With a Twitter bio that reads “Living the dream!'“, Kirsty Smith’s infectious enthusiasm for making wine reflects the vivacity and vitality of the English Wine Industry. Since graduating from Plumpton, Kirsty has been working alongside Nick Hall, of Herbert Hall, to make complex, traditional method sparkling wines. Potentially one of the youngest Head Winemakers amongst all of the top UK wineries, her listings include Harrods, Fortnum&Mason, Lea & Sandeman, Le Caprice and 67 Pall Mall. Intrigued? We caught up with Kirsty in order to find out more about her journey into wine making and her career so far.
At which point did it become obvious that wine making was the route you were destined for? Was this always the plan?
It was more something I stumbled across and then fell in love with. My best friend’s Aunt studied the course at Plumpton, I remember her telling me all about the different elements of the course and I thought “oh that combines everything I’m passionate about – maths, chemistry, being outside, access to travel the world and of course wine.” I don't have an agricultural background and I’m pretty sure most of my friends thought I was nuts.
What brought you to Herbert Hall?
Peter Morgan (Ex Plumpton Wine Lecturer) asked me if I was available to help out a friend of his, Nick Hall, during the 2013 vintage. I turned up and was instantly made to feel welcome and valued. I only worked for Nick for a few days but I learnt a lot and loved the atmosphere. The following summer, I returned to do some vineyard work and over that time I managed to convince Nick to employ me. I instantly fell in love with the set up as we are a small winery (15,000 bottles a year), specialising in Sparkling wine and I get to do everything in the vineyard, winery and sales. No two days are the same. From a wine making perspective, I think it's the freedom that I love the most and that's something I’m extremely grateful to Nick for - for having the confidence in me to allow it.
Please describe the highest point of your career so far...
Winning the first Rising star competition (organised by Herbert Hall and open to all Plumpton College Students and winemakers). My prize was to be able to make 1,000 bottles of my own wine plus a beautiful vineyard Jacket designed by Timothy Everest. It still amazes me that someone could have that much faith in me so soon after leaving college and be so generous with that volume of wine. I created a Barrel fermented Blanc de Blanc but we were so happy with how it was developing that there is also a 2015 & 2016 currently lees ageing.
As part of an industry which has been historically male dominated, do you feel your gender has ever acted as a barrier to your success?
I’m aware that it does happen but so far in my career I am fortunate to not have experienced it. I’m very fortunate that Nick & Peter have supported and pushed me to excel from day one. Each time I’ve done vintages abroad, I’ve been very fortunate to work for some very inspirational women and I think that's given me a huge confidence boost.
To anyone looking to start a winemaking/viticultural career within the English Wine Industry - what are the two main pieces of advice you would give?
Do some work experience first – I have definitely worked alongside some people that had a very romantic vision of wine production that very quickly realised its not for them. Also its amazing how much information you absorb by just doing
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Which of your current wines are you most excited about?
Of course there’s the Blanc de Blanc by Kirsty Smith but in 2016 I also made a Blanc de Noirs. It was this amazing patch of fruit that came in from the vineyard, which was so alive with flavour and a beautiful backbone, that I decided to ferment it separately. We’ve bottled it as a limited edition of 500 bottles and I’m really excited to see how that turns out.
What were the last two truly memorable English wines (that weren’t your own) that you tasted?
The Langham Rose NV and the Gusbourne Brut Reserve 2010. Both are amazing examples of the brilliant quality of wine being produced in this country.
Instagram - @kirsty__smith_
Twitter - @kirsty1smith