Young and forward-thinking winemaker Gareth Davies has led the charge with English Charmat – creating the ‘slightly illegitimate’, but now well recognised brand, Fitz.
Gareth Davies started his career in hospitality but to avoid the unsociable hours he re-trained and became a winemaker. He now oversees all aspects of production at Divergent Drinks, from grape procurement through to loading trucks with the finished product, and everything in between – so finds he hasn’t escaped the unsociable hours!
Why did you become a winemaker?
I have been working in wine production for over 11 years now. I’m now the head winemaker at Divergent Drinks where I am responsible for the production of our three brands – Fitz, Prince Charmat and Sov’ran.
Having worked in hospitality from a young age, I became fascinated by the relationship between food and drink, wine in particular. After I left school I spent a couple of seasons working restaurant kitchens in the French alps. Although I had a great passion for cooking, I couldn’t hack the unsociable working hours. So, when I started to draw comparisons between crafting a plate of food and the winemaking process, I discovered the wine production course at Plumpton college and got myself signed up. And that was it – I never looked back.
Why Charmat method sparkling wine?
We created a Charmat as not only did we want to have a point of difference and unique offering to the consumer, but we were also determined to create a truly affordable wine – whilst not compromising on quality. There was a lot of R&D that preceded the creation of Fitz – prototype products produced in my parent’s garage, focus groups to determine how the product should be presented and branded – I even managed to convince the boss to stump up for a trip to Valdobbiadene in the prosecco region of Italy. We had to be sure that there was going to be a market for our product before we took the plunge.
One of the common misconceptions about Charmat is that it’s inferior to traditional method fizz. Really the only thing they have in common is that they’re fizzy, but stylistically they’re worlds apart.
At Divergent Drinks we have set ourselves up to have extremely efficient production – we’re now producing over 100,000 bottles a year with only two full-time production staff. Our main challenge is trying to keep up with demand.
The brand Fitz
Historically, Fitz has sometimes been used to denote progeny born out of wedlock, aka, a bastard. That’s how we see ourselves, being made to feel slightly illegitimate when we were first established. Anyway, that was a few years ago and Fitz is now a well-recognised, strong brand in its own right. The brand coupled with the quality of our wine means that our customer base is broad and diverse – you’ll find it in fine dining establishments and your local boozer.
Your winemaking philosophy?
In wine production quality should remain at the forefront of everything that you do, along with a strategy for how, where, and who you’re going to sell your wine to – you can have all the best intentions in the world, but if your plan lacks execution, you could find yourself in a spot of bother.
Sustainability is very important, and Divergent Drinks are a member of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain and through this scheme we will endeavour to keep our overall carbon footprint to a minimum.
How do you see the future of English and Welsh wine production?
It’s very exciting to see the diversity of products being produced from UK wineries and hopefully we’ll continue to see innovation and experimentation in the sector. We have to ensure we put the consumer first, and a big part of that is offering a wide range of styles, formats and price points.
What are your top tips for a career in winemaking?
If you have the opportunity, go and get some work experience abroad. Unfortunately, that’s not quite as easy to do in Europe now as it was when I started out in my career – but the wealth of experience you gain from working in long-established winemaking regions is truly invaluable. That and the weather is guaranteed to be better than the UK, too.
Which was the last English wine you drank (other than your own)?
It was the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee a couple of weeks ago. The winemakers Cherie and Brad craft their wines with such precision and poise, they’re really something to be admired.
What do you do if you have any spare time?
After all we’ve been through in the past 16 months – I value good food and wine with friends and family!