Top winemaker moves to England

Nick Lane, with his long winemaking pedigree and vast experience probably could have gone anywhere in the world – but he has chosen England. Vineyard finds out why.

Nick Lane has recently been appointed as Head Winemaker at Defined Wine, a specialist contract winery in Kent.   Nick was winemaker at Cloudy Bay for 13 years and has spent the last five years in Champagne, with Moet Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and most recently Dom Perignon. He brings a wealth of experience to both Defined and to English winemaking, as the sector goes from strength to strength.  

Nick, born in New Zealand, was fortunate to live in France as a teenager. “For as long as I remember I have had a curious sense of smell. This combined with a technical mind led me to discovering wine – or wine discovering me!  I then realised that I could have a career in wine, so after studying science at Auckland University, I then studied Oenology and Viticulture at the Université de Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France,” explained Nick.

Nick’s first vintage was in 1997 and he has now clocked up an impressive 25 vintages from around the world, spread across the regions of the Dordogne, Burgundy, Limoux, Hawkes Bay, California, Victoria, Marlborough and Champagne.  “The first vintage is always challenging, just realising how much effort and detail is required. The 2017 harvest in Champagne was difficult, as was 2008 in Marlborough. I like to remember the highlights, such as 2019 in Champagne, 2014 in Burgundy, 2010 in Marlborough,” Nick added.

Commenting on why he moved to England, when he could have probably gone to any wine region in the world Nick said, “This is probably the most exciting developing country for wine right now, certainly for sparkling. It is genuinely exciting to be part of something so nascent, even if the potential was understood by some a few decades ago.  And……this is the home of cricket!”

It is undoubtedly an exciting time for wine in Great Britain at the moment, but with experience of many regions around the world, Nick advises that, “there will be difficult times and that the UK cannot simply rely on the climate improving.  The wine industry must leverage new techniques, such as precision viticulture, and a scientific approach to match variety, clone, rootstock and soil combinations.  Site selection is crucial in a borderline climate, just a fraction of a degree in temperature could make the difference a great wine and something much less so”. 

Nick can see that the potential for Classic Method is already established, but explains that, “opportunity lies in producers engaging a long-term approach in order to achieve wines that are on the next level.  I see some real potential with still rosé, Bacchus and Chardonnay, but ripeness will be key! And why not that holy grail of wines, Pinot Noir? Warmer sites with the right soils and an appropriate clone – and world class Pinot noir is going to happen here! Dreaming is part of planning!”

The UK public’s general knowledge of wine is probably the best in the world, and Nick thinks that the focus should be on engaging the British consumer to buy, drink and appreciate the local product over the long term. “This obviously requires a cohesive and coordinated effort from all parts of the industry,” he commented.

Nick also sees opportunities when it comes to winemaking.  “A key element is the management of acidity in wines. Acidity can be a friend, but it can also be a foe. A range of different microbiological and chemistry options now exist, and will all have their role to play,” he commented. “The development of different styles of dosage wines is an area where I think there is room for improvement. The wine used for dosage has a really big impact on the final wine and signature style. At Defined Wine we are developing a library of different dosage wines to offer to clients,” he added.

Nick has experienced a wide range of different growing conditions, with some as wet and cold as England. “With cool climates, what is really nice is seeing the grapes mature well into autumn, so the final stage of maturation is very slow. Getting a good handle on the ripeness curve is super important for being able to make the final picking decision.” Nick explained. “Over the last 17 years I have spent nearly as much time in the vineyard as I have in the winery, so I was impressed when I saw the viticulture sessions set up by Defined Wine. Building on this, harvest advice is key to the ultimate success of our client’s wines,” he added. 

Defined Wine was set up in 2018, with 2020 being its second harvest. Based in Kent making both sparkling and still wines, it owns no vineyards or brands, focusing solely on making wine for other people. Nick is very excited to be making a wide variety of wine, and comments that, “the different ambitions of clients are very stimulating – and being part of peoples dreams is always exciting.” 

Henry Sugden, Defined Wine’s Founder, commented, “we are really excited that Nick has moved to the UK. His knowledge and experience will be a fantastic asset for all of our clients, and it speaks volumes for how the reputation of English and Welsh wine is improving that someone of his stature has made the decision to make wine here.” 

When Nick is not making wine, he can be found spear fishing or playing cricket.  “Whilst the cricketing options should be good, not sure how much spear fishing I’ll be doing off the coast of Kent! Nick has also embarked on the challenging Master of Wine programme and is being mentored by Emma Dawson MW. 

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