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Balfour winery to grow both wine and beer offering as part of expansion plan

Growth of the beer and cider arm of English winery Balfour will go “hand in hand” with plans to double wine production over the next few years, sales director Adam Williams told the drinks business.

Birdseye view of vineyard being harvested: Balfour winery to grow both wine and beer offering as part of expansion plan

The Kent-based winery has appointed Shelley Harris, formerly of Chapel Down, to head up sales for beer and cider; the first step in plans to grow the Jake’s Drinks arm of the business.

Sales director Adam Williams was keen to stress that growth of beer and cider will by no means “dilute anything that we’re doing on the wine side”.

“There’s huge investment going into the wine side of the business,” he told the drinks business. Williams explained that Balfour is currently planting new vines and expanding the winery to increase capacity, in the hopes of “more than doubling our production over the next three to four years”.

The winery's dining facility: Balfour winery to grow both wine and beer offering as part of expansion plan

Champagne varieties currently dominate plantings for the Kent-based estate. However, small plots of Albariño and Gamay have now been planted, and the winery has extended into Essex with a new Pinot Noir vineyard.

Harris joined the company in November in order to develop Balfour’s beer and cider offering. The English winery has been producing cider for a number of years using apples grown on the estate, but has begun to focus on beer “over the last two or three years”, Williams said.

“We’ve taken our time to get it right, where we feel we’re in a position to then grow that part of the business,” he said. Jake’s Drinks acquired listings in Majestic for its beer last year, but growth was always planned for 2023.

“We were delighted to bring Shelley on board to really drive that part of the business,” Williams added.

Harris has previously worked in sales roles at a number of breweries across the UK, most recently with Curious Brew, Chapel Down.

In 2021, Chapel Down announced plans to dispose of its beer and cider arm in a pre-pack sale to private equity firm Risk Capital Partners. The disposal involved putting Curious Drinks into administration, after which it was to be acquired by RCP, who would establish a new company to run the business. Chapel Down received no payment, but was cleared of its debts relating to Curious Drinks.

Balfour winery to grow both wine and beer offering as part of expansion plan

The Covid-19 pandemic and more recent economic challenges caused by increased energy bills and the cost-of-living crisis have put a strain on drinks brands, particularly those with a focus on the on-trade.

But Williams is hopeful that “taking things slowly, sensibly and organically” will allow future growth for Jake’s Drinks. “There’s still a lot of unknowns in the market, and this is across all drinks,” he said, but added that there is demand for “quality products” at a good price “with a reason to be there that is genuine”.

“We’re investing in all areas of our business to make sure that we are in a position to grow on all sides of the business — one side is not dictating the other or hampering the other,” he added.

Williams estimates that Jake’s Drinks makes up under 10% of the total business, and noted that this is unlikely to change. “Wine will always be the focus for the business,” he said. “Beer will always be part of our business, but we remain a winery.”

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