Aldermore is dedicated to championing Britain's go-getters. We've met thousands of entrepreneurs who are excelling in their industry, and that's exactly what Jane and Peter have been doing at Toppesfield Vineyard. We chatted to them about how it all started and how the local support and valuable consultancy helped them to succeed.
Can you tell us about how the idea for a vineyard came about?
The vineyard idea started when we had the opportunity to buy some additional land next to our house. Peter wanted to have the land grazed by sheep and cattle. But I absolutely didn't want to get home from London at 8pm on a wet and windy evening in the middle of winter and have to go out into the fields to check on livestock! Having had sheep as a child, I didn't fancy the thought of treating sheep for maggots or clipping their hoof nails again. While considering a range of options, some friends bought an existing vineyard at West Street in Coggeshall, Essex, and decided to build the English Wine Centre. This gave us the inspiration to plant our own vineyard in Toppesfield.
I understand you both still have busy working weeks?
Yes! Peter runs a technology company, Lolly, in London that focuses on Payment and Electronic Point of Sales (EPOS) for small businesses in the hospitality sector. Lolly is a 'disruptor' in the marketplace delivering enterprise level cloud technology in both payments and Point of Sale (POS) with a core focus on simplicity and affordability.
I am a partner in a global IT consulting business, PTS. My area of focus is 'Technology for the Built Environment'. In brief, this means we design, procure and manage the implementation of technology in new HQ buildings including some of London's most iconic properties such as The Shard, The Cheesegrater and The Walkie Talkie. Bidding and working on large construction projects is very deadline based and requires long hours, so yes, we both have very busy working weeks.
What's been your biggest help and inspiration for making the vineyard a success?
The vineyard has really brought home to me the value of consultancy. At PTS Consulting, we advise our clients how they can add value to their business and help them mitigate risk. By using our experience and market knowledge, we help new clients make the right choices from day one, thereby saving time and money.
We knew nothing about growing vines, but we knew - from a lot of sampling! - that there are some excellent English wines. We knew that we wanted to produce the best grapes possible on our soil and therefore engaged the services of a highly recommended consultant, Duncan McNeill, of MVM Ltd.
Duncan took time to understand our objectives, reviewed our site options in terms of sun, wind and frost, organised extensive soil sampling, and then produced a recommendation report on soil treatment, best root stocks and grape varieties for our specific conditions. He advised on reputable suppliers, developed a schedule of dates and ensured the vines were planted with the right distance between them to ensure maximum sun exposure as well as right sizing for our existing tractor. This helped us keep investment costs down, which is always a challenge for me as both Peter and Duncan love equipment (toys!) so we had to prioritise our budget by identifying the equipment that would add most value (rather than most fun!).
His market knowledge enabled us to avoid a lot of costly mistakes, but it also enabled us to produce award winning wines from our very first harvest.
Our other major source of help was New Hall Vineyard and Winery in Purleigh. Their expertise and experience have been key to the success of Toppesfield wines. They have over 30 years' experience of growing vines and making English wines and have won many awards along the way.
We are also very fortunate to live in a truly inspirational village. There is a huge community spirit, and in September and October over 20 volunteers from the village, combined with other friends and familiy, come to harvest our grapes in return for a good harvest lunch and a few glasses of our Bacchus or Pinot Noir Rosé.
What do you think are the main challenges for businesses like yours in the years to come?
One of our main challenges is the level of duty on English wines. In addition to the standard 20% VAT, English wines also include duty of £2.16 a bottle. The rise in duty in March 2017 is more than double the duty on a bottle of still wine in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and 11 other EU countries.
It is already challenging to be competitive against long established wine making countries. It would certainly change the price point of English wines and make them more accessible to a wider market if the duty was reduced to be in line with European competitors.
There has been a lot of positive press about English wine in recent years. Do you think UK producers are finally giving our European neighbours a run for their money?
Absolutely! We are not looking to replicate wines produced by other countries. Our cool climate conditions and our 'terroir' produce delicious aromas and flavours that are distinctively English. Our Pinot Noir Rosé is a light, dry wine with hints of English strawberries and citrus. Toppesfield Bacchus is a crisp, dry, fruity white wine with flavours of gooseberry, nettle and elderflower. It has a refreshing finish and excellent length with an alcohol content of about 10.5%.
You've won some great awards. What's been your greatest achievement?
Without doubt our proudest moment was in 2016, our first year of commercial production, when we attended the East Anglian Vineyard Association's Award Ceremony in Norfolk. Earlier that year we had done a lot of wine tasting in Sancerre as part of a 60-person birthday trip for a friend in Toppesfield. Peter and I kept saying to each other 'our wine is just a good as this'. With no formal recognition at that stage we just thought we were biased. We were stunned to have this confirmed at the Awards event when we were awarded by the EAVA Wine of the Year, Best White, Best Bacchus and the Gold Medal.
We have gone on to win further awards with the UK vineyard Association and with Decanter, but our first recognised achievement in 2016 was definitely our proudest moment.
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