Denbies CEO hits back at "overdramatic" reaction to frost

Jo Gilbert

Frost grape vines

The frost which struck UK vineyards hit the national press this week, where words like “disastrous” and “catastrophic” were used to describe the effect on the English wine industry.

The images circling the net didn’t help, with pictures of vineyards being turned into candle-lit vigils as as flames were were used in a bid to ward off the cold. 

But while most of the vineyards in the UK – and much of France – have been affected, Chris White of Denbies Estate in Surrey called the reaction “overdramatic” in conversation with Harpers.

“We’re focused on keeping supply in stores, which means we have to be able to supply our third party customers. But we’ve made provisions for it. It’s part of the industry we’re in. We’ve had four record harvests in a row, so we’re due some frost,” he said.

Harvest is expected to be slightly down, but stock management means the estate will be able to continue to keep up their regular supply of cuvees.

They don’t produce many single vintages, but the 2017 vintage will be a long way off for Denbies, which leaves their sparkling to age longer than most (between 3-4 years rather than 2-3.)

How much frost would have the vineyard have to weather before White really began to worry, we asked.

“A few years in a row would be headache,” he said.

A carefully managed, long-term supply of fruit is absolutely essential to longevity, White said, and urged newcomers to invest in forward planning, especially in this variable climate.

“England is becoming a more established industry, so this bout of weather shouldn’t affect it at all. For slightly younger vineyards which haven’t been going through this before, they may have to adapt their business model slightly. It doesn’t take long to learn that.”

“There are plenty of opportunities ahead,” he added. 


New WSTA board member 

Elsewhere in the world of English wine this week, Tamara Roberts, CEO Ridgeview in Sussex, has joined the ranks of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association as its thirteenth board member.

Her induction marks the first time an English vineyard owner has taken a seat on the WSTA board.

Roberts is the daughter of Ridgeview founders Mike and Chris Roberts, and was recently voted Sussex Business Woman of the Year.

She will work closely with the WSTA on presenting a united Brexit approach to the government on behalf of the trade.

Lastly, Exton Park has announced its first foray into the export market.

The Hampshire vineyard is currently fulfilling it first export orders to the US and Italy.

“This is exactly where we want to begin in the US,” Kit Ellen, Exton Park’s sales and marketing manager said of the distribution agreement with Primrose Fine Wines into high-end restaurants and boutique retailers in New York State.

“It is always important to establish and hold the premium ground, particularly for a single estate like ours, where production is limited due to our policy of low yields and top quality.”

They also revealed a longer-term goal to target the West Coast, alongside continued representation in Italy.

Read the upcoming English wine feature in next week’s May print edition of Harpers.



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