Chris Haywood - Astley Vineyard
Vineyard: Astley Vineyard
Position: Sales & Wine manager
What inspired you to become a winemaker?
I’ve always had the urge to run my own business, and so when I finished my wine retail job in London, my family were discussing the purchase of this vineyard as a project we can all do together. For me, it satisfied the desire to do something for myself and do something interesting, and for my parents, it was an opportunity to see more of me and my wife (as we were living on opposite sides of the country), and for my dad to ‘retire’, but not stop working. All of the aspects of owning a vineyard just seemed to match our family’s aspirations perfectly!
Please describe your wine making journey so far…
I’ve always been hugely passionate about food and drink, but I actually came into this career later than a lot of people. We aren’t a family of generations of farmers or winemakers at all!
My first career aspiration was actually to be a musician and work in the music industry. I was always in bands, going to gigs and immersing myself in that world. Then when I went to university and the threat of needing to earn money loomed over me, I diversified into the business of music. I worked at a few record labels (where I met my wife) and then progressed into radio PR. Funnily enough, although I have changed industries, a lot of the skills I nurtured during this time have actually done me in good stead for the retail/wine industry (e.g. Social media, networking, written communication etc).
I eventually got sick and tired of music, and so the obvious next step for me was working in food and drink. I started by selling brownies at a market stall in London, and then quickly progressed to working at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. I started in their food department, but soon realised that I wanted to work in their wine shop. This is where I really flourished as it was a world that I had a palate and passion for, but not the technical knowledge. I had really great managers and was surrounded by an amazing selection of wine, so I drank up the knowledge (sorry) like I was a fish. The complexity of alcohol fascinated me, and so at the age of 25, I finally realised what I was meant to do in life.
Working in retail is a brutal career, and so when I decided that I had learnt enough and wanted to move on, the opportunity to own Astley Vineyard came up, so we took it with both hands! We’re now just 10 months into our journey here at the vineyard, and none of us could be any happier!
Describe your personal highlight of your career so far.
Picking out one single highlight is immensely hard as we have done so many things to be proud of in the last 10 months! We have completely re-branded our vineyard, launched our own website, given our cellar door a face lift (as well as secured funding for a brand new construction which will be open soon), introduced structured vineyard tours, organised wine tasting events, as well as all of our recent competition successes! A gold medal for our Vintage Sparkling Kerner 2014 at the recent IEWA awards was pretty humbling, as was being featured in the Guardian just the other day! It’s an exhausting life, but seeing customers appreciate and acknowledge these changes is immensely satisfying.
Can you think of a valuable piece of information/advice you wish you had been given prior to training?
You need to care deeply about what you’re doing. If you can think about your career as ‘not a job’, then you will work harder and better than anyone who resents their work. If you enjoy what you do and are happy to go the extra mile because you care about it, then both you and your business will do better. I’m lucky to live where I work, and although I’ve only had a handful of days off since moving here 10 months ago, I consider very little of my time here as 'work'.
Which of your current wines are you most excited about?
Our Old Vine Kerner 2015 is the obvious answer as it’s such a unique and unusual wine. Only a handful of producers grow Kerner in the UK, and not many of these decide to put such an emphasis on the grape variety as we do. Our vines are 46 years old, some of the oldest in the country, and the quality of wine they produce honestly surprises a lot people. It’s an exciting wine to watch as it evolves.
Having said that, our 2016 Bacchus has also been turning a lot of heads recently. The previous owner said it’s possibly the best Bacchus he’d ever made! Lovely elderflower and green apple flavours, with deliciously quaffable low alcohol. It’s certainly a contender for my favourite wine at the moment
What were the last two truly memorable English wines (that weren’t your own) that you tasted?
I absolutely adore sparkling wines and champagne, so when we went to the SWVA awards recently, I was blown away by Knightor’s Vintage Cuvee 2011. Such a rich and powerful wine. Delicious. In fact all of their wines are amazing. I really respect them as a producer.
Secondly, we went for a meal in Manchester recently where the sommelier paired the meal with a couple of Gusbourne wines. I forget the vintage unfortunately, but the still Pinot Noir was to die for. It had that beautiful, rustic, gamey flavour that you find in Burgundy, and it went amazingly with the English truffles we had. Amazing.
Decanter recently published an article which highlighted a shortage of young recruits into the English Wine industry - what would you say in order to convince young people in the UK into considering a career in wine making?
The world of wine is quite a daunting and uninviting place, and so I appreciate people’s hesitancy when it comes to wine. Things are changing however, and all it takes are a few passionate people to break the mould and make wine fun again.
There is a lot to learn about wine which I think is the biggest barrier to the industry, but it’s not insurmountable, and people considering the industry should try focusing on what exactly it is they need to learn for the job they’re going into. I got a distinction in the WSET Level 3, and was considering taking the diploma when I realised that I actually only really need to focus on cool climate white wines to benefit our vineyard in Worcestershire. I decided not to flood my brain with knowledge I wasn’t necessarily going to use; which I think was the right decision for me personally! Specialising in something helps a lot in the industry I feel.
And lets not forget that wine is amazing and interesting! The fact that two wine, made from the same grape, made in the same country, made by the same person, but grown in two different vineyards can taste different is astounding! Learning about, and drinking wine is a joy…that’s what life’s about!