I had a myriad of thoughts late at night during a recent trip home to Hong Kong for my niece’s wedding.
Long on my mind has been the issue of employment and sourcing – both of which we want to do from England. We want to build a seasonal workforce made up of local people, who gain skills and come back to us year on year for both picking in September and pruning in the New Year. We want to buy British wherever we can and, as I venture out to source products to sell in our tasting room (which we hope to open next summer,) and to stock in our winery and flint barns my continual refrain is “does it come from Britain?”
The issues are not straightforward. Take employment. We can have a team of pickers, many of them from Eastern Europe, who are honest and reliable. They arrive early, work hard and we only have to make one payment to their manager. Incidentally, it gets more subtle, many of them have lived here for years, so aren’t strictly migrant workers. Employing local workers raises practical issues – what do they do for the rest of the year? Or are local workers simply ‘teams’ who go from harvest to harvest around the country – and how then are they different from the other teams?
See, it’s not that easy. Everyone tells me, it can’t be done: that we won’t find local people who want to come and pick, who are reliable and hard working. Well, I’d like to prove them wrong. It is our intention to try, so if you’re reading this and fancy vineyard work when the time comes, drop us a line and we’ll contact you later on next year.
Sourcing. Again, this is not an easy issue. We are looking at glasses for tasting and for our winery and the flint barns as well as to sell. What I’m learning is that England makes great crystal, but not everyday, good quality glasses. For that we need to go to Eastern Europe or the States. Willow baskets – yes, we can get them made here, but the costs are very high, whereas if we went to China ….
Whilst in Hong Kong we visited Shenzhen over the border where the employment and sheer energy is overwhelming. This is a city that has grown from 10,000 people in 1978 to more than 14 million today. The number of people eager to do business is extraordinary. The number of fake English labels like Burberry, Mulberry and Cath Kidston reiterates the fact that I learnt at a British Council event – English brands have a great reputation all over the world and people want them.
With all these thoughts in mind, I’ve been reading ‘Time to Start Thinking: America in Descent’ by Ed Luce (which I highly recommend) that questions America’s role in the world. It got me thinking that in the same way that we seem to follow what happens over the pond, Britain too will be heading this way unless we change our outlook.
I don’t know the answer to our employment and sourcing issues but suspect we’ll have to compromise on our desire to ‘buy British’ in every way.
Tired and confused, worried about the state of the world, I suddenly questioned whether we should be making sparkling wine, a high end and relatively frivolous product at all. Horrified, I turned to Mark only to find my ramblings had long since bored him and he was fast asleep!
So I had to work it out myself. Yes – we should be making English Sparkling Wine because we are making something. In the tradition of this country, we aim to make a quality, unique British product that will not only sell here but abroad and in so doing, will create jobs and opportunities for people in this country.
At that I was, (and you probably are too!) exhausted!
PS. The photos above are some of Viv’s great photos of the winery development. The second half of the slab was poured today – 200 tons of concrete has been poured over the last 10 days!