John Mobbs created Great British Wine – the go-to website for the most concise and up to date information on English and Welsh wine – in 2015, the day after an epiphanous visit to the English Wine Producers annual trade and press tasting.
What was the inspiration behind Great British Wine?
The website was born out of a growing passion for English wine. I was familiar with both Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée and Chapel Down Bacchus – these two wines were my introduction, and both captivated me with their lively acidity and precise flavours. I was invited to the English Wine Producers (now WineGB) trade and press tasting, in 2015, on behalf of another publication, and I was taken aback by the breadth and quality of the wines I tasted – I sat down the next day and built the framework for the website!
What is Great British Wine’s mission?
Quite simply, the goal is to provide consumers with the most concise and up to date information on producers and their wines. The aim is to have a well-structured resource, designed to particularly help those new to English wine discover a local region, learn more about the range of wines and styles, and about the producers. So, there’s lots of dynamically created indexes and listings based on all of the site’s content.
Does your day job help?
I still have a full-time career outside of Great British Wine, working in packaging design and branding in the foodservice and FMCG sectors, for some of the most recognised food brands. I think that this background has been hugely helpful in building a resource that looks aesthetically appealing.
While Great British Wine remains a non-profit information resource, my visual and photographic flair has led me to do contracted photography work for various producers. Bottle shots have been my bread and butter, but I’ve also done some extensive on-site photoshoots for winemakers, including Denbies, Exton Park, Jenkyn Place and most recently Artelium. I’m looking to expand further into this field to commercialise my presence in the English wine industry – watch this space in the new year.
Which specialist retailers do you work with?
We currently work with Grape Britannia, Hawkins Bros. and Corkk. These relationships have mostly been built over the years – and it’s great to support the independent specialists who have put tremendous effort into building fine and diverse English wine selections.
How do you use social media?
Twitter was initially the primary social media platform for Great British Wine to reach out to and link up with producers and engage with consumers directly. It has been a hugely useful resource, essentially free advertising space, to help generate interest and drive traffic through to the website before I developed a more SEO-friendly website.
Instagram is probably my most active platform now. I’ve started engaging more directly, talking about wines and producers in short bursts for a Great British Wine weekly review. Instagram live has also been great to be involved with in the last year and a half. I would love to do a few more virtual tastings – getting the viewers to taste and share their thoughts on the wines in real-time is particularly engaging.
Who is your social media audience?
I would say our followers and audience fall into two categories: informed and curious consumers as well as people within the English wine industry and trade. Two-thirds of our audience are aged 18-35 – which is great as it shows a growing interest in wine and English wine amongst those in their twenties. Our audience gender split is around 54% male to 46% female. Ultimately what they all have in common is an interest in English wine!
We have over 7,500 followers on Twitter and over 4,500 on Instagram. All of our followers have been acquired through organic growth and a lack of any sort of organised social media strategy.
What is your advice to producers about the use of social media?
Embrace it however you can! My own journey into the industry would not have been possible without social media – I’ve connected with so many producers, consumers and like-minded people through both Twitter and Instagram. I think the thing that Instagram has is the ability to tell stories and bring the human element into play – often that is what consumers will remember even more than the wine inside the bottle!
Any achievement that you are really proud about?
Being involved in The Big English Wine Easter #BEWE this year. Initially born out of a tweet from Black Chalk’s Jacob Leadley, and now in its second year, I contributed by organising an English wine raffle, with a whole host of brilliant prizes donated by the very kind producers and supporters in the industry. We did a live prize draw on Instagram, which was a great deal of fun! The initiative collectively raised over £5000, which went to two great causes The Drinks Trust and Hospitality Action.
Another achievement was being invited to Clarence House and meeting the Duchess of Cornwall as an ambassador of the English wine industry in celebration of fifty years of the UKVA (UK Vineyards Association).
How do you select the wines or vineyard you write about?
The primary motivation is the quality of the wines and secondly the story behind the winemaker. This growing industry is full of diverse people with so many fascinating stories. There’s a real human connection to be found, and that’s what continues to fuel my interest.
At a quick rough count I have visited around 60 vineyards – and I expect that figure would have been significantly higher had it not been for a combination of parenthood and Covid-19. I’ve probably ‘visited’ another 20-30 virtually through Zoom over the last couple of years.
What happens if the wine is not good enough to write about?
I will only ever write about the wines positively if I feel they are of a certain quality. That said, I am not here to be a wine critic – there are so many respected figures who can do a much better job than me at that. So, my aim is always to try to be constructive – tell the story behind the producer and describe the experience visitors might get, as well as talk through the wines that I enjoyed. Of course, some don’t make the cut, but I always try to get a taste for each producer before I commit to a visit or any content.
Do you get feedback from the vineyards or wines that you feature?
Yes, and it’s one of the most reassuring things to hear. I know that people read our content, but what’s most important is that it leads to increased interest in producers and, ultimately, wine sales. People regularly message me to tell me they tried a wine I have featured; always great to hear. We also get good feedback from some of the retailers we feature. In fact, I’ve had several reach out to enquire about advertising on the website – which is something I really hope to get around to organising in the not-too-distant future.
Are you seeing an increasing diversity in UK wines?
Absolutely – this is something that has continued to drive my interest and passion for the industry. What’s been most exciting is seeing how the quality and variety of our still wines have exploded in the last couple of years. When I started, it was mostly Bacchus, white blends and rosé, all of which producers have now perfected – now along with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier, Pinot Gris, Ortega and lots more. It’s great to see producers like Tillingham, Black Book and Offbeat wines continuing to push the envelope. Pinot Meunier is perhaps the variety I am most excited about in all its forms – sparkling, still white, rosé and red!
I’m all for diversity in sparkling, too. I’ve had great English Pet Nat and Col Fondo, in particular, and the Charmats are really starting to take off, too. But I think it’s crucial to focus on differentiating these sparkling wines from traditional method English Sparkling – our ‘hero product’.
What are the challenges ahead?
I think the biggest challenge is engaging with and educating consumers. There’s undoubtedly a growing pool of those interested in and loving English wine, but there is so many out there that are still not aware of the great things this industry is doing. There has got to be a bigger collective effort to engage with the sparkling wine-loving English public – especially considering the rapid growth in English wine planting and production in recent times.
Do you have a favourite?
That is a difficult question to answer! I’m going to cheat and select three favourites for different reasons. First up is the Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Chardonnay – a ground-breaking English Chardonnay that goes from strength to strength. Next up, a huge personal favourite, is Breaky Bottom Cuvée Koizumi Yakumo. Is there any other winemaker in the world who can do the things with Seyval Blanc that Peter Hall can? I don’t think so! Finally, I feel Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs is an absolute beacon of quality for English sparkling, consistency, and age-worthiness.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time is a luxury these days! Trying to balance a full-time job plus running Great British Wine is always a challenge, and throw in a beautiful but lively daughter… So yes, any free time that exists will usually revolve around time with Keira – or cooking and enjoying a glass of wine. I do hope we’ll have the chance to start travelling again next year, too!