Sixteen Ridges Vineyard interview
Hi Simon, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. Could you tell us about the team at Sixteen Ridges, where has the collective experience been gained and how did you all get into the wine business?
We are a small but perfectly formed team:
Sally Booth (Sales and Marketing) has been working with me for nearly ten years, originally with our cider production “Once Upon A Tree” and as well as selling lots of our cider, she has helped our brand become recognised and respected in the craft cider scene, including winning the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards – “Best Drinks Producer” in 2012! Sally has been an integral part in getting Sixteen Ridges wines in front of buyers over the past few years, and does most of our social media too!
Sam Pardoe (Production Manager) is my right hand man in the winery, and oversees the wine and cider making day-to-day. Sam also started with me at Once Upon A Tree, and has learnt the job by being hands on, working side by side with me over the past 8 or so years. Sam also makes the wine and looks after our contract customers who have their wines made in our winery too. He has a great palate and even better sense of humour – both are essential when working in a winery!
Liz Waltham (Business Development Director) has been integral in the formation of Haygrove Evolution and works tirelessly on all business fronts. Liz is the glue that binds us – keeps us all honest - and works closely with Sally on our sales and marketing too.
Our newest recruits are Hristo (production assistant) in the winery ably helping Sam with wine and cider production, and how to make the perfect cup of tea. Tracy is our new office administrator who has been rapidly coming up to speed with all the technical details of wines, vines clones and rootstocks, and is the first point of contact for most business enquiries.
It sounds like a tight knit family! Why did you get involved in the English wine industry, how did it start for you?
I’m Production Director here, and I’ve been in the English Wine business all my life. When I was two years old, my father took charge of the first planting of half an acre of vines that went on to become Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire. Throughout the 1980s I was always making a nuisance of myself in the vineyard and winery, and would work as much as possible in school holidays, weekends and evenings, ever keen to learn. Despite my parents insistence that I would be much better off getting a “proper” job, at the end of my Biochemistry degree, I was still hooked on winemaking. Since then I went on to make wine at various UK vineyards as well as gaining experiences in Australia, NZ, Oregon and Washington, France and even Jersey!
I took over my father’s consultancy business in 2001 after he died, and enjoyed being part of the exponential growth of the industry, supplying vines and consulting on growing and winemaking. After setting up Once Upon A Tree in 2007 (a hobby that took off) in 2015 we merged my two companies and with investment from Haygrove, formed “Haygrove Evolution” to build and equip our new winery to produce our own Sixteen Ridges wines.
To date, in the South East of England, we’ve had probably the best start to the wine season. Lots of sunshine and plenty of heat. What plans are there for the vineyard over the coming months? How do think the crop/harvest will be?
I’m still consulting, so I do see vineyards around the country and generally we are all doing rather well this year! After a very late start (3-4 weeks behind by end of April) we have seen huge growth, exceptional flowering conditions and now are about 1 – 2 weeks early! I worry for new plantings, especially on thinner, lighter soils. The planting season also started late, and some vineyards have had virtually no rainfall since planting – pretty much unheard of. The fruit set is good, so the vines are looking at producing a very big crop. Being ahead is good, so if we get a mediocre tail end of the summer, we should still be able to ripen the fruit. If it stays warm and dry, we could have the best UK vintage on record.
English wine is continuing to grow in demand and is gaining more exposure. As such the majority of wines sell out within the first release. What plans does Sixteen ridges have to facilitate the shortfall in supply and demand of English wines?
We have been planting more acreage over the past few years, and have about 35 acres we can grow into. At the moment we have around 15 acres in production, with another 6 acres planted this year. Our red has been our unexpected runaway success so we have been planting more Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Early to try to meet demand. Currently we only sell on allocation for our red. We also offer contract winemaking services to smaller growers, so when we can’t supply our own wine, we recommend wines from our contract partners!
What preparations are you putting in place for Brexit, is this a good or bad scenario for Sixteen Ridges and English Wine on the whole?
Well, the whole thing is a debacle, and there are far too many unkowns. We are already finding difficulties with the exchange rate which means imports of vines, glass bottles and equipment are more expensive. As there is no real plan for Brexit it seems hard to know how we’ll stand in April next year. There may be some small silver linings for English Wine (improvements to the duty regime perhaps?) but our potential for export could be at risk as it may become more difficult and costly beyond Brexit until we have satisfactory trade deals in place with individual countries. I doubt that English Wine will be high on the agenda in trade talks. WineGB’s role will be critical in getting our collective message across.
If we were going to plan the perfect meal to pair with your wines, what would you suggest is a great menu to curate? Starter, main and maybe even desert?
So many options! However, I recently attended an excellent food pairing dinner hosted by the Punchbowl in Mayfair with our wines – our Bacchus was served with halibut, prawn and spinach ravioli starter; our Pinot Red was served with Lamb loin with a pistachio, pea, mint crumb and a cabbage wrapped pulled lamb shoulder for main course, and dessert paired our Pinot Noir Sparkling Rosé with summer fruit terrine, coconut meringue (Italian) and raspberry ripple ice cream – the wine was also used in the making of the jelly in the terrine. The result was exquisite!
That does sound like a treat! Sixteen Ridges has such wonderful design and imagery, was this always the intention, where did this idea come from?
Thank you! I like to think we get it right mostly, and yes it was intentional! We work with a very talented local designer – Paul Jeffrey www.pauljeffreydesign.com, and various professional photographers who produce some excellent work. On top of that, I’ve always dabbled in design and photography, so much is produced in house too.
If you had to choose what would be your favourite wines and why?
My favourites are not perhaps the “best” wines I have ever tried, but they do hold a strong association with a time and/or place, so here goes:
Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer - I’ve always been a fan of big, rich, almost oily Alsace Guwurz, it is a guilty pleasure! It was the first non English wine I really remember enjoying as I was growing up. I actually managed to engineer that my wife and I took our honeymoon in Alsace and a visit to Hugel and a personal tour of the vineyards with Jean Hugel (jr) was a real highlight!
Brown Brothers Tarrango – Another very accessible wine. This little known variety was made famous by Brown Brothers, originally made using a high proportion of carbonic maceration to yield a light, fruit driven red wine – perfect lightly chilled for summer drinking. This wine represents a pioneering and innovative approach to winemaking that Brown Brothers are famous for. Working for them in the mid 90’s in their kindergarten research and development winery (600 tonne crush at the time) was an eye opener in experimentation with varieties and techniques, and encouraged me to always be creative in my winemaking and take calculated risks.
Amity Vineyards Pinot Noir – Myron Redford was a pioneer with Pinot in Oregon, and had visited Three Choirs in the early 1980s, and discussions lead to my father planting Pinot Noir for the first time. I visited in the mid 90s when he was internationally recognised and awarded for his wines. His Estate Pinot Noir, I believe is at least as good as the best Burgundy Pinots I have tried, with earthy aromatics, red cherry fruit and soft rich tannins. It is this wine that I aspire to in our own Red Pinot Noir production!
There are, of course many, many English favourites – far too many to mention here!
If we came to the vineyard what can we expect to find/do?
We welcome visitors by appointment only at the moment, We’re not geared up for tourism, so there is no shop or restaurant. You can buy our wine direct of course, and we have done a few “open day” events conducting tours of the vineyard and winery, finishing with tastings. You’ll see our Redbank vineyards, with great views over Ledbury and looking down the Leadon vale towards May Hill – we are in a truly beautiful part of the world! Get in touch if you’d like to call in!
Anything else you think we should know?
As well as our Sixteen Ridges wines, I continue to consult to vineyard owners and winemakers across the UK. We are pioneering the first commercial UK based vine nursery to supply vines to UK growers and beyond. We are also experimenting with protected cropping of difficult to ripen varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier in polytunnels, fertigated in coir substrate, grown in pots – all a bit sci-fi, but we’re learning a great deal from our experiments. We will never be accused of standing still!