Henry Sugden’s desk has a unique status within Defined Wine’s headquarters at Highland Court Farm, just outside Canterbury in Kent.

“It’s the only thing we’ve invested in over the past five years that wasn’t directly linked to improving the quality of the wine we make for our customers,” Henry explained.

The comment reflects the commitment that Henry and his team devotes to the 40 or so vineyards across the South East that trust Defined Wine to create the best possible wine from their lovingly tended vines.

That level of service will soon be available to a broader range of customers when Defined Wine expands into East Anglia with the opening of a new winery at Holton St Mary, between Ipswich and Colchester.

The location has been carefully chosen to provide easy access for wine growers in Norfolk, Cambridge and Suffolk as well as in Essex’s booming Crouch Valley wine region.

“While the river [Thames] is a bit of a psychological barrier for people, the Crouch Valley is in reality only about an hour and a quarter from here,” Henry explained, “which is why we have deliberately chosen a site to the north of that so that we can serve growers further afield.”

The expansion into East Anglia was inspired by some of Defined Wine’s more northerly customers who pointed out that they would welcome a winery providing a similarly high level of service closer to home. “Given the rapid expansion of vineyards in that part of the world, I decided that it was a good time to expand the business,” said Henry.

While the Holton St Mary winery, due to open in September of this year, will undoubtedly be welcomed by new customers in that part of the world, it will also relieve some of the pressure on the Highland Court Farm operation, which has expanded rapidly in the five short years since Henry began the business.

“Although many of our customers are smaller vineyards and we may make between 2,000 and 5,000 bottles of each of their wines each year, we will produce over a million bottles of wine this year,” Henry said.

Alongside the new winery, which is being installed in an insulated former farm barn on an agricultural estate conveniently close to the A12, Henry is also investing in new office space at Highland Court Farm so that he can knit his team more closely together and provide more laboratory space.

The ‘lab’ is already an important part of the operation, with Henry a firm believer in the chemistry behind winemaking as well as the skills and expertise of the winemaker. Defined Wine also provides lab analysis services to more than 30 other English wineries and winemakers.

Henry spent 25 years in armoured reconnaissance as a member of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards and then worked for a few years in the city before deciding it was “far too dull”.

“I went into the Army because I didn’t know what to do when I grew up and then I went into the city because I still hadn’t worked it out,” he joked.

Conscious that he had always been interested in wine – he had run the wine tasting society when a student at the University of York – and realising that English wine was coming of age, he spoke to a friend who suggested he set up in business as a contract winemaker.

It took a considerable amount of work to raise the funds and get the venture off the ground, but with the discipline and planning skills that only the Army can teach, Defined Wines was conceived and born, helped by a European Union start-up grant.

Subsequent growth has been funded from a blend of further government and other loans, equity raises and asset finance from Close Brothers and HSBC.

The name is significant. “We work to produce the wine that people want,” he explained. “They define the style of wine they are looking for from their grapes and we then use our skills and expertise to create it.”

Henry is quick to point out that he is not himself a winemaker nor vineyard manager. “The two vines in pots outside my office window are the closest Defined Wines comes to having its own vineyard,” he commented.

Like all good leaders, Henry has surrounded himself with a capable team, most of whom have been with him since the company was set up five years ago, and which now numbers around 30 staff.

“We have grown with the industry,” he commented. “At times it’s been hard to keep up, but it’s been fun even when we have faced challenges. This is a brilliant time for English wines and it’s so good to be part of a sector that’s employing people.

“I believe we are only starting to scratch the surface of the transformatory effect English wine could have on the rural economy and it is rewarding to be making a product that people find endlessly fascinating.”

Henry’s hand-picked team includes head winemaker Nick Lane, who was a winemaker at Cloudy Bay, Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon before moving to England nearly four years ago to join Defined, and operations winemaker Poppy Pease-Watkin, who has made wine across the world and has been part of Defined Wine from the company’s first harvest.

Poppy’s recent maternity leave was covered by Nora Leitz, who was born in Germany but whose winemaking qualifications and experience were amassed in New Zealand. With Poppy returning, Nora will head up the winemaking operation at the new East Anglian operation. Other winemakers include South African Janneke van der Merve, while a new ‘technical winemaker’ is also being recruited.

But while the winemakers may be international – other than Poppy, who comes from County Durham – Henry pointed out almost all of the rest of the team is British, with most of the workforce local to the area.

“It has been great to see Brits gaining winery experience abroad and then applying for jobs as cellar hands, and we have trained up a number of people from scratch. All our production staff are local, with most of the temporary staff coming from local cricket and rugby teams, and both the cellar hands for the East Anglian venture grew up in the area.”

Defined Wine offers a complete contract wine-making service, from making the wine to filtering, bottling, storing, disgorging and labelling it. “Our twin aims are simple; to make quality wine consistently and to add value,” said Henry.

While Defined focuses on making wine, the team recognises that good grapes make good wine, so Defined runs viticultural sessions and visits the vineyards that use their services.

Henry also understands that if their producers can’t sell their wine, they won’t need anyone to make it, which is why the company runs an annual trade tasting in London for journalists, influencers, buyers, sommeliers and independent wine shops.

Defined Wine makes wine and provides services for a range of different customers, from some of the biggest names in the UK to a range of smaller vineyards. As a wine fan, Henry enjoys the results of his labours but stressed: “As with my children, I don’t have favourites. When it comes to wine, I am omnivorous.”

The new operation at Holton St Mary will start up with four members of staff, two of whom come from that part of the world and have been working at Highland Court Farm while waiting for the new facility to come on stream. A lab technician will be employed locally, and as the business grows, the team will expand with it, creating employment as well as more great English wine.

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