Lyme Bay Vineyard interview
In the 6th of our English vineyard interviews, we chat to Liam from Lymebay Vineyard who tells us the wonderful story behind this superb English vineyard.
Hi Liam , welcome to the English Wine Collection’s Uk Vineyard Focus. Thanks for being involved. To begin can you provide some back ground information on yourself and the team at Lyme Bay. What lead you into English Wine production, how big is the team?
This is actually our 25th anniversary as a company. It was started as a cidery by Nigel Howard (Nadge) who had a successful career in the City but wanted to return to the West Country, which was his place of birth. The aim was always to make cider of the highest quality, but with his imagination, the product portfolio started to diversify and expand into fruit liqueurs, fruit wines and cream liqueurs. In 2006 James Lambert joined Nadge from a much larger winemaking and drinks manufacturer as general manager, and between the two of them, they had a firm belief that England could also produce high quality still and sparkling wines. In 2015 Nadge sold the company to F. Ball and Co. and James took over as Managing Director. The new owners are a family company with a love for wine, and their involvement has allowed Lyme Bay Winery to expand further. We now have a full-time team of 12 in winemaking and production, and 15 in sales, admin and despatch.
The new investment and a more focused attention on English wines, allowed me to join full-time as Head Winemaker in 2015. I joined from Langham Wine Estate, which produces some great sparkling wines in Dorset, but I was also convinced England hadn’t properly investigated its ability to make world class still wines. This belief wasn’t stemmed from grapes that I had seen in the West Country but from time I had spent working with Owen Elias at Hush Heath, Kingscote and Nutbourne. Owen was also the Director of Winemaking at Chapel Down for ten years, and his knowledge of English grape varieties and its potentials have been a solid base for me. I was also very lucky to spend a few months with Bob and Sam Lindo at Camel Valley, and their vision and styles have also stuck and been an inspiration.
How long has there been a vineyard at Lyme Bay and why was this location chosen to grow vines?
The first vines were planted in 2009 close to the winery in East Devon. But when I joined the aim was to make great English wines, and not just great Devon wines. This has allowed me to source fruit from several different vineyards across the south of England, and we now have growers in Devon, Dorset, Kent and Essex. This is a step away from the cottage industry often seen in England, but it is very normal in more established wine producing regions – the distance from Lyme Bay Winery to the Crouch Valley region of Essex, is a lot less than the West of the Loire Valley to the East of the Loire Valley. For Lyme Bay Winery, this spread means if it is a poor year in Devon or a frost hit year in Kent, we won’t necessarily have all our eggs in one basket. It also means we can take advantage of the different ripening times across England, and utilise the different characteristics from each region when blending.
Lyme Bay produces a number of different wines, was this always the intention? Could you talk us through the inspiration behind your wines?
Because of our proximity to the coast and our love of seafood, the aim was always to produce wines to match. The still wine labels have water colour artwork by a local artist Dina Campbell. I think she really caught the tone of what the wine styles aim was – fresh, vibrant, crisp wines made to be enjoyed with food.
This month I was lucky enough to have the chef Michael Caines produce a meal to match five of the wines. After tasting the wines with him, he created five dishes to highlight the variation in style and qualities, and it was fantastic to see the range. If the meal and wines were tasted blind, no one would have picked that they were all from England - and four of the five wines were stills.
How many different types of grapes do you grow for your English wines, how big is the English vineyard?
The main grapes are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Bacchus and Meunier. We also buy a lot of Pinot Blanc and Seyval Blanc. Both are good dual purpose grapes (sparkling and still depending on the harvest). Seyval hasn’t got a very good reputation, but when handled well and blended with ripe Bacchus, you can end up with a wine that has a zesty core and some very complex aromatics.
Lyme Bay’s wines do very well at winning awards and have achieved phenomenal success, what would you say is key to the wines appeal?
Sourcing top quality grapes is fundamental to any success. We work with some fantastic growers and vineyard managers who take serious pride in the quality of the grapes they grow. When you have good grapes achieving the wine style required is easy.
With your impressive range of English wines are there room for one more, any plans to produce a new wine?
We haven’t released a Blanc de Blanc yet. But we did make some in 2016 and 2017, which I am very excited about. There are also some other very good sparkling wines ageing at the moment, but the aim is to give them time and not rush them onto market. The success of the still wines has certainly given everyone at Lyme Bay Winery the patience needed for the sparkling wines to mature.
We are not producing a sweet wine, but we are the UK’s largest mead producers, and our Traditional Mead is a great alternative to a desert wine – it just needs to be very cold and served in a small glass.
In England you are never that far away from the sea. How do you think this maritime environment impacts the style of wines you produce?
The main advantages of being close to the sea are reduced frost risks and the long growing season. Sunlight hours are also increased on the south coast, and there is also a great range of soils. You don’t get the wind chill factor unless the vines are planted more than 30m above sea level, but it is important to avoid areas that are prone to fog or mist.
The style of wine largely comes down to the grape varieties grown and the winemaking techniques used. We certainly hope the wines bring a sense of the coast, just like Albariño, Picpoul de Pinet and Muscadet.
There is such a wide choice of wines available from around the world. If you had to pick a wine other than your own what would it be?
One of the reasons I got into wine was because of its diversity, so it would be very hard to pick. I am big fan of Burgundy, even with its lows. But if pushed I could probably narrow it down to two villages: Puligny-Montrachet and Chambolle-Musigny.
Tell us about the features you have on site at the winery and vineyard. If we came down to visit what can we expect?
We have a cellar door onsite which has the range of wines and there are always some open to taste. In the future there will be plans for a visitors centre, but at the moment we are very much focused on winemaking, rather than wine tourism.
The actual winery is based over four buildings – one for winemaking, which is mainly made up of 400,000 L of stainless steel tanks; one for bottling (we have 7 different lines); one for sparkling wine storage; and one for warehousing our 270 SKUs.
Anything else you think we should know?
There isn’t much standing still at Lyme Bay Winery. This year we have released a Spiced Rum, which will be available in Waitrose nationally from August, under the brand Lugger Spiced Rum.
It is worth following us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date. We also have a fun and informative blog on the website: