Combining his background in horticulture with his machinery design skills, Ian Phillips set up Vineyard Solutions Ltd – a company that focusses on establishing successful vineyards for clients using sound practical experience for efficient operation.
Ian Phillips studied horticulture at Writtle college before running a landscape and estate management company for ten years. “My parents were academics so both my brother and I were blessed by inheriting intelligence but no land,” commented Ian. “This involved designing gardens, growing trees and shrubs, as well as horticultural engineering. My work included designing and improving machinery for our company’s demands. “This led to me becoming a dealer of Mercedes Unimogs which honed my technical innovation skills whilst still being very much involved with the green fingered side of the business,” explained Ian.
Ian Phillips planted his own vineyards in 2009. “It became increasingly apparent that UK viticulture was a growing sector. We had already invested in a roll form machine for manufacturing trellising posts for our own future vineyard expansion as well as a Wagner vine planting machine. After several research visits to the Bergstrasse region in Germany and a ferocious appetite to read and understand UK viticulture, including clonal variations and rootstock characteristics, as well as vine specific best practice horticulture, we started VSL Vineyard Solutions.
“There seemed to be, and still is, quite often a gap between viticultural biological knowledge and a cohesive knowledge of mechanisation in vineyards. With VSL I bridge this gap and have done so successfully for the last 12 years.
“With Brexit, as well as the other current difficulties in foreign labour, providing a fully UK-based direct employed operation is the prudent option. I do believe that with this new difficulty in ad-hoc labour supply, as well as this current trend of weather vagaries for effective spraying etc, direct employment with efficient mechanisation seems to be the future,” commented Ian.
Vineyard establishment services
VSL offers a range of services from consultancy, site selection and vine supply, to GPS guided machine planting. “To establish a vineyard from start to finish can be a daunting task and often errors are only realised after time – so it’s prudent to get it right first time,” advised Ian. “We understand the trellising needs for commercial vineyards in the UK, for maintenance and strength, and as a result we have invested in a roll-form machine to manufacture our own Oxford trellising system posts. VSL is a ‘one stop shop’ for clients wishing to start or expand a vineyard. Being winegrowers ourselves we are up to date with all the issues and innovations currently within the industry – so we practice what we preach!” Commented Ian.
“Over the years VSL has installed vineyards throughout England and Wales, from site selection through to full implementation with little or no reliance on the usual sub-contracting of services in order to achieve a fully established vineyard. In my view, with Brexit, as well as the other current difficulties in obtaining foreign labour, providing a fully UK-based operation is the prudent option,” Ian added.
Ian’s own site Galleywood, is now planted with 18 acres of vines. “The vineyards are spread over three adjoining sites, which luckily are comprised of different soils and planted with several clones, which creates a nicely complex sparkling wine, as well as great, fully ripe, Chardonnay and Pinot still wines. We aim to achieve the best wines possible on our site in Essex,” said Ian.
Ian started his winery in 2011 to create a venue for visitors and events. “I wanted to have a place to drink great wine, made on site with total provenance, and for visitors to enjoy it with entertainment – without travelling to London. In my spare time I am a saxophone and Hammond organ player, and we host several events here with musicians who often perform at Ronnie Scott’s.
“When constructing the winery I decided to recreate an inland watermill style building that would lend itself to gravity flow – but also be an agricultural use of a local heritage style of building.
“I overhauled and installed, in a raised position, a square Coquard traditional press. I then designed and installed a purpose-built structure that allows a 100% gravity flow system without the inherent weakness of a standard fixed head system – hence the hooks on our bottles! I also added a Staffordshire potteries train to transport the Chardonnay barrels to an underground cellar – it has proved to be a great way to transport heavy full barrels in a confined space. It also helps keep the winery space clear.
“The vision behind the slightly unusual winery building was to create a venue to sell our wines by the glass and for customers to encounter a very immersive experience – that also bolsters the provenance of the Galleywood brand. My plan for the future is to make better and better wine. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to make too many styles of wine – I would rather make less, but to the best of my ability.
“I have seen many costly mistakes in this industry, often brought about by prospective vineyard owners being dazzled by ‘exotic’ consultants from overseas wine regions that in fact have little or no experience of our climate – who steer projects and then leave their posts with the damage done,” exclaimed Ian.
“In the UK many have come into wine production from other industries,” commented Ian. “I find that some clients are very much out of their comfort zone especially with practical issues, and we have helped them achieve their goals with their vineyard projects. I feel my skills, experience and knowledge help clients avoid the pitfalls and achieve success in the wine industry,” Ian added.