Building a new winery can be daunting as the planning process has a reputation for being a minefield of complicated restrictions. Sandridge Barton, South Devon, The Grange Hampshire and Domaine Evremond, Kent, have successfully navigated the process and share their experiences with Vineyard – along with some top tips from experienced town planner, Gareth Capner.

A new winery in a year 

Sharpham Vineyard is an established and well-known vineyard and winery in Devon. However, the Sharpham Estate tenancy agreement came to an end in 2019 and Sharpham had to quickly find new premises. “Our neighbours at Sandridge Barton were already supplying the majority of grapes to Sharpham and had started thinking about constructing a winery after the 2018 bumper harvest,” explained Duncan Schwab, CEO and Head Winemaker. 

“When we mentioned that we would no longer have premises in 2020, they fortunately decided to expand their vision for the winery – but we needed to build it in a year! There was no time for an architect, we just used our knowledge as winemakers. A semi derelict farmyard on the Sandridge Barton Estate had two big old cattle barns – and I said yes, they’ll do! The project started in September 2019 and by September 2020 the first grapes were arriving one end of the winery as we were pushing the labourers, electricians and plumbers out the other! 

“The winery is very modern and high-tech, with rainwater harvesting, a spring water supply and photovoltaic panels on the roof. We have installed a BioBubble aerobic digester which deals with winery and domestic wastewater from the whole site. It’s very eco-friendly and efficient – and the beauty of it is that it all works. 

“We had to jump through hoops to get the permissions as our local Planning Department said, “you can’t do that…”

“It was recommended that we build the winery under the Prior Notification of a Permitted Development route for planning purposes as it was presented to us that such route was the simplest, quickest and most economic route to follow. The growing of grapes and the processing of grapes into wine are agricultural activities, as determined by the Court of Appeal in the Millington case, and we met all the requirements of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order (last amended in 2018 to permit agricultural buildings of up to 1000m2 to be built – our winery is 625m2, well within the limit). We submitted the Prior Notice Application on 4 June 2019 and SHDC (South Hams District Council) confirmed in an email on 2nd July 2019 that it would support the application, just within the 28 days required by the Order. SHDC then would not confirm this formally, and raised many issues, but finally issued their confirmation that Prior Approval was not required on 17thDecember 2019, with a request that we apply for a Certificate of Lawful Use. 

“The Planning Department’s main concerns seemed to be centred around the scale of our operation and that the Millington Court of Appeal decision did not specifically state ‘what was actually acceptable in terms of scale’. The Millington’s vineyard was, I believe, quite small and ours was quite big. We were essentially told in a meeting that we could only build a very small winery under Permitted Development to produce wine on a scale that would enable us to satisfy sales in local farmers markets. SHDC Planning Department’s legal team were going to stick firmly behind their interpretation of the Court of Appeal decision. 

“We applied for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use supported by a legal opinion explaining that we met the requirements for Permitted Development and in particular the winery was reasonably necessary for the purposes of agriculture on the estate and that scale was not a test in the Millington case nor in the GPDO. The Planners accepted our arguments and issued the Certificate of Lawful Use.

“We then put in another planning application for the conversion of existing traditional barns on the same site into a visitor centre with shop, café, tasting rooms and offices.  We adopted the attitude that the law was on our side, and the application was approved quickly and without undue difficulties, possibly helped by the looming dark clouds of economic uncertainty and the creation of rural employment.

“We also managed to get grant funding for additional winery equipment. This was under the RDPE (Rural Development Programme for England), via the RPA (Rural Payments Agency). The grant was approved in December – an early Christmas present.  We did get a consultant to advise with the grant application process but did a lot of the work getting quotes and tenders ourselves.

“Visitors are currently being hosted at the Sharpham Vineyard site and we will open the visitor centre at Lower Well Farm on the Sandridge Barton estate fully next year. The branding will remain Sharpham Wines at Sandridge Barton for a while, as after 40 years it’s a well-known name.”

Duncan’s top tips

  • Use the knowledge of an experienced winemaker, as they will know what is required from a winery, and how to plan it out ergonomically and efficiently to make the winemaking process easier – even down to positioning of power points and which pieces of kit need three-phase electricity supply. They will have the understanding of flooring requirements and drainage.
  • Plan wastewater collection and treatment, and it’s not just Planning but also Environmental Agency, Natural England and other bodies that need to be satisfied.
  • A winery is never too big. We thought our building was massive until we filled it with the equipment. We are expanding our vineyards, with another 10 acres to be planted this year – so ensure there is winery capacity for the future.
  • Future proof. We are supplying electricity to the car parking area for charging electric cars. Why not stop and have a glass of wine and something to eat while charging – especially if the cars of the future are self-driven. 

Read the full feature on winery planning

Rural employment and tourism.
Guide to planning permission.
Professional advice.
Solar power – is it still worth it?
Developing a winery: Planning thoughts on developing a tourist destination.
Forma adds Henners to portfolio of winery constructions.
In control.
Temperature control for wine storage.