I’m pretty lucky to have some phenomenal female role models in my life right now and also when I was growing up. I’m really excited to introduce you to one lady who, we recently worked out, I’ve known for 21 years! Sam Linter is the Wine Lover in charge at Bolney Wine Estate, as the MD and winemaker. The vineyard has been going from strength to strength and has just returned from the UK Wine Awards with an armful of top prizes including ‘Winery of the Year’.
Following on from my mini profile of the Vineyard, I recently had the joy of sitting down with Sam to chat about wine making and catch up over each other’s news. In light of all the many recent awards, I asked Sam what has made Bolney’s way of working, and growing, so successful;
“We strived to be one of the best English wine producers and have never shied away from the more challenging grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir. We’ve also done a huge amount of experimentation over the past forty-four years. We were one of the pioneers in English Wine, setting the trends and making the mistakes early on so others didn’t have to!
I’ve also always listened to my team and tried to create an enjoyable working environment. Never take your staff for granted- they all bring their unique skills and ideas to the business. The other secret to our success is commitment. This is a hard industry to survive in and requires a huge amount of investment before you start seeing payback for your hard work. No one should come into English wine looking to make quick and easy money.”
One of the most unique things about Bolney is that it not only produces an excellent glass of bubbles but has truly delicious still wines including a particularly excellent Pinot Noir – something which, for an English wine producer, is still fairly rare. So how has Sam’s red wine evolved and why is it head and shoulders above the rest?
“We mainly focus on Pinot Noir, which makes a superior English red and our Sandstone soils are perfect for this variety. We spent years developing this wine and were one of the first English Vineyards to make a red wine. We discovered how to best manage the grapes, what varieties work for us and we have a ‘hands on’ technique, treating the grapes gently throughout the process.”
English Wine producers have spent a number of years building up their reputation and proving themselves on the international stage yet if you pop into your local supermarket, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bottle of English wine on the shelves. Even our local Waitrose can’t help us out with a bottle of Bolney, so why is that?
“It’s an issue with the amount of English Wine available. Small producers quite simply don’t have the volume required for the larger retailers and larger producers struggle to keep up with the demand. We run out of product quickly each year. I think the public are well-informed these days that English Wine is now a quality and award-winning product that is well worth trying. It’s a growing market but lack of available stock makes it very hard to keep up with demand for the product and hang on to precious listings.”
As someone who loves to champion ‘homegrown’ and local retailers, it frustrates me that so many English wine producers are seemingly looked over when it comes to listings at major events or moments in history, Bolney’s Pinot Gris was the first English wine to be served at Wimbledon in 2015 so I asked Sam why she thought that ‘we’ are slow to include more English wines at events like this?
“Again, it comes down to both the availability of English wines in the early years and the massive competition from other wine-producing countries. Many established wine brands abroad have huge marketing and sponsorship budgets and so sponsor events like this. The English Wine industry is just too young to have the funds to compete.”
With all this in mind as well as the need to grow, develop and innovate, what is next for Bolney?
“Export is something we are focusing heavily on the moment, including exporting to America and Japan. We also have some new products in the works- I can’t give away all of our plans, but there will be a Classic Cuvée!”
To anyone who knows me, they know that Gin features high on my list of ‘loves’, so you can imagine the squeals of excitement when Bolney announced they were launching their first Gin – ‘Foxhole Gin’ – made from the distillation of marc which is the waste product after the first press of the wine grapes, previously around a third of the lovely grape juice ended up being composted but now it goes back for a second press and becomes part of the gin-making process. Bolney’s ethos seems to be all about responsibility to its environment and community, something which really resonates with me and knowing the Linters, something that is entirely unsurprising. Foxhole Gin came about as a way of minimising some of the waste and getting something truly excellent in return, the gin recently won three Silver awards in the IWSC 2017 competition, pretty good for a new entrant into the Gin world.
So Bolney are clearly excellent – good wine, beautiful bubbles and now a damn good gin too – so clearly they have excellent leadership and a clear vision for where the Estate is going. Sam has been the winemaker and MD for over 20 years, having taken over from her parents in the 1990s. I’ve known Sam for nearly all of that time and know how much blood, sweat and tears has been poured into her work but how did it all start? Why Wine?
“It started with me wanting to move on from my job as a hairdressing trainer. I had always loved creating things and working with my hands (I really enjoyed woodwork in school, but at the time girls were not encouraged in this subject) and I also had a passion for good food and drink. My parents asked me to come and help in the family business (that I grew up surrounded by) and once I started working there my passion for the industry grew and I also studied for a diploma at Plumpton College in Sussex. Winemaking appealed to my interests in produce, farming, science and was a job that was ‘hands on’ and very challenging!”
From just spending a little bit of time at the estate, it is clear that Sam is loved by her team and she exudes enthusiasm for her work – she now has a winemaker looking after the winery and so doesn’t spend as much time hands on as she used to whilst she focuses on growing the business, something that Sam says is taking a bit of getting used to.
I wanted to know whether Sam has met any resistance as a female head winemaker and leader of a thriving wine estate and if there was anything she wished she had known;
“In the early days it was very much a male-dominated industry, which had its challenges. However, there was a huge support for females coming in and as one of the first female winemakers in England I benefited hugely from that. I wish I had known lots of things! There are so many aspects of running this business that I would tell my younger self to do differently now I have put in the years of hard work and gained experience.”
It is hard not to feel completely inspired when sat with Sam, this is a lady who has known me personally and influenced me enormously growing up but that hasn’t stopped – her love for what she does is infectious and it’s clear to see her passion drives her successful leadership of Bolney Wine Estate. I’m practically signing up at Plumpton College!
It’s refreshing to hear that the wine industry is balancing out and that there are more and more opportunities for women, clearly Sam has been a trailblazer in this which has left many new winemakers inspired and encouraged.
The careful investment at Bolney has turned it into not just a world-class winery but also a destination for wine lovers, there is a lovely new cafe with far-reaching views across the vines, definitely somewhere easy to while away your afternoon! Sam’s favourite time of year at the Estate is May; “We experience budburst and you get to see all the baby leaves starting to grow. It is such an exciting time- you can see the potential of the crop.” If you find yourself in the area, pop in and grab some lunch, you won’t be disappointed.
I’m excited to continue following the Bolney Wine Estate story (and drinking their wine). In the meantime, I had one final question for Sam – if you could only drink one wine, which would you pick?
“If I could only drink one wine it would be our Bolney Pinot Noir”
You can find out more about Bolney by visiting their website and checking out their wines.
If you’d like to visit Bolney then they are running an offer on their brilliant tours at the moment especially for you:
They can book these online (the terms and conditions below will apply).
The Terms and Conditions are as follows:
To comply with the discount, tour must be booked and attended by the 30th September 2017.
If less than 7 days notice is given to change a booked date, a £15 fee will be charged.
Tours subject to availability.
Codes cannot be used against voucher purchases, applies to buy and book only.
I only feature products or companies on my Blog that I would personally use and recommend to my readers. All reviews, words and opinions are my own and posted with no obligation to the collaborating brand.