Viti-Culture, held on Thursday 11 July 2019 at Plumpton College, Sussex, the first UK event of its kind, conceived and organised by Grape Vine Events with support from media partner Vineyard magazine, saw over 1,200 visitors through the gates.
The free-to-attend one-day show was designed to focus on supplies and services available to growers and winemakers by showcasing the very latest machinery and equipment as well as the myriad of professional services and supplies needed from soil to cellar.
Set against an incredibly picturesque backdrop of the South Downs, it certainly didn’t disappoint. 80 trade exhibitors were on hand to provide vineyard owners, managers, winemakers and those looking to plant their first vines, with specialist advice.
“As with all new events, the first year is about testing the water – or in this case, wine!” said Karen Wheeler, director at Grape Vine Events Ltd. “While we were always confident how well the show would be received, the response from exhibitors and visitors alike has been outstanding and far-beyond what we could have possibly hoped for. Many exhibitors expressed their gratitude for having the right forum to showcase their business at last, while visitors relished the opportunity to hear experts from across the industry speak during the full day of seminars and meetings.”
Strive for quality
Following a special VIP networking breakfast, sponsored by HSBC, in the main marquee, Doug Jackson, from NFU Mutual, took to the podium ready to chair the day’s seminar programme, which had been organised by Vineyard Magazine and was sponsored by Kreston Reeves.
First to speak was co-founder of Sussex’s Rathfinny Wine Estate, Mark Driver. Kicking off his keynote speech, ex-London hedge fund manager Mark began by answering the popular question: “why plant a vineyard and why choose to make wine in Sussex and not France?”
“I hadn’t tasted wines from England since the 1980s and I remember thinking that they tasted like battery acid; they were pretty shocking,” said Mark, who studied viticulture and winemaking at Plumpton College. “But I started reading about the success of this incredible, burgeoning industry and in 2010 I bought six bottles of English sparkling wine, many made by Plumpton alumni, and six bottles of Champagne and had a blind tasting with my wife Sarah and some friends. Amazingly all the English wines headed to the top of the list and when my French friend said she preferred the Ridgeview I decided that we should look to plant grapes somewhere in Sussex.”
Shortly after Mark and Sarah Driver purchased a 600-acre farm called Rathfinny on the outskirts of Alfriston; today the vineyard comprises approximately 90-hectares of vines, with extensive winery facilities, tasting room, restaurant and accommodation. In his speech, which proved to be so popular it was standing room only, Mark also touched on the challenges of English viticulture, sustainability and reducing carbon footprints, the importance of knowing your potential markets before you start planting and the need to focus on the creation of world-class wines.
“It all sound very easy, but it is in fact hard work and expensive too,” said Mark. “Over supply, is a dreaded topic because in the last three years alone some 5 million vines have been planted in the UK. We cannot rely on displacing the whole UK market for Champagne, we need to tackle overseas markets and most of all we need to focus on quality. Why would anyone buy a mediocre bottle of English wine when you can buy fantastic wines from the rest of the world for less? We need to strive for quality in everything we do, and we need to grow the best grapes we can, on the best sites. Low yielding, highly frost-prone sites, will not be sustainable in our marginal climate. We need to study, and we need to make the best wines we can with the best equipment we can afford.”
Following Mark, Matthew Berryman from CLM talked about how to identify and acquire suitable vineyard sites and how to negotiate lease or tenancy agreements. The team from Vine-Works then covered the importance of monitoring and recording data in the vineyard and explained the new scouting service which was launched at the beginning of 2019. Frederick South from Sencrop discussed the new generation of connected weather stations and how they could help provide real-time data and support to growers.
An audience led Q&A machinery debate gave delegates the opportunity to chat through some of the key issues surrounding mechanisation in the vineyard with experts including Cameron Roucher, vineyard manager at Rathfinny, Luke Wolfe, vineyard operations manager for Chapel Down, Sam Barnes, from NP Seymour and David Sayell from Vitifruit Equipment.
In the afternoon, Simon Roberts and Matt Strugnell from Ridgeview spoke about contract grape growing and contract winemaking, while Mark Crumpton from Bruni Erben took an in depth look at how winemakers can improve stability, and finally Jim Rankin from Rankin Brother and Sons looked at how closures and packaging can add value to a brand.
Most delightful setting
In the main marquee, delegates were also able to taste through the top 50 most influential English and Welsh wines, as chosen and reviewed by Vineyard Magazine’s monthly columnist Matthew Jukes. The top 50 tasting area was kindly supported by membership organisation Wines of Great Britain, who’s passionate team were on hand to discuss the wines and producers in more depth, as well as being able to talk potential new industry entrants through the key facts and figures, such as the estimated growth of the sector.
As well as curating the top 50, acclaimed wine writer and supporter of the UK’s home-grown wine industry, Matthew Jukes, hosted an incredibly entertaining English wine master class at 11:30 in the Vineyard Magazine marquee, which was described by Matthew as the “the cutest, smallest, most delightful setting” in which he had ever held a tutored tasting.
With just 30 tasting spaces, it was not long before a crowd formed at the entrance of the marquee to listen to Matthew explain how he carefully selects three wines each month which neatly fit into topical themes. He then moved on to run through the six wines reviewed in the June and July editions of Vineyard Magazine, including the Berry Bros and Rudd own-label English Sparkling Wine, which had only been released for sale the morning of the show and was urgently couriered from the merchant’s head office in St James’s, London directly to the showground.
With such an array of exceptional wines on tasting, the top 50 area proved popular throughout the day and show organisers were delighted that Oz Clarke, a familiar face to many in the wine industry and beyond, took time out of his busy schedule to taste through the range, entertaining fellow Viti-Culture attendees along the way.
“To our knowledge, there is no other event in the UK like it and on behalf of all those involved with creating, hosting and producing this exciting new event, I would like to thank the event sponsors, HSBC and Kreston Reeves, exhibitors and the visitors from across the UK and Europe who attended,” said Karen Wheeler. “Their confidence in backing the very first UK event of its kind matched our own confidence that Viti-Culture is destined to succeed as a must-see annual event for the viticulture industry.”
Photos: ©Martin Apps, Countrywide Photographic