on this side of the globe but that’s the idea at this stage.”

Mannings Heath and Leonardslee will get the benefit of experienced and award-winning wine maker Johann Fourie from Benguela Cove. The South African vineyard gets its name from the Benguela Current flowing up from Antarctica, to cool the grapes at night after warm summer days, irrigated by above-average rainfall, for slow ripening and perfect viticulture. Mannings Heath shares some of these cool climate traits. 

Where some of the differences occur between the Western Cape and West Sussex, Agrii has been able to offer a UK perspective on crop protection – helping to keep their vines disease and pest free. 

“Penny wants to have the wine story across all of her properties, and we’d like to be able to take people from Leonardslee to Mannings Heath on tours. The two sister properties need to work together. The whole property is a 500-acre estate and we offer golf buggy tours, which are very popular. Visitors are taken by buggy to the vineyard and we do wine tastings in the clubhouse. The plan is to start building the winery this year once we can get planning in place. We’d like to start at the back end of this year in time for harvest in 2021.

The first big project for Mannings Heath however is its first vintage this year – made more challenging by recent global developments. “It’s a small vintage that we’ll be producing at Wiston,” Barry said. “We’ll bring it home to age and do all of the other bits. The winery is currently on Mannings Heath – and it’ll remain there, obviously – but we’ll be calling the wine brand Leonardslee. We’re hoping to have the branding ready to show people in the next couple of months. I love that part, it’s the fun part. The hard part is trying to sell it.

“The two sites are separated by three miles but they sit on the same soil types and they’re both south facing. There’s not a huge difference in altitude between the two, however the Leondarslee site is slightly more exposed than Mannings Heath. As well as the Pinotage we’ve got Pinot noir here, so it will be interesting to compare them at the two sites. 

“I’m pleased to say the vines on Leonardslee are doing fantastically. If it works and we can make great UK red wine – that will be fabulous.”

The hospitality side of both Mannings Heath and Leonardslee are important for sustaining the business, and with the Covid-19 pandemic they have been forced to close the golf course, tours and tastings – as well as postpone weddings and other events that were supposed to take place. 

“Luckily we finished our pruning literally hours before Boris Johnson announced the lockdown. Unfortunately, we have had to close the gardens at Leonardslee and the golf on the Mannings Heath site. We’re able to continue with the vineyard and the green keeping on the golf course at this stage, albeit with a rather small skeleton staff. 

“We currently have our vineyard manager Austin working on his own, and we’re still at the early stages of building our team.

“Our big challenge now will be when it comes to bud rubbing. All our contract staff are from Romania and they’ve all gone back home to be with their families over this period. I actually spoke to them to get an update, they’re very keen to get back but it’s not as easy as that.”

There are some big asks in this business, but Barry sounds confident the grapes can deliver. He has plans to keep the vineyard running as smoothly as possible, even if the rest of the world is in chaos. 

“We’ll use our green keeping and gardening staff from Leonardslee to do all the vineyard work,” he said calmly. “Doing close to 40 acres of vineyard with inexperienced staff is going to be interesting, but at least the vines are two metres apart and perfect for social distancing.”

Vineyard facts

• Benguela Cove is on the Western Cape of South Africa, about one-hour from Cape Town, its owner has purchased Mannings Heath and neighbouring Leonardslee Lake & Gardens.

• Across the two UK sites, there are now 40 acres of vineyard, growing Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier at Mannings Heath and Pinotage at Leonardslee.

• Mannings Heath was previously a golf club with two 18-hole courses – now the 500 acre site has converted one to a nine-hole, making space for vines.

• Leonardslee Lakes & Garden is a 400ha estate with Grade II listing, and now a 3.1 acre vineyard, where they plan to grow Pinotage for the first time in England. 

• A winery has been designed for the Mannings Heath estate, which they plan to have running for late 2021.

• It’s first vintage will be 2020, a sparkling wine made at Wiston.

• South African winemaker Johann Fourie will also work on the wines in West Sussex, as well as the Benguela Cove.

• Mannings Heath is expected to produce 72,000 bottles when it’s at full production with the wine branded Leonardslee. 

• Managing director Barry Anderson and owner Penny Streeter OBE chose the best locations, with advice from expert suppliers such as Agrii.

> Johann and Penny at their established South African vineyard

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