COATES AND SEELY VINEYARD INTERVIEW
Hi Tristram, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. It’s great to have you here. To start, could you tell us about the team at Coates & Seely.
We’re a small team at Coates & Seely, and, as a family run and funded business, our team is actually not as big as many presume. Christian Seely and my father, Nicholas Coates, are the founders and they oversee the major direction and vision of the company which has come along way in the ten years since we started.
Christian’s position as Chief Executive of Axa Millisemes has brought immense experience to the company, and his role largely involves over-seeing the wine-making and viticultural side of Coates and Seely.
Nicholas’ experience as a financier for 25 years has meant that the more commercial and operational side of the business is overseen by him. The vineyard and winery is also only a mile away from our home and thus a large amount of our entertainment is done by the Coates family, which my mother Virginia - a trained chef - is heavily involved in.
On the viticulture side, we have a fantastic vineyard manager, Paulo Veloso, from the Douro Valley in Portugal who has been with us right from the start. He has had experience on vineyards since his early teens and is an invaluable part of the company. We then employ seasonal teams of workers during busy times of year, such as during the harvest and the pruning. These teams are largely from either Romania or Portugal.
Stephen Derenocourt, one of the world’s most respected wine Consultants, runs our winemaking operation and his team at Derenoncourt consultants do a fantastic job. Arnaud Gimonnet, of the Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Champagne family, is Dereconout’s sparkling expert, and he overseas all of our winemaking, with regular visits from France throughout the year. We then have a very experienced French winemaker, Amaury Bonnard, who looks after the day-to-day management of our wines.
Our office is run by Georgie Balmain who looks after a lot of the private client side of the business as well the day-to-day management of company.
I look after the company’s sales, which is mostly spent working with our fantastic distributors, Bibendum and Matthew Clark, driving regional and national sales largely through the premium on-trade division. We’re now also in over ten different countries and will focus more and more on export markets in the future given the huge growth of English sparkling internationally. I am ably assisted by Alice Kendall, who has joined us recently.
That being said, Christian and Nicholas are also heavily involved in all parts of the business and it’s a very strong partnership.
What did Nicholas and Christian do before being in the English Wine industry?
Nicholas enjoyed a successful career in the city for 25 years, but was always determined to have another career upon leaving. Our home in Hampshire is surrounded by chalk soils that provide the perfect environment for the production of high quality sparkling wine.
Christian has been in charge at AXA since 2001, where he runs some of Europe’s most famous wine estates, including Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron in Bordeaux, and Quinta do Noval in Portugal. He has been a wine-lover from an early age as his father James Seely was a well-known wine writer.
Why did they get involved in the English wine industry, how did it all start?
It all started on the 20th October 2007, on the night of the Rugby World Cup Final, when England were playing South Africa in Paris. Nicholas and Christian are very old friends from their days together at INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau.
We, as a family, were staying with Christian in Bordeaux, visiting Pichon Baron, Chateau Petit Village and Chateau Suduiraut, but on holiday, and on that famous night they stayed up rather late drinking through their sorrows after England’s defeat, and came up with a plan to start making sparkling wine in England.
Nicholas had been the first to bring the conversation up as he has drunk a number of quite good English sparkling’s, and to his amazement not only had Christian thought about the idea before, but he actually had a business plan which he had proposed to his stepfather the year before.
To cut a long story short, Nicholas left Bordeaux captivated by the idea and set about finding the perfect site with the ideal terroir. Christian was to then provide expert winemakers and viticulturists once we had found the site, and between them they would begin a partnership to make high quality sparkling wine in England. After a long period of searching, the site was found, and the rest is now history. Coates & Seely’s first wines were made from the 2009 vintage, and immediately won trophies, gold medals, and were embraced by such leading chefs as Heston Blumenthal and Alain Ducasse!
We’re now firmly into summer and let’s hope we have a hot sunny summer ahead of us for those vines. What plans do you have over the coming months at the vineyard?
Fingers crossed, this years harvest is set to be a brilliant one. We’ve had no frost damage, our flowering was one of the best we’ve ever had, and we’ve now had months of unbroken sun. The vines are well ahead of where they usually are at this stage of the year, and provided we get a bit of rain in August and some sun in September, 2018 will prove to be an epic vintage for the UK. We anticipate picking in either late September or early October this year, which is earlier than usual.
Why did you choose Coates and Seely’s Vineyard for your English wine journey, what’s specific about the terroir and how does this influence your wines?
Our vineyards are situated on chalky, south-easterly, and south-westerly facing slopes. The soil is very similar to those of the Champagne region and our climate is also very similar. This makes them perfect for the production of high quality sparkling wines.
Our wines are very much terroir wines. They are individual and carefully crafted. Our aim at Coates & Seely has always been to produce not just the highest quality Sparkling wine, but a sparkling wine that is a true expression of the place. Anyone that knows our wines will identify with this.
The majority of English wines are made in limited supplies. Do you have any plans to increase your wine production? Are there any new grape varieties verities being planted?
We currently make on average 65,000 bottles a year, and we do currently have plans to expand to 100,000 bottles a year. We will be sticking, however, with the Champagne varietals of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which in our view are the varieties that best express our terroir.
Coates and Seely produce wonderful English sparkling wines. Have you thought about producing any English still wines to add to the collection of English wines?
To date, we haven’t seriously considered making still wines. There are a lot of very good English still wines, and increasingly so, but we still believe that the English chalk soils and cool climate are best suited to sparkling wine production, where we compete successfully on the international stage, alongside high quality champagnes. Our focus will remain on sparkling wines, where a cool climate is essential.
Could you tell us about the ‘perfect pairings’ for your wines and why they compliment each other so well?
We are very lucky to have the Test River at the bottom of our water meadow - from which we source fresh trout that is smoked at a local smokery – we also have sheep in our water meadows and deer around the vineyards, as well as a kitchen garden producing fantastic fruits and vegetables. We have worked hard to combine the abundance of this fresh produce with our wines, and I would particularly highlight our seared venison on a bruschetta with English truffle oil as a fabulous match with our vintage ‘Perfide’ Rosé, or our smoked trout home-made blinis with our Blanc de Blancs or Brut Reserve
To find out more and buy Coates and Seely's English Sparkling wines click here