Tim Haywood reflects on his move from the city to take on a 40-year legacy at Astley Vineyard.
Favourite children’s book?
It’s not a ‘children’s’ book, but Lord of the Rings.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
First breakfast, or second? It’s hungry work this outdoor life. Muesli, toast, eggs, cake, coffee, tea and a good chat with my wife, Bev, about the day ahead.
If you weren’t working in viticulture what would you be doing?
I guess I would still be doing what I was doing for the last 30 years: working in the City as finance director and head of sustainability at some of the country’s largest public companies. Something that I loved, but which kept me away from my home and family more than I liked.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be brave, take risks, enjoy life (things that, on the whole, I have done) and be chilled, take time, learn to do nothing (things that, on the whole, I have yet to experience).
What advice would you give to other new entrants to the industry?
The help of our predecessor, Jonty Daniels, has been invaluable, as has been our willingness to seek, and take advice. The technical stuff (very well taught at Plumpton College) is important and can appear a bit daunting, but in reality it’s a bit less complicated than you may fear.
What is the most memorable vineyard you have visited?
There was a wonderful vineyard in South Africa that we visited many years ago (La Motte in Franschhoek) which is where we experienced the revelation of food and wine pairing for the first time. More recently, my son, Chris, and his wife, Matleena, visited Monte Calvi in Tuscany. It was a small family-run vineyard, much like ours, where they drank the wine in their private dining room and paired them with homemade local delicacies. It was just the kind of intimate and personal experience we would like to give customers here at Astley.
What is your favourite time of year?
I like to live in the moment, not worrying about what is to come and trying to get maximum benefit and enjoyment from what I’m doing right now. So, I suppose my favourite time of year is: now.
What has been the biggest challenge of taking over an already established vineyard?
It’s been an amazing and almost entirely positive experience taking over Astley Vineyard. There is obviously a great sense of responsibility not to damage the legacy of 40 years, but also the opportunity to build on a very solid foundation. Learning viticulture from scratch has been mainly fun (although some of my early tractor forays are best forgotten). The administration has been a bit of a nightmare and has required three of us to battle through the acres of red tape, licences, consents, account openings, verifications etc.
What is your worst job of the day?
Bloomin’ emails! I thought I’d left them behind in the corporate world.
What is your favourite job of the day?
Walking through the woodland to the vineyard to start the day, whatever the task. It is a huge privilege, especially to someone who spent many years on the District Line, the M4 or the M42.
How would you describe your work ethic?
This is no hands-off investment or hobbyist project. The entire family, Bev, Chris, Matleena, Daisy and myself, work together and input our very different skills. As a ‘retirement project’ for me, I’m not sure it’s accurately described. I’ve lost a stone in weight since July 2017, we’re all learning the many benefits of thermal clothing, and don’t need many trips to the gym to earn a good night’s sleep.
Has your recent rebrand helped to drive sales?
It’s maybe a little early to tell, but it has certainly helped us reposition Astley as a quality product. The early indications show that the new branding, together with our much-enhanced social media presence, are now much more closely aligned to the excellence of the product in the bottle, which in turn has enabled us to change our price points and to target some new customers. We like the fact that our new branding sticks out as quite modern and eye catching. Our design team WeAreBeard in Worcester have done a great job for us.
To spray, or not to spray?
We are all passionate about the environment and doing what we can to help biodiversity on our site. The 5-acre woodland next to our vineyard is as much our pride and joy as the vineyard itself. We are also pragmatists, not idealists, therefore we take a measured approach to tinkering with a longstanding and successful pest management regime (which involves some spraying, mixed in with organic control measures). But expect us to be edging closer to organic methods over the coming years.
Do you have any unusual vineyard pests and how do you deal with them?
Rabbits? Badgers? Muntjac Deer? Birds? We’ve got them all in moderation. The biggest pest in our vineyard is probably me, driving the tractor and occasionally knocking over an end post!
Out in the vineyard which is your favourite variety to work with and why?
Well it’s certainly not our famous Kerner! This is a very vigorous, almost cantankerous vine, that needs a lot of care and attention before it produces the amazing grapes for which we are renowned. It’s well worth the effort, but it’s a lot of effort.
Still or sparkling?
I’m happy to be able to make and enjoy both. Our Kerner makes such a good version of still and sparkling and it’s a great talking point as there is so little Kerner – especially sparkling Kerner – around. If you ever get to compare it alongside other sparkling wines, it’s a great experience.
Who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive?
Henry VIII; Leonardo da Vinci (would need an interpreter); Prince Charles; and Debbie Harry. Should be a lively and varied conversation.
How was the 2017 harvest for Astley?
That’s the question everyone’s been asking as we finished our first harvest as owners of Astley Vineyard. Well, on the human level, it was great fun. We were overwhelmed by the help, support and companionship of friends, neighbours and the loyal stalwart pickers of yesteryear. On the viticultural level, I have a sneaky suspicion that 2017 will prove to be a good year. The grapes were healthy, tasty and plentiful and our two slightly brave gambles (to save all our Siegerrebe for a late harvest wine and to try for a single variety Sauvingon Blanc) seem to have paid off.