After working part-time at Saffron Grange Vineyard in north Essex to support himself through college, Dan fell in love with grape growing and wine making.

The skills he learned over the next dozen or so years as a vineyard manager are now being put to good use by Crawfords Group, which has appointed Dan as group business development manager for vineyard, fruit and professional, a new role which marks the company’s commitment to the burgeoning viticulture sector.

The group is focused on providing a comprehensive, end-to-end solution for vineyard customers that will make it the go-to, ‘one stop shop’ for everything from hand tools to tractors and including servicing, repairs and parts. It is a bold ambition but one that has been strengthened by its appointment as the sole UK distributer for top French manufacturer Pellenc’s arboriculture and viticulture ranges.

Dan’s 14 years’ experience at the sharp end of the industry has convinced him that UK winemakers need to embrace mechanisation if they are to lower their costs so that their excellent products can compete on price as well as on quality, and the Crawfords Group is committed to supporting that transition.

With Crawfords Group now encompassing Agwood and Crawfords as well as Crawfords Automotive, it can offer growers specialist tractors from all three of the dominant AGCO brands, Fendt, Valtra and Massey Ferguson.

Other suppliers offered by the exciting new division include Manitou, Isuzu, Pellenc, Kioti, Suzuki, Andreoli Sprayers, Spearhead Machinery, Wessex, Logic and Alpego Focus Line.

A dedicated team is on hand to assist with finance requirements, a useful facility when vineyard owners are having to consider investing in new equipment to reduce long term costs and improve their bottom line over time.

“We can supply everything from hand tools through to materials handling machines and from sprayers to leaf trimmers,” Dan explained. “In terms of machinery, we aim to be able to supply everything a grower could want.”

And because Dan knows that supplying machinery is often only half the story, particularly during harvest, he is quick to stress that the group’s 50-plus mobile technicians, each with their own vehicle, can be on hand to deal with breakdowns, servicing and repairs quickly and effectively. Crawfords Group has recently also launched a dedicated parts van in Kent run by customer care and support manager Ronnie Cray.

“Service really is paramount to Crawfords Group,” Dan explained. “I know from my own experience that buying a machine is only the start. You really need first class backup to make sure it keeps running, particularly at the busiest time of the year, and that’s what we will ensure we deliver.”

That challenge is made slightly easier by the fact that ‘busy’ in grape harvesting terms means October, once the equally busy arable harvest is for the most part done and dusted. “Our motto across the group is ‘farmer first’ and that applies equally to growers,” Dan stressed.

The group covers Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, and offers a full range of service and breakdown support for all kinds of machinery. While Crawfords Group has combined depots at Writtle in Essex, Charing in Kent and Billingshurst in West Sussex, it also has two separate depots, with Crawfords operating from Ropley, near Alresford in Hampshire, and Agwood based at Swingfield, near Dover.

Dan’s part time job at Saffron Grange, where he learned from, amongst others, viticulture consultant Duncan McNeill of MVM, led to him later managing the six-hectare vineyard for eight years before moving on to a larger challenge, looking after 75 hectares of grapes near Burnham-on-Crouch for MDCV UK.

“Two of the challenges with larger sites are the availability of skilled labour and investing in the right machinery,” he said. “Hands on is fine, but you need an awful lot of hands, and they aren’t easy to find. As a wine producing country, we need to change some of our cultural practices to cut costs while keeping quality high.”

Dan became increasingly convinced that mechanisation was the way forward for UK wine, which is why he jumped at the chance to work with Crawfords Group to deliver a dedicated service to vineyards across the South East.

“This role gives me the opportunity to have an even bigger influence on the growth of viticulture in the UK,” he explained. “Crawfords is committed to helping growers become more efficient and more profitable by supporting the move into mechanisation.”

Dan’s previous experience allows Crawfords Group to offer a consultative approach within the sales process, advising customers on now they can increase the profitability, efficiency, and sustainability of their business.

“We can even advise people who are still only considering planting their own vineyard and can create bespoke packages for any size of business,” said Dan.

Central to the Crawfords Group’s strategy is its close partnership with Pellenc, the French manufacturer of everything from power hand tools to harvesting machines.

Crawfords Group will be supplying a wide range of Pellenc products, including tractor-mounted leaf removers and vine trimmers alongside pruning shears, strimmers, chain saws and inter-row cultivation equipment.

In terms of motive power, alongside the dedicated vineyard tractors from the major manufacturers, the group stocks small tractors from Kioti, telehandlers and industrial forklifts from Manitou and four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) from Suzuki. There is also talk of a new range of vineyard tractors from Valtra which is raising interest levels within the industry.

Dan was quick to stress that his job and that of the sales team was not just about selling equipment but about advising growers on what would work for their particular vineyard. “The focus is on helping our customers make the right decisions for their individual circumstances, so that they can produce a great product at a lower cost,” he explained.

“We will not only suggest the best product for now, but will aim to future proof that decision so that they are in the right place to grow the business over time and can scale up without starting from scratch. We will also offer first class after-sales care, providing tailored fixed-cost service and warranty packages where required.”

“From hand tools to tractors and anything you can hang on or around a tractor, we have the machinery, the knowledge and the back-up to support growers across the region – and our range covers around 80% of the area currently used for growing vines in the UK.”

Crawfords Group offers Isuzu pick-up trucks via Crawfords Automotive, as well as telehandlers, flail mowers, spreaders and equipment from Manitou, Wessex, Spearhead and Amazone. Alpego’s Focus Line is a dedicated range of vineyard and fruit machinery that also includes flails, cultivators and seeding equipment.

“Our commitment to providing outstanding service and product support is unwavering,” said Wes Crawford, Crawfords Group managing director. “Our team of extensively trained professionals in our sales, service and parts departments ensures that customers receive excellent customer care.

“Crawfords Group understands the unique demands of the viticulture sector and is dedicated to delivering solutions that not only meet but exceed our customers’ expectations. Whether it’s sales advice or after-sales support, our dedicated team is here to help, every step of the way.”