Daniel Ham, winemaker of WineGB’s Supreme Champion 2019, chats to Vineyard about Langham Wine Estate in Dorset.
How did you get started in wine?
While living in New Zealand I began to develop an interest in wine and saw that it could offer a varied and fulfilling career. I was working as a marine biologist at the time and felt the need to do something more hands on and creative. Although I had gained a small amount of experience in New Zealand, it was the combination of studying at Plumpton College and working with the extremely gifted team at Ridgeview that set me on the right path.
Why do you think it’s important for winemakers to spend time in the vineyard?
I’m a firm believer that exceptional wine is made in the vineyard. If I have a detailed understanding of the vineyard and the fruit, I find that I can guide the wines in the right direction with very little intervention and hopefully highlight site expression.
What is your winemaking style?
Hands off, but diligent. I prefer to do as little to the wines as possible but to be able to do this I must be constantly observing (both in the vineyard and winery).
If you weren’t working in wine what would you be doing?
Either a baker or a carpenter.
Do awards really help with sales?
Yes I think they do. It gives certain consumers confidence that they are buying an excellent product and it generally raises brand awareness.
How do you get your wines to market?
It’s very diverse. We’re extremely fortunate that, due to our location, we sell a large amount direct to the consumer through our characterful cellar door and at local events. That said, we have a network of agents throughout the country who do a fantastic job, with just a small amount currently being exported.
Do you have a market in mind when you are crafting your products?
Not at all. I simply aim to produce authentic, enjoyable wines. Hopefully there’s a market for that.
What modern technology/machinery could you not live without in the winery?
I prefer to make wines without the use of machinery/technology wherever possible, so probably a radio.
Do you have a favourite wine/vintage you have made? What made it so special?
My favourite vintage would have to be 2016. We had a tiny crop of very ripe fruit that gave me the time to fully realise the way I want to make wine. I had a very like-minded Australian harvest assistant, and my wife and new-born son were able to come and visit the winery every day.
My favourite wine has to be our single varietal Pinot meunier (due for release early 2020). I find Pinot meunier a joy to work with in the vineyard and utterly beguiling as a wine.
Name one interesting fact about Langham that retailers can quickly share with consumers to help the brand stick in their mind.
The wine is aged in underground tunnels just meters from the sea.
What’s in store for Langham this year?
We have a large party planned for 11 August to celebrate the 10th anniversary of vines being planted on the estate. We’re also excited to be bottling our first still wines off the back of the extraordinary 2018 harvest.
How do you approach each harvest?
With a full cup of coffee, a decent supply of cake and an open mind.
What are your hopes for this year’s vintage?
I’m hoping for a balanced crop of ripe, healthy fruit that allows us to continue to make authentic wines with minimal inputs.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the UK wine industry at the moment?
Sustainability in a variety of areas. With regards to environmental sustainability, I think that we are a long way behind other winemaking regions and a lot more needs to be done. I also feel that vineyard sustainability/longevity needs some serious attention. The vineyard is the foundation of any wine producer and more attention needs to be paid to pruning to ensure that a healthy, balanced crop is achieved for years to come.
Which wines/winemakers, if any, have you taken inspiration from?
The late Mike Roberts had a huge influence on me as a fledgling winemaker and I will be forever grateful to the Roberts family for the opportunities they gave me. More recently I have taken inspiration from winemakers I have met on my travels to Champagne, Jerez, Georgia and Slovenia.
What do you love about Dorset and what makes it unique from other regions?
If the UK is a marginal climate for viticulture, then the climate in Dorset is on a knife edge. It’s quite exhilarating to feel that you are constantly on the boundary between something impossible and something exceptional.
What advice would you give to those looking to get into the UK viticulture industry?
Read as much as you can, visit lots of vineyards in different regions and most importantly, get a dog. It gives you an excuse to walk through the vineyard every day!
How can winemakers ensure they are staying ahead of trends to better connect with consumers?
I like to think I’m not an adopter of trends. Instead I prefer to look back at the thousands of years of winemaking history to produce more interesting and authentic wines. From personal experience with my own wine label (Offbeat Wines), consumers can relate to this much more than the latest piece of winemaking technology.
Do producers need to offer more than just wine to be sustainable?
I think it entirely depends on business objectives and scale. If producers aim to be a global brand, then clearly diversification and growth are a must. At the other end of the spectrum, I think it is often more sustainable to stay small, be diligent and focus on simply producing exceptional wine.
Do you think it is going to become more challenging for producers to stand out in a crowded market?
Potentially yes. However, like any developing market I think there will come a time when a natural balance is found and those occupying a particular niche with a loyal customer base will be the ones who excel.
Finish this sentence: In ten years’ time…
I will be older, wiser and feel just as excited to be part of the English wine movement.