This month Vineyard magazine talks to Jo Smith, Brand Manager with The Wine Garden of England which is a collaborative member organisation aiming to increase wine tourism for its members.  

Jo Smith has been Brand Manager at the Wine Garden of England since August 2021 but her career in and around wine has taken many different directions.

 Originally part of the team at The London Wine Fair back in 1995 and more recently covering Kentish wines for BBC Radio Kent as a monthly slot with Julia George. “I found out about The Wine Garden of England when I was doing an interview with Patrick McGrath at Domaine Evremond. It sounded like the perfect job and I thought it was a shame someone was already doing it,” said Jo. So when the job became available she was happy to apply for the position of Brand Manager. Jo Smith has also worked as a tour guide at Kingscote Vineyard and “it made me realise how much I love talking to people face to face about wine and how it is made. Understanding the job of a tour guide has been really helpful in this role,” she said.

The Wine Garden of England has eight members Balfour, Biddenden, Chapel Down, Domaine Evremond, Gusbourne, Simpsons, Squerryes and the newest member Westwell. According to Jo Smith: “Each of the vineyards are part of a brand within a brand.” Every vineyard in the group is unique and as such no one venue is similar to any other. “One of the things we love about the wine Garden of England is that people can visit three or four vineyards in a day and have very different experiences,” she added. 

The Group is working hard at raising the profile of the brand by attending events with the aim of increasing awareness of the Wine Garden of England amongst consumers. “The wine industry would recognise us a lot more at the moment than consumers so this is a major goal; get to the consumers,” said Jo. Within the scope of this goal a fantastic handbook has been produced which will be available at targeted venues around the county. This concept of multiple vineyards encompassed within a single brand image is not without challenges. “The brand itself represents some very strong brands that are all very different and we don’t represent the wine making aspect of what they do we represent their tourism offering,” said Jo. The commitment to increasing wine tourism in Kent requires “re-writing the rulebook”. 

Each member of the group works very hard for the collective whole. Every six weeks Jo meets with the Partners Group which comprises all the owners of the estates “which means I have eight bosses,” she said smiling. The group has a Chairperson and this role changes every two years. Currently this role is filled by Henry Warde of Squerryes Court. “It is quite a time consuming job to take on and the chairperson has to think about the requirements of Wine Garden of England so the estate in the chair needs to be quite selfless.” The second group that meets is the Operations Group with the marketing and operations managers within the estates meeting together with Jo as Chairperson every four weeks. “As you can imagine in the first group we have a lot of bold ideas and innovative suggestions,” said Jo. The operations group undertakes the technical and practical side of some of these suggestions. “As a group we have become very friendly and members are all really generous with both their time and their venues,” said Jo. The common goal is to bring more people through the cellar doors of all the venues and one way to do this is by training the staff at the individual estates. “The staff are trained to talk to customers and say have you tried…they are only a few miles away,” she explained. 

There are criteria for estates to join the group. One of the first criteria is that there must be a comfortable indoor wine tasting room. Each member can decide how that criterion is met. There are other requirements too, and being part of a group that meets regularly takes time and commitment “you must see Wine Garden of England as a priority, in a separate way to your own brand,” said Jo. There are requirements that exist to ensure that everyone is able to contribute fairly to the operation of the group. Generosity is a large part of the ethos and this is not always suitable for everyone. Being part of the group brings both tangible and intangible benefits “people like to see brands like this working together,” said Jo. There is a joining fee but “you get to be part of a collaborative organisation within the English Wine industry and as a group we have so much more power to increase wine tourism to all the estates,” Jo added. 

“Looking around the world in terms of international tourism English Wine is young and it will take effort and work to educate the tourism industry about Kent as a destination,” she said. “Wine Garden of England is all about getting people to the estates it is not about selling the wines; they do that themselves,” Jo explained. The target is to see the overall wine tourism figures grow so collaboration with the tourism industry is important. This can have several levels; “companies such as ‘Winerist’ and ‘Smooth Red’ are very wine focussed travel agents, good at moving people around vineyards on an international basis, so it is important to get England some destination recognition,” said Jo. 

Jo has worked with ‘Visit Kent’ highlighting the wines to a group of tour operators from Oregon and hosted a tutored tasting with a wine from each estate. Jo then spoke about what it was like to visit the estate. “It was a real eye opener for these tour operators who just didn’t know that we had any sort of wine industry especially not one where you can visit the vineyards,” she said. 

Tourism companies have started to pop up who take people around local vineyards on coaches. “We also work with a company, who have electric bikes that can be hired for tours,” Jo said. “The most difficult thing is that final mile from the train station to the vineyards,” said Jo. “I don’t know if anyone has solved it yet, but we are working with WineGB and local councils such as Ashford borough council to try and find solutions.” 

“One thing we do very well is attending and organising events; bringing all the brands together as a group of collaborative vineyards,” said Jo. On 10 June 2023 at Balfour Estate, Tonbridge The Wine Garden of England will hold ‘The Wine Garden of England Summer Celebration.’ The idea is to bring all eight producers together and showcase their wines to the public. Wine masterclasses will also available on the day hosted by Clive Barlow MW. The event will really allow the public to engage with all the wines from the group in an amazing environment with live music and food. Our meeting took place in the wonderful restaurant at Balfour Estate and Richard Balfour Lynn kindly allowed us to look at the amazing space that is currently under construction that will be completed and in use on 10 June. The views from the area where the masterclasses are being held will be spectacular and there will be free transport from the nearest station to bring the visitors to the event. The inaugural event took place at Squerryes Court and had an attendance of 1,000. Ticket prices for the 2023 event are £20 and it promises to be a fantastic event for all in attendance. 

The objectives for Wine Garden of England are both vast and varied and could seem overwhelming but Jo is quick to point out “we don’t have to do everything all at once,” this pragmatic approach to a daunting task will help Wine Garden of England achieve both its long and short term goals.  

Wine Garden of England Summer Celebration 

10 June 2023 at Balfour Winery

11.30am – 6pm 

Tickets are £20 which include a sample from each of the seven producers:

  • Balfour
  • Biddenden
  • Chapel Down
  • Gusbourne
  • Simpsons
  • Squerryes
  • Westwell

There are also vineyard and winery tours and masterclasses with Clive Barlow. All tickets can be purchased by visiting: