Plumpton Wine CollegeIn this English wine interview we chat to Danielle from Plumpton Wine college which is the centre for wine training in England. They provide all different levels of wine courses with the Wine Spiirt and Education Trust (WSET)certificates.
Hi Danielle, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard Focus. Could you provide some background on yourself and the team at Plumpton Wine College. What do you all do and how did you get involved in the English wine industry?
I recently joined the Wine Division at Plumpton College as Wine Brand Manager. I studied at Plumpton College several years ago, completing the BSc degree in Viticulture & Oenology in 2012. I have worked in the wine industry for around 13 years in several different roles including retail, events, PR & marketing. I first joined the industry with Majestic Wines, as many people do, and have never looked back! For the past 6 years, I have been working for HDN wines and E&C as a Senior Brand Manager. Therefore, when the opportunity came up to do this role at Plumpton, which was also much nearer to my home in Hove, I jumped at the chance!
In total, Plumpton College Wine Division has a staff team of 11 people:
Chris Foss, Curriculum Manager for the Wine Division is half-French and Bordeaux-trained. Whilst in Bordeaux he managed the family vineyard in the Entre-Deux-Mers and worked in vineyards and wineries in Sauternes (Chateau d’Yquem) and St Emilion, becoming Winemaker for the GFA Leclerc vineyard group. He moved to Plumpton College to launch the wine programmes in 1988.
Chris lectures principally in vineyard establishment and management, vine protection, and sustainable viticulture and is also the manager of Plumpton’s 10-hectare vineyard and a committee member of Wine GB South-East. Chris’ principal research interests lie in climate change, disease monitoring and vineyard sustainability, he is also a member of the Life+ Adviclim research group.
He has presented at conferences in France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Australia, China, New Zealand Portugal and the USA, and led the team that delivered the academic programme for the highly successful ninth International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, held in Brighton (UK) in May 2016.
Paul Harley, Programme Manager for Wine Business, joined the wine industry in 2001 working in the wine trade in London. In 2006, he was awarded the WSET Champagne Scholarship whilst studying for his WSET Diploma. After six successful years in wine retail Paul joined Plumpton in 2007 as Wine Sales Manager and has progressed through the ranks to lead and develop the Wine Business degree provision at Plumpton College.
Paul co-ordinates and delivers WSET qualifications (from Level 2 up to Level 4 Diploma) and also teaches core subjects including consumer psychology, English wine, oenotourism, wine sales and new beverage development. When not in class he is a regular panel judge at the International Wine and Spirit Challenge.
Tony Milanowski, Programme Manager for the WineSkills extension programme is a winemaker who graduated from University of Adelaide and went on to make wine in Australia with Hardy’s and Katnook as well as in Italy with Farnese Vini. He has a BSc in Chemical Engineering plus a Graduate Diploma in Viticulture & Oenology from Adelaide University. Tony joined Plumpton College in 2007 as the oenology lecturer and is responsible for teaching winemaking theory, wine analysis and sensory evaluation for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Tony also leads the WineSkills extension programme, which provides valuable training for the UK wine industry.
Dr Gregory Dunn, Programme Manager for the MSc Viticulture & Oenology, recently joined Plumpton College in 2017. Prior to this, he was Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the National Grape and Wine Industry Centre in Australia. Greg is also Deputy Editor for The Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research.
Lindsay Holas, Wine Business Lecturer, also joined Plumpton in 2017 and brings extensive international marketing and strategy experience to the wine business programme. She’s a native New Yorker and holds an MSc in Wine Business from the Burgundy School of Business in Dijon, France and a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Tom Newham, Vineyard Instructor, is a Plumpton graduate who had previously worked as a sailing instructor prior to studying at Plumpton. Since completing his course he has worked at, and managed several English vineyards over the last 12 years. He has spent long periods in vineyards & wineries in France, as well as setting up an independent wine shop.
Sarah Midgley, Winemaker and Winery Instructor completed a degree in Biochemistry, and went on to study her diploma in Oenology and Viticulture at Lincoln University in New Zealand. She has also worked several vintages abroad in New Zealand, Australia and California. Prior to joining the team at Plumpton College in 2014, Sarah was working as Assistant Winemaker at Camel Valley winery in Cornwall for five years.
Sarah teaches our students wine production in our on-site commercial winery is interested in sustainable winemaking and strives for continuing improvements in winemaking processes.
Lucy Walker and Blago Dishkov joined the Wine Division team in 2017 as full-time apprentices. They work in both the vineyard & winery as well as studying for further qualifications at the college.
Plumpton is a dedicated wine college, has this always been the case?
Plumpton College welcomed its first students in 1926 and has continued to grow into one of the leading centres for land-based education in the UK. Plumpton College started offering wine production courses back in 1988 with the arrival of Chris Foss. When he first arrived, there were only two rows of vines, and Chris started teaching six students in a classroom located in the Poultry Department, making wine in Demi-Johns with bought-in grapes. Great progress was made and in 1996 the Plumpton College Wine Centre was opened. Today the Wine Division teaches around 100 full-time students each year on the undergraduate wine business and wine production degrees as well as a Masters programme in Viticulture & Oenology.
Why did you choose Plumpton to explore your English wine journey?
I was working in the wine trade in London & had just finished my WSET diploma. Studying for this had really sparked my interest in winemaking and I began to explore other ways of furthering my newfound knowledge. This is when I discovered Plumpton College and subsequently went to see them to learn first-hand about the programmes that they offer. It was notlong before I had quit my job in London and signed up to the BSc Viticulture & Oenology in 2009!
We’ve had a wonderful summer, quite possibly the best on record, how is the vineyard looking? Have you started picking yet, what do you expect from the harvest?
We started picking on 18th September, coinciding with enrolment of our wine students. It is the first-year wine production students that predominantly help with hand picking the fruit and the second years process the fruit in the winery, both under the careful guidance of Tom Newham (Vineyard Instructor) and Sarah Midgley (Winemaker).
The weather has been exceptional this year, resulting in a much larger harvest than ever before but also the quality of the fruit is superb. We certainly needed this as after two very small harvests in 2016 and 2017 due to spring frosts.
We produce around 75% still wine and 25% sparkling wine and so it will be very interesting to see what the still wines are like this year. The Bacchus grapes were showing excellent aromatics. Also, the red wines are ones to watch as we should end up with fuller, richer reds than in previous years.
The majority of the English Vineyards are in close proximity to each other and share a lot of the same terroir. Despite this the wines show unique characters and can be identified by them. What are the key notable characteristics in your wines? How does the terroir help with this?
Our largest vineyard site is Rock Lodge (Scaynes Hill) which sits on a south-facing sandstone ridge in the Sussex Weald. Whereas Ditchling, our other site is on chalk, at the foot of the South Downs. We replanted Ditchling earlier this year and so all our fruit at present comes from Rock Lodge.
We are quite unique in that we grow many different grape varieties in our vineyards and so are able to experiment with these and produce our Plumpton Estate core range as well as parcels of interesting wines as a way of educating the students.
In terms of our winemaking style, we use the classic Champagne varieties in our sparkling wines and our current blends tend to be more Pinot Meunier dominant. This, however, will change as the fruit from the Ditchling vineyard comes on board as we have planted a lot more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at this site. Our sparkling wines are always aged for a minimum of two years on lees to develop the complexity we desire in the wines. In addition, all the fruit comes from one year, although the wines are labelled as Brut NV to allow us the flexibility to blend in reserve wine if we wish.
For our still wines, our aim is to produce vibrant, aromatic, beautifully drinking wines ready to drink upon release.
Are all of the grapes used in your wines grown on site?
All the fruit that goes into the Plumpton Estate wines comes from our two estate-managed vineyard sites at Ditchling and Rock Lodge (Scaynes Hill). We have around 10 hectares under vine. Our Ditchling vineyard was replanted earlier this year and so it will be another 3 years before the fruit from this site is available.
How involved do the students get when making the wines?
The students are an integral part of everything that we do as our primary purpose is wine education. The first year students begin their course in the vineyard hand-harvesting the fruit for that vintage and then go on to learn all about viticulture for the rest of the year. Whereas the second year students start the year processing the fruit in the winery and then continue the year learning all about wine production. In the third year, the students tend to focus on projects in a specialist subject of their choice, that they are passionate about. We also hold a blending competition each year in which the second year wine production students submit their ideal blend of our Rock Lodge White. After careful deliberation, the winemaking team choose a winning blend and this becomes our Rock Lodge White wine.
The students also get involved with our Plumpton Estate wine brand as it is important that as well as producing wine, they understand the importance of sales and marketing. Last year we launched a design competition as part of our rebranding exercise in which the students had to submit their creative ideas and a leading design agency, Studio Parr, brought the winning concepts to life. These are the designs that we currently have on our still wines. We also make reference to the winning student on the labels, which was Lizzi Hobbicraft in 2018.
Please talk me through each of wines – What do you like about them, why are they unique to Plumpton?
Plumpton Estate Brut Classic NV – this sparkling wine is a classic blend of Pinot Meunier (51%), Chardonnay (38%) and Pinot Noir (11%). All the fruit is from the 2015 vintage and it was recently disgorged, the date of which we hand write on each bottle. It has lovely notes of fresh apples and citrus fruits enhanced by hints of brioche.
Plumpton Estate Brut Rosé NV - this sparkling wine is normally made from a classic blend but in 2015 the Pinot Noir grapes were of such great quality that we made this wine from 100% Pinot Noir. It was disgorged earlier the year, the date of which we hand write on each bottle. It is a fresher style of sparkling with vibrant strawberry & cranberry notes enhanced by a silky, long length. This wine won a gold medal in the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships.
Plumpton Estate Bacchus 2015 – this still wine has mouth-watering citrus and green apple flavours with enticing aromas of elderflower. It has certainly found a natural home here in the UK with many people comparing it to Sauvignon Blanc!
Plumpton Estate Rock Lodge Rosé 2015 – this still wine is made from 100% Acolon, which is a German variety. It is a vibrant rosé bursting with fresh strawberry and raspberry flavours with a mouth-watering finish.
Plumpton Estate Rock Lodge Red 2015 – this still wine is a blend of Dornfelder (71%), Rondo (19%) and Pinot Noir (10%). It has an intense colour but is actually a quite light in body and low in tannins. It is bursting with dark fruits & spicy notes. It also has a reasonable alcohol at 11%, which consumers seem to enjoy. In the summer, it benefits from being served slightly chilled.
Plumpton Estate Ortega 2015 – this wine is a rich, medium-bodied wine with notes of ripe peach and tropical fruits enhanced by hints of vanilla and honey. This is the only white wine we make that spends time in oak.
Plumpton Estate Pinot Noir 2015 – this wine is light-medium bodied with vibrant notes of redcurrant, morello cherries and plums enhanced by hints of cloves, spice and vanilla. We produce small amounts of this wine, on average around 250 bottles each year and it also spends time in oak.
In regards to the students, do you get a mix or have you noticed wine appeals to a certain audience?
We get a really good mix of students, including those who already work with wine, and many who have worked in hospitality, restaurants or the wine trade. Generally, these are people who are seeking a second career, but we aim to increase the numbers of younger students, as there is a high demand for them from industry, particularly in English vineyards. Being the only college in Europe that offers university-level wine courses in English, we also get many students from abroad, including Central and Eastern Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, France and Italy.
What other wines do you enjoy drinking?
I love wines from all over the world as we are so lucky in this country to have such a vast selection available to us. In the summer, I tend to drink more white wine. In particular, I love the more salty, minerally whites such as Assyrtiko from Greece, Albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain or a northern Italian whites. I also love pale rosés, especially some the Rioja rosés like the Sierrra Cantabria Rosé, which is divine! In the winter I tend to drink more red wine and really like rich Spanish reds such as Ribera del Duero, Douro reds or Southern Italian reds such as San Marzano Primitivo.
Have you found any ‘perfect pairings’ for your wines? Please tell us what’s a good place to start.
Plumpton Estate Bacchus with pan-fried scallops with lime & coriander. Also, delicious with goats’ cheese salad.
Anything else you think we should know?
We have a very successful training arm called WineSkills, which offers workshops and masterclasses for the English wine industry. Now that our commercial wine activity is becoming successful, and our undergraduate programmes are very well established, so we are focusing on efforts on developing our MSc programme and research activity. In response to industry, we’re also working hard to establish courses at a pre-university level, such as apprenticeships and technical certificates. Plumpton College is fast becoming an international centre of excellence in education, training and research in wine business and production.
Thank you Danielle for a great interview!