It’s the start of a new decade and I’ve been reflecting about our journey that started almost 10 years ago – it’s hard to believe. If I’m very honest, last year was very hard work. Not that the earlier years weren’t, but it was hard in a different way. From 2010-2018 we were so focused on just doing what had to be done. Vines to be ordered, early staff to be recruited, buildings to be renovated and a winery to be designed and built. The vines arrived and then we needed to put in the trellising and wires, deal with planning issues, start to design and plan the Flint Barns, work out a waste water plant all alongside developing a brand, stationery, cards and a logo. More staff were recruited and suddenly we had an accounts team and a growing back office.
All the time we had our eye, not only on the weather, but on our first release – 2018. It seemed ages away but suddenly it was upon us and we were designing labels and packaging, planning a launch and dealing with the media. Bear in mind too that none of this was ‘our’ world. Mark had worked in finance and I had a been a City lawyer and then mostly a full-time mum, in fact our four children were still in their teens whilst all this was going on.
It really hit me when the first bottles finally appeared, filled and labelled with a foil we had worked so hard to get right – this was real. I felt overwhelmed in a way I hadn’t whilst we’d been on the journey.
The launch was fantastic, and we have been blessed to work with amazing venues, sommeliers and chefs who understand the effort and hard work that has gone into producing what I believe to be truly outstanding wines. I feel honoured to say that I see many of them as true friends now, partners with us.
So why was last year so hard? Well now the reality of running a large vineyard, of selling wines into multiple international markets, of employing 35 full time staff and over 200 seasonal staff, of producing annual vintages set in. We faced the critical questions of how we maintain our ‘family-feel’ business as we grow, as we take on more new staff. How do we all keep in touch when we work across the Estate in different areas, in Alfriston, London, around the country and abroad? We recognised the need to put in formalised systems and to change our weekly get-togethers around the table into quarterly and departmental meetings. So, in a way it’s been a bit relentless, and it’s not all done yet!
It means it’s even more important to remember all the amazing things that happened in 2019! We had a record harvest (up 19% on 2018) picking over 485 tonnes of grapes as well as planting a further 90,000 vines and erecting over 20,000 trellising posts and laying out some 40,000kms of wire. The Winery team bottled close to 300,000 bottles, on our own bottling line, and we’re currently disgorging some 60,000 bottles ready for release in 2020.
Our Wine Tourism team have welcomed over 21,000 visitors to the Estate. The Tasting Room restaurant has served over 12,000 customers and as a recognition for the great food and terrific service, it received the accolade of getting into the Michelin Guide, after only being open for one year! The Flint Barns is taking bookings for July 2020 already and seems to be full every weekend and we’ve run close to 100 tours and sold over 10,000 bottles of wine from the Cellar Door.
We launched last year’s vintages at the prestigious Ritz Hotel in London and became only the second non-Champagne to be listed as their Sparkling Wine of the month. Our sparkling wines are now listed in over 100 different venues across the UK, from L’Enclume (recently voted the best restaurant in the country), Dinner by Heston and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, to the wonderful American bar at the Savoy, the fabulous Coburg bar at the Connaught Hotel and in the Promenade restaurant at the Dorchester. We’ve recently become the house pour at The Feathered Nest in the Cotswolds and it doesn’t stop there, we’re in the Michelin star restaurant Tides in Newcastle, oh and did I mention Le Gavroche… Michel Roux Jnr recently paired all our four wines to a delicious four course meal, the first time in their 52 year history that they have ever done that with all English wines.
So there you have it. There’s good with the bad, ups as well as down, but overall it’s been, and still is, an incredible voyage that we have taken, not on our own but with a supportive family, a fantastic team of staff and a growing partnership in the world of hospitality.
Here’s to a very good 2020!