2018. What a year.
It’s amazing to think that our family are just 19 months into the story here at the vineyard. With that comes a great deal of news and progress, so to cover all of the various achievements and plans thus far, each of our family have written a summary of the year.
Today, Chris summarises his 2018.
2018 was both the most amazing, the hardest, and the most satisfying year of my life. Having shifted from working for somebody else, to choosing our own path and being our own bosses, the change has been immense!
I would just like to start very quickly with a thank you to all of the individuals and businesses who have helped us get our feet off the ground this year. From the locals (and not so locals) who have bought wine from our shop, to the restaurants and wine shops who help spread our name, the wine writers who have kindly supported us, and individuals who have helped us in all sorts of odd, unexpected ways. Thank you.
Branding & visitor experience
The year began with the finishing of our rebranding. I hate to sound like I preach marketing over everything else, but having acquired an established business with plenty of stock and an established reputation, our appearance was one of the only things we could change quickly and significantly. I am so proud of what we and our designers WeAreBeard have achieved. From the simple but effective logo, to the sheer beauty and intricacy of the label illustrations, I think how we display ourselves accurately reflects our boutique size, our quality product, and our personal attachment to all elements of the business. In 2019, we have more labels to design, some to tweak, and work to do on our website. It’s never ending! (I do love it though)
This overhaul of our appearance also carries across to our brand new cellar door shop that was finished in July 2018 (the exact date of our anniversary in fact). We had a lovely opening event where we met lots of new people from our surrounding communities, plus some that have known us since the vinyeard's conception! We needed a venue that felt as nice as the products we were selling, and I think we finally now have that. It’s also been fun to see how other people have asked to use our new building. It’s been a gradual start, but we have hosted private dinners for groups of friends, used it as a meeting space for local businesses, as well as as a venue for our own wine tasting evenings. It’s certainly something we are going to think more about in the years ahead.
Vineyard tours & events
Vineyard tours and events were, I suppose, the next most important and time consuming activity of my year. We were flooded with tours over the spring, summer and autumn - far more than we could have hoped for in our first real vintage. In total, we welcomed 375 people over the 7 months. Some groups were as small as two, and some were as large 25. Some were stag and hen parties, some were corporate away-days, and others were romantic celebrations for couples. Seeing everyone’s faces as we tell our story and show them the vineyard fuels our passion no-end. In fact sharing the story of our vineyard and sharing our knowledge of wine might be the single most enjoyable job I do here at Astley!
Introducing other wine tasting events has also been a very enjoyable part of my year. Almost focused solely on other producers’ wines, we have held tastings of sparkling wines, English wines, dessert wines, wine & food pairing events, and even our rather significant wine pairing dinner on the vineyard back in March! Our vision is to become more than just a producer, and more of a hub for wine lovers in general in our region. We will soon be announcing more events, so let us know if there’s anything you would like to see us do!
Winery & winemaking
Next up, our brand new winery has obviously been a rather significant development! Having never made wine before (aside from a winemaking course at Plumpton), the decision to build a winery stemmed from our long term vision to be 100% single estate, and personally oversee everything our vineyard offers. The construction was a gruelling task to organise (thanks to LEADER funding and Simon Day for all of their support), but hopefully we will see some great results with the 2018 vintage. In the winery, this meant picking our varieties in much smaller parcels (1 tonne, rather than 2 tonnes), and then treating them differently in order to obtain more ‘ingredients’ to blend with. Our crisp, zesty, first pick of Bacchus is noticeably different from the rich, fruity second pick for example.
Along with this, some of you may have seen our (/my) interest in natural wines and winemaking. Although I doubt it will ever be a main focus for our vineyard, I am very keen to investigate this style of wine, production, and mentality. Not only do some of the wines taste great, but the attitude towards the treatment of the environment is absolutely admirable. This year, for example, we left 200 litres of Madeleine Angevine to ferment naturally (no yeast inoculation), we experimented with a skin contact, wild ferment Kerner (which was also picked very late by our standards), and are taking the approach of slightly lower SO2 levels in general. We’re not brave enough to go “all-in” on some of these practices just yet, but you have to start somewhere!
And finally, of course, the wines. We have been blessed with some amazing releases since moving to the vineyard. Not all by our doing, of course, as we are still selling some wines that Jonty (the business's previous owner) made. From our fabulous Vintage Sparkling Kerner 2014 which sold out in early Summer, our zesty Bacchus 2016 which sold out this winter, and our rich, unique Old Vine Kerner 2015 which sold out even more recently, Jonty sure did have a great palate for wine. In December, we also released our rather exciting Late Harvest 2017 which proved to be a massive hit this Winter (which we did have a bit of say over).
In terms of numbers, we sold (including sampling) 5707 bottles; which equates to 61% of our average annual production. Furthermore, approximately 70% of these sales were sold directly from our cellar door which we are really pleased with!
In the lead up to Summer, we expect to sell out of our current vintages of Severn Vale, Madeleine Angevine and Sabrinna, with direct replacements ready for the first two. For Sabrinna, the 2018 vintage will have to come in to play, so we will see what happens there. It’s potentially very exciting!
So that's a good start to explaining our 2018! There’s still a huge amount more to speak about, but that’s when the rest of our family come in. So for now, I bid you adieu, and would like to thank you all once again for your support, your interest, and your attention.
See you this year.