No vineyards just winemaking for others
Defined Wine Ltd is a contract-only winery. It does not have any vineyards or brands. Everything it does is about adding value to their client’s brands. Therefore, it is totally focussed on supporting its clients and working with them to define their style of wine and involving them, as they want, in winemaking decisions. Hence the name: ‘Defined wine’.
Defined Wine CEO Henry Sugden, explains: “We use taste, experience and modern technology to ensure that we can consistently produce the best quality wines for our clients and ultimately consumers.”
Defined started in 2019 and has kept growing ever since. Henry has always enjoyed wine – from living in Germany and holidaying in France, he was tasting and avidly reading Hugh Johnson’s invaluable pocket book of wines. After a career in the Army, he returned to the UK and seeing that English wine was becoming increasing popular, he spoke to friends and WineGB and foresaw the need for contract winemaking.
The winery has steadily been increasing in size each year. Almost all the tanks come from MetalInox in France and via Scharfenberger in Germany, all with cooling and in sizes from 400L up to 20,000L. The wide range of sizes ensures that customer’s wine can be kept separate, although the minimum quantity they will make for a bespoke wine is 1,000L, below which it becomes more difficult to preserve quality and percentage losses increase. In addition, Defined have nearly 100 barrels of various ages and previous uses.
Henry explains that the company has been funded through “an investment round; loans, especially asset finance loans from the excellent Close Brothers who have been incredibly helpful and are the only finance house I have found who properly understand the inherent value of stainless steel tanks and winery equipment; and a European Union LEADER grant, which was an enormous help in getting us off the ground. It is not yet clear how the new ‘UK Shared Prosperity Fund’, which has been mooted as a replacement, will work and whether this will be available to help vineyards and wineries in future.
“Ferovinum provide finance for some of our clients (but not for us as we don’t have our own wine). I think Ferovinum have a brilliant model which is really helpful in generating cash and releasing early the value of sparkling wines. It is therefore really helpful for anyone who is building up a stock of wine, especially wine ageing on lees.”
Defined Wine are founder members of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB) as Henry sees this as important not just for their customers and their offering to consumers but internally for staff too. Recently they have been working with an SWGB scholarship student on ways of recycling grape marc, which they hope will be useful to everyone.
“Although we are just about making wine, we understand that the other two parts of the process (growing grapes and selling wine) are complimentary, so we do what we can to help our clients with these too,” said Henry. This includes running viticulture sessions and a Trade Tasting at the winery, to which journalists and On and Off Trade buyers are invited.
Given their focus on producing consistent quality wine, Defined have invested heavily in their laboratory. A key piece of equipment is the company’s ability to measure dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide, both prior to bottling and post bottling to ensure winemaking parameters have been met. With a full range of other lab services available, they are providing contract lab services for other wineries, delivering results within two working days.
“When making winemaking decisions it is vital to have accurate results fast; in time to make decisions pre bottling etc so we have a fast turn around, as there is no point getting results back after the wines have gone to bottle,” Henry said.
Defined provide “guides to our clients on labels, bottles and packaging, mostly around the specifications that our machinery can take. The most important consideration is to start early on thinking through what the brand is, which will then feed through into the design for different labels. I always emphasise how long this process can take, especially as usually the whole family will have an opinion! We also encourage people to plan well in advance when it comes to confirming glass and closures (which we can provide although clients with specific bottles shapes or colours will provide their own, as well as any bespoke closures) and ordering labels,” said Henry.
“Although we try to source as much as possible from the UK, over the past year we have seen the impacts of a global economy. Whether it be the increase in global commodity prices; Amazon seeming to have bought up the world’s supply of cardboard as their business boomed during the pandemic; the ongoing war in Ukraine where the closure of a screwcap manufacture making over 500 million screwcaps a year has increased demand on other manufacturers; or the strike in a Finnish paper mill earlier this year which delayed paper stock for labels. Delays on bespoke foils seem to be particularly bad at the moment. So the key advice is – think ahead!”
In 2021 Defined Wine set up the Wine and Grape Trading website:
www.wineandgrapetrading.co.uk. Henry explained: “When Nick arrived he was surprised at how hard it was to find grapes and wine for sale. Other than the WineGB forum, there was nothing at the time. We therefore thought it would be helpful to set up a service whereby people who had spare grape capacity, excess wine in tank, or excess wine on lees, could easily get in touch with others – a dating app for wine. The forum is a good start but quite often people don’t want to advertise that they have spare wine for sale and it can be difficult to keep track of.
“We therefore looked at other sites around the globe and used the best examples to set up something that is really simple to use. There is no commission on the site – there is a simple fee for posting a ‘wanted’ or ‘for sale’ and then potential buyers/sellers can contact one another through the website. For this year we are improving it slightly, so that people can sign up for alerts and will get notified when posts have been made, so they don’t have to keep checking the website.
“There are often times when wineries or growers have spare capacity or want to generate some cashflow quickly and there will always be people who can do something with this wine, the problem is finding out what is available. Hopefully the website can provide a service in putting people in touch to the benefit of both parties,” said Henry.
New services for 2022
For 2022, Defined Wine have several new services. The first is ‘Transvasage’ – the process by which standard 75cl bottles are decanted under pressure into halves, magnums, jeroboams or methuselah. Whilst halves, magnums and even jerobaoms can be filled at tirage, (and Henry advises this is the best method for large numbers of bottles) it is often difficult to predict demand. ‘Transvasage’ is therefore the process used for filling large bottles of traditional method sparkling wines, using wine from standard sized bottles that have already aged on lees and been disgorged. Henry explains that “we thought it was really important to be able to offer this service in the UK. Large format bottles can make a real statement for a brand or for special occasions.”
Defined Wine have also been appointed agents of AIRD winery cleaning products. Defined therefore stock a range of their products: ‘Cleanskin’, ‘Destainex’, ‘Linvasan’ and ‘Oak restorer’. As Henry said: “AIRD are well known and highly rated by winemakers who have worked in New World wineries, particularly in Australia and it seemed a shame they were not available here, especially as they mean using fewer toxic chemicals and less water – so are more sustainable. When we were approached by AIRD we were therefore happy to stock them and we have brought in a pallet, although with the Suez blockage and other delays last year it took almost six months for it to arrive!”
‘Linvasan’ is a low odour, user friendly and ready to use sanitiser as an alternative to peracetic acid. ‘Cleanskin’ is effective at removing tartrates and does not need neutralising after use, saving water. ‘Destainex’ is AIRD’s most popular general cleaner and sanitiser being safe to handle and non-tainting and ‘Oak Restorer’ is great for cleaning barrels.
Overall, Defined Wine clearly work closely with the people they make wine for, helping them through all stages of the process.
Henry is optimistic about the future for English and Welsh wine “as more consumers start to realise the quality of wine that is being made on their doorstep. The key challenges I see for growers are ripeness and yields and for brands, differentiating themselves from others in an increasingly crowded market. There is a lot of room for growth as England and Wales currently produce less than 1% of the wine drunk in the UK but it will take lots of work” he concludes.