The Deeley family first planted vines at Godstone, Surrey in 1985 and enjoyed their first vintage in 1988. At the time, the 50 acre vineyard off the M25 was very much working in the viticulture wasteland, recalls Jonathan Deeley.
He says: “The simple fact is that back in 1985 we had a major problem with establishing credibility; the middle and upper echelons of British society had grown used to the idea of French wines being superior to almost any other wine on the planet, whilst many other consumers were fixated by buying wine as cheaply as possible.”
The fact that Godstone Vineyard is still producing wines over a quarter of a century later is testament to their hard work and the changing nature of the market for English wine, says Deeley.
He says: “Trying to get ourselves taken seriously was the biggest problem. I think there were two big game changers: firstly, the establishment of Denbies Vineyard in Dorking which took English vineyards to a different scale of production, introduced a contemporary marketing approach, and brought credibility to the industry. I think that all of us in English wine owe a debt of gratitude to Denbies.
“Secondly, within the last ten years it has once again become fashionable to buy local British food and drink, this was not always the case. For this I think we can thank farmers’ markets, awareness of food air miles, and skilful marketing.”
The wine producing business is complemented by a fishing lake and farm shop.
As well as its wine, sold exclusively cellar doors under the Godstone label, like many other growers, Deeley developed an ‘adopt a vine’ scheme to generate extra revenue and draw closer to the local community.
Deeley says: “Our ‘adopt-a-vine’ became so popular that we decide to limit the availability.
I would strongly recommend a similar scheme to anyone planting a vineyard in an area which is accessible to the general public, who doesn’t mind close involvement with the public, and wants to stimulate extra revenue.
There is very strong interest in these types of active participation schemes, especially from people living in urban areas wanting a bit of the ‘good life’.”
While Deeley is looking to the long-term developments in English wine, he is facing a disappointing harvest this year. He notes it is “too early to tell but the signs are not good – a virtual crop failure unfortunately”
In the long term, he is decidedly looking to boosting his sparkling wine production to match growing market demand.
He says: “I am gradually moving our vineyard towards increased sparkling wine production because the production costs are not that much greater, whilst the selling price can be at least double that of a still wine made from the same grape. I am aiming that by 2020 our sales will be 30% sparkling, 70% still (5%, 95% now).”
His interest in fizz comes from his wider interest in English wine, its future, its prospects, his place in it.
He says: “I am very positive about the future because there is a massive demand for the wine, so long as we continue striving to improve the quality. I wish that excise duty could be reduced because it is prohibitive given the small size of most English vineyards. If the government has no room for manoeuvre over excise duty then I think they should be offering financial assistance in other areas. The biggest challenge in my opinion is the financial one, we are a capital intensive business which requires very long-term planning and cash flow can be very unreliable.”