New English wine company sets goal to become top five producerBy Phoebe French
With the recent acquisition of Pookchurch Vineyard giving it a total of 124 acres (50 hectares) under vine, Highweald Wines is aiming to become a top English wine producer by quality and quantity.
Speaking to the drinks business, general manager Robin Langton said he was on the hunt for more land with the goal to have 250ha under vine.
This would put Highweald among the top five producers by volume, while Langton is also keen to produce top quality wines. Having spent three years as chief operating officer at Sussex-based Ridgeview Wine Estate as well as buying roles at Iceland, Direct Wines and Naked Wines, he is also an experienced winemaker.
“The goal is to be a top five producer by quality and volume,” he said. “We’re going to focus on traditional method sparkling, but produce some still wine too. For me, it’s a great opportunity to work with a company that’s coming into the industry and is going in hard and aiming for top quality. It’s good to be able to oversee it from the commercial as well as the production side.”
Highweald bought Lakestreet Vineyard in Sussex from producer Fox and Fox in January last year, and a year later bought Pookchurch. Pookchurch previously had a tie-up with Bolney Wine Estate.
With investment from the Cadman Capital Group, Langton is currently looking at two further 70-acre plots, one in Sussex and the other in Kent, with the ultimate goal of establishing his own winery in Sussex.
“We’re also in the market for established vineyards,” he added. “I’ve looked at several that have come onto the market. There’s more vineyards for sale now than there’s ever been. If they’re right, a good fit and not over-burdened with other assets that we don’t want, we will certainly look at them.”
Langton believes it is important to have ambition and be confident about what can be achieved in England. Prices for his sparkling wines will start at £30 a bottle, with a reserve range of “slightly eclectic” wines at around the £50 mark.
“English sparkling wine has established its price point around £30, but my preference would be higher,” he said. “Our quality dictates that with the right winemaking and the right attention to detail, we can beat anybody. But for us to say we want to be a top five producer and sell everything at £50 would be somewhat naive.”
“People need to have the ambition and the confidence in this country’s wine industry,” he added. “With all the other education around English sparkling wine, for me the real thing we have to push is quality.”
Not just wine
Highweald Wines is part of the wider Highweald Beverages group, a company which also owns two UK breweries: Sussex-based 360° Brewing Company and Welsh brewer, Conwy Brewery.
Together they have a combined capacity of 1.5m litres of beer per year.
“They are positioned quite differently,” Langton told db. “Conwy is on-trade focused and produces a lot of cask beer. We’ve reinvented 360 a bit and are focusing on hard craft beer. That means lots of hazy NEIPAs, DIPAs, East Coast, West Coast, sours etc.
“We’ve already had really good success in the London craft beer scene and have put on 35 new accounts in the last month. We’re experimenting with a really good team and we want to get up there with the Verdants, the Cloudwaters and the Kernels of the world.”
He said both brands would stay separate and true to their roots, with a “refresh” planned for Conwy.
“It will still lean very much on its tradition of being a proud Welsh brewery, and we’d love to bring that the rest of the country,” Langton said.
He is looking to acquire two to three more regional breweries with a strong identity to add to the Highweald portfolio.