Trevibban Mill Vineyard interview
Hi Engin, welcome to the English Wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. To start, could you tell me about your career history to date. How did a Turkish man end up in the English wine industry?
I came to the UK for a scholarship in economics and I did my PHD at university. Then, I worked as a business consultant in the public and private sector. I had time, at this point, to be involved with a new telecom company and within 7 years turned the company into a 250 million pound turn over with 2500 staff in Germany, the UK and the USA. That company was bought by British Gas, the telecom arm. I took early retirement and they put me on 2 years garden leave. Once you leave, 2 years in the telecom industry is a long time, due to the pace of the industry, it is very fast moving and once I was out I couldn’t really get back in.
After sitting around for a bit, I got bored and my partner and I saw this land for sale and so I bought it, mostly because it had a beautiful lake. It was an afterthought that perhaps we should plant a vineyard. I spoke with neighbouring Camel Valley about planting a vineyard and they advised me the location was good enough and so I planted my own English vineyard.
That’s how it all got started!
People were joking at the time, ‘how do you make a small fortune from vineyards in England?’ – You start with a bigger fortune!
What were your initial ideas with the land?
After we bought the land, I was thinking what we can grow here. I prepared a list of things I would like to grow and at the top of my list was pistachio nuts and hazel nuts. I investigated the possibility of planting a small forest for growing apples. There were so many things I looked at, but I came back to the idea of an English vineyard and then, finally, apple orchards will be the final production.
How old are the vines at Trevibban Mill Vineyard?
We planted the vineyard 10 years ago and with only 11,000 vines. We started selling wines about 4 years ago, and so this is our fourth summer.
So, Trevibban Mill is a young vineyard then?
Yes, yes it is.
If you have orchards, does this mean you are keen on Cider?
Yes, we do have ciders here. We do many different types.
This year, for the first time, we made a very elegant pink cider, a cider with red wine. We also distill our ciders and make a spirit from the ciders, along with apple wine and we do 2 apple liqueurs – dry and sweet.
Apple and cider wines, that’s an interesting mix. How did that occur?
When we planted the vineyard, two years later I planted 1700 apple trees.
This is the first time we’ve done it. It’s very popular! We put it in an elegant bottle which is sparkly and pink. We had a wedding last weekend and they used the 'Pink Cider' as one of the celebratory drinks!
I don’t like mono culture and so I wanted different things to harvest. We also planted 100 Queen and 100 Chestnut trees. I believe that if you want to have innovation and you want to keep people working for you, you need to have different products and different things that you’ll be doing. It makes it more enjoyable. So, at harvest time instead of just picking and pressing grapes, one day we do grapes, two days we do apples. It's the same thing with having sheep here, it adds an extra dimension to what we do.
What’s the story behind Trevibban Mill’s sheep? They seem to be everywhere!
Well at the very beginning, because we’re organic I didn’t want to just cut the grass throughout the year. The whole idea was because we’re not going to use herbicides on the wine I thought if we put in netting on both sides of the vines to protect the grapes that will stop the sheep from eating the grapes and so they are just grazing either side of the vines. However, as soon as the sheep realised that there are interesting grapes growing just the other side of the netting, they started chewing through to just the other side of the netting whilst eating the netting too! So, for 6 or 7 months they’re in the vineyard and then either indoors or in the orchards. They really are so much better at cutting the grass than a machine!
So, they're multipurpose sheep……
Yes, we do a lot for them. To be honest, I have a soft spot for sheep. We give them lots of herbs, wild flowers and the best grass to eat. At the end of the year we eat them. So far, they're very happy.
And the netting……
The initial idea of it was to deal with the sheep, but the netting can help with many things. It can act as a bit of a wind barrier. At flowering time, the netting's can help to protect the vines. They're in the prevailing wind direction, which is south west, so if it’s raining the nets help to stop the rain drops from hitting the grapes and vines hard.
One downside to the netting is that when the air is still, the excess water from the rain stayed damp and in the early morning the dew didn’t get dispersed. So, we started to lift up the netting to encourage better air circulation. It’s also in case of early frost, the air circulation will help to dispel the air.
Who are the team at Trevibban Mill Vineyard?
Myself, my wife and my son. We have a few people who work at the bar, providing wine tastings and so on. We don’t have a large team.
We have one person labelling and disgorging.
We have a consultant wine maker who comes down at harvest time and helps, his name is Salvatore and he’s Sicilian.
Then we've got three people who come and go in the vineyard when we need them.
Are they the pickers?
No, they're the farmers, the local farmers. For example, I used to do all the spraying myself but now they do it for me. Because spraying and trimming the vines is not every day work they come whenever we need them and do it for me.
What’s the current focus at Trevibban Mill Vineyard?
For me the focus and biggest challenge is producing sparkling wines. That will be our next aim, to produce complex English Sparkling Wine. We have one Blanc de Blanc from 100% Chardonnay, which is pretty good and served at a Michelin starred restaurant. I wouldn't say it's a top sparkling wine, yet. So, I want to be able to produce outstanding, complex sparkling wines.
With red wines it just depends on the year.
Which grapes did you plant?
We have Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Precoce and Dornfelder. I think Pinot Noir Precoce makes better wine.
We’ve had one of the best summers for a long time, what are your thoughts on how the harvest and wines will be?
This year I'm almost certain we'll make outstanding red wines. We'll make one from 100 percent Pinot Noir Precoce. I'm confident it will be a great wine. Also from Dornfelder. I think over the next few years, people will talk about how good this year’s wine will be.
Do you think you’ll be able to do some vintages this year?
Yes, yes, we will. We look forward to that. We quite often work off the quality of the grapes. This year, I think we will have the freedom to do what we want.
It's notoriously harder to produce red wines with depth in England. Do you think English Red should be viewed differently to the central European red wines?
Our grapes ripen well, partly because we have netting, it creates an extra micro climate. With our high sugar levels in the grapes we’ve never had a problem producing English red wines.
We don't find it hard, to be honest. We were doing a blind tasting session here recently, comparing the Burgundy wines to our wines at the same price bracket and I think they're at the same level, on all aspects - from the colour to the tasting!
We do blind tastings regularly between different wine makers.
What other wines do you enjoy drinking?
In the past, if you had asked me this question, I would have said I have a certain taste in wine. Wine that I wouldn't have drunk two years ago, I now find quite enjoyable. It depends upon what you're doing. I drink all wines now to be honest, as long as they're up to a certain level.
In general, though, I prefer European wines. The European style, more Italian and Spanish, than French and German wines. Although, they do still make beautiful wines!
What are the plans over the coming months?
We don’t do much. We are about to increase our picking crates order, shortly. Because we have so many options this year, normally we only make one red wine, this year I think we’ll do two. And the same with the Rose! I think this year we’ll be able to do anything we want!! We should have a good choice!
Last year we had an extremely big apple harvest. It looks like the apple harvest will be less this year, this will help us in terms of the trunk space.
And in the future?
We'll be doing everything! Either you focus on one thing, sparkling wines and be leader in that sector, or an alternative strategy is to focus on many things. You learn so many different skills and you use those skills to develop many things. We will be making gin, vodka, sparkling wines, cognac. Our core will be the wines, but we'll try many other things.
That's great, there's certainly lots on the cards! Thank you Engin for a great English vineyard interview.
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