Talking About the Business of Wine
Martin and Amanda Millington run Wroxeter Roman Vineyard, a family business based near the ruins of the Roman city of Wroxeter, which is a few miles from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK.
Wroxeter Roman Vineyard has eight and a half acres of vines that produce a range of still white and red wines, rosés, a medium-bodied sparkling wine (when the grape harvest is exceptional) and a duo of ciders, one dry, the other medium dry.
In the show Martin and Amanda talk about their income streams, which include their own on-site vineyard shop, an off-site seasonal pop-up wine shop and tours of their vineyard. Often described as ‘wine tourism’, offering vineyard tours is expected to play a larger role in the UK and Welsh wine industry.
Martin tells the story of how and why he introduced cider into his product range. He also talks about what it was like to be mentored by the late Gillian Pearkes, the pioneering English viticulturist. Finally, Martin gives his thoughts on how the rise and rise of English sparkling wine might impact the UK wine industry.
Listen Now to the Episode with Wroxeter Roman Vineyard
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If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #014: Wroxeter Roman Vineyard: Vineyard Tours, Pop-Up Shop and Having a Mentor. You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
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Key Points from the Show
- The benefits of investing in a business mentor include gaining expertise, experience, support and a fresh perspective that can give you a vantage point for your business. You won’t necessarily have to pay for a mentor; there are Government mentoring schemes available and many mentors are volunteers. It’s worth checking out mentorsme.co.uk, the UK’s first online gateway for businesses looking for mentors.
- The pop-up shop buzz continues. Though they might seem like the latest cool thing, they’ve been around for some time and Wroxeter Roman Vineyard was one of the pop-up pioneers in the UK. Here are some tips from Sage for setting up a pop-up.
- Offering customers the opportunity to see how and where you make your products, for example, by offering vineyard tours if your are a winemaker, is another opportunity to communicate your brand message and to increase your revenue.
- As Martin pointed out on the show, there’s no point in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. In the context of winemaking, this means looking after the vines so they will look after you. Quality first, in other words. Isn’t this what an artisan business is all about?
Very Sound Bites from Martin and Amanda Millington
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Martin during the show.
Thanks to Martin and Amanda for generously giving their time to come on the show to talk about their vineyard. To connect with Wroxeter Roman Vineyard online and to find out where you can buy their wines, ciders and vineyard tours check out the Links and Resources section next.
Links/Resources Mentioned in the Show
- Wroxeter Roman Vineyard website.
- Wroxeter Roman Vineyard tours of the vineyard.
- Buy Wroxeter Roman Vineyard wines online.
- Wroxeter Roman Vineyard on Twitter
- Wroxeter Roman vineyard on Facebook
- Wroxeter Roman City
- Books written by Gillian Pearkes
- English Wine Producers website
- Tanner’s Wine Merchants, an independent Shrewsbury business established in 1842.
- Ironbridge Gorge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution
- Oliver’s Cider and Perry, an internationally acclaimed cider and perry business based in Herefordshire
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Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello. Welcome to The Artisan Food and Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host Catherine Moran.
My guests on today’s show are Amanda and Martin Millington from Wroxeter Roman Vineyard in Shropshire, England. The vineyard was planted on eight and a half acres of land adjacent to the remains of the Roman city of Wroxeter.
Martin is the resident winemaker, and Amanda takes care of all other aspects of the business. But the Millingtons don’t just make wine. They also run tours of the vineyard and have a popup shop in the nearby town of Shrewsbury. This means that they have another couple of strings to their business bow. So here, now, is my conversation with Martin and Amanda.
I’m sitting next to Martin and Amanda Millington, a husband-and-wife team who run the family business, Wroxeter Roman Vineyard. Welcome to The Artisan Food and Drink Business Show, Martin and Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you.
Catherine: Wroxeter is a small village in Shropshire, England, and it’s on the site of the Roman city Viroconium. Did I get that pronunciation right?
Martin: Well, some people say Viroconium, some people say Uroconium. We just say Wroxeter.
Catherine: Wroxeter, that sounds pretty good to me. On the assumption that the Romans grew vines and made wine here about 2,000 years ago, it’s fair to say that Wroxeter Roman Vineyard is simply keeping up an ancient tradition. Martin, could you give me a little background about why your family decided to go into winemaking?
Martin: Basically, my father was an agrochemist, agronomist. As such, he was going around various parts of Shropshire. We always used to joke to him, saying that he was farming at least two-thirds of Shropshire, albeit from the car.
He used to be able to tell what was the matter with a field of corn from 100 yards. And once he had worked out what was the matter with that corn, he’d then go and see the farmer and try his best to a chemical to the farmer. With all that going on, of course, the chemical companies used to try and incentivise chemicals being sold. As such, my mother and father were fortunate enough to be taken on a symposium to California.
Whilst in California, they were taken out to a vineyard, to see a great big old white mansion, if you will. My father looked at this big old white mansion, and suddenly thought, ‘well hang on, I’ve got a wall down the road from me that is 2,000 years old that the Romans left here. I wonder if there’s anything I can put on my plot of land that will compliment the fact that Romans were here?’
As he was thinking that, as I say, he was at this vineyard, he was able to go and talk to the vineyard owner, and effectively the seed was sown. When he came back into this country, again he did the right business to get the soils tested here, he put the feelers out for somebody to come and give us a hand putting the vineyard in.
Everybody thought that the next vehicle around the corner was going to be the padded van, but it turned out that effectively, you could turn around and say that he was, I suppose, one of the pioneers in the resurgence for winegrowing in this country. I’m just very grateful that my wife and I are in the position to forward that on.
Catherine: It’s very much a growing thing, English wine and wines made in England and Wales.
Martin: Yes. There is this definition. A lot of people will turn around and say it’s nice to have British wine in a British vineyard. There is the nub. English wine is what is grown in English vineyards; Welsh wine is what is grown in Welsh vineyards. If I’m making wine for a Welsh vineyard, the grapes themselves have to have a passport to come here for me to make the wine. British wine however, is wine that’s effectively tanker-ed in from abroad, taken to a point, bottled, labelled, and sent out to the various shops. Because the process of being bottled and labelled in this country is taking place, it is classed as British wine.
Catherine: Right, so really, the two products are worlds apart?
Martin: Oh, they’re completely different.
Catherine: There’s no comparison.
Martin: One’s home-grown, and one is brought in from overseas.
Catherine: I understand, as well, that a lot of the time, what’s brought in, and what can be only be called British wine is often just concentrated grape juice.
Martin: It’s a concentrated wine. It’s the wine itself in bulk.
Catherine: Right, okay.
Martin: As such, it comes several tens of thousands of litres at a time in a big bulk container. It’s literally drawn off the container, put into the bottle, and that’s classed as British wine.
Catherine: How do the two of you divide up your responsibilities? The two of you are the face of the vineyard.
Amanda: No, I’m the boss.
Catherine: You’re the boss? Good, excellent to hear that.
Amanda: I run the business. No, I do all inside, and Martin does all outside.
Martin: Yes, my strength is not necessarily anything to do with any paperwork. I’ll be fair.
Catherine: Does that mean you’ve got more attention to detail, perhaps, Amanda?
Amanda: More patience, yes.
Catherine: More patience, yes.
Martin: Yeah, the vines themselves don’t shout back. However, they do have their moments.
Catherine: In terms of the products, the reds, the whites, what do you make?
Martin: We make basically the spectrum, don’t we? We’ve got the whites themselves. We have varietal wines, which are basically the dry wines. Then we start blending wines, adding sweet reserve, i.e. grape juice to sweeten the wine back. We’ve got a range from dry to sweet in the whites. The reds themselves, again, we’ve got three different types, four different types of red on the shelf. We also make rosés and sparkling wines as well.
Catherine: Right. How many sparklings do you have?
Martin: At the moment, we …
Amanda: Have sold out.
Martin: Which is nice to know.
Catherine: Gosh. You’ve sold out?
Catherine: For this season?
Martin: No. What you do is, because the person that helped us put the vineyard in, she was basically the world authority in vines. If she didn’t know it, it quite literally wasn’t worth knowing. Her name was Gillian Pearkes. Unfortunately, she’s no longer with us. Gillian picked the best varieties she knew of at the time. We’re talking 23 years ago. I was trying to explain this to a customer; the vineyard itself was designed for quality, still wine. As such, when we make a sparkling wine, we only make a sparkling wine on the year so we have got enough to take off the top, if you see what I mean. If you have a very, very good quantity year, you’ve got a bit of slack in the system, which means you take some off the top to be made into sparkling wine.
It’s nice to sell the sparkling, and the sparkling is a nice wine, but we don’t necessarily jump up and down and push it. It very quietly coasts along. As such, it’s just a couple of years’ gap in the middle where you didn’t have the quantity that you would have liked for the still wine, let alone the sparkling. It means that you cannot take from that year. It’s just unfortunate the way the years have fallen, that at the moment, we have none on the shelf. However, we will be having some on the shelf next April-May.
Catherine: From …
Martin: From the 2013 crop.
Catherine: I was reading, actually, talking about sparkling wine, on the English Wine Producers’ website, that by 2015, English sparkling wine sales will equate to more than 70 per cent of the imports of Australian sparkling wine, which suggests an awful lot of interest out there, and a nice bit of room for growth in that particular style of wine.
Martin: A lot of people have gone into sparkling wines. The problem is that, to my mind, the market is going to be flooded with English sparkling. That’s not to say it’s going to be very good quality, but it’s all got to find a place to go. A lot of new vineyards have been planted in the mind of making sparkling wine, but they’ve overlooked, almost, the still wine market.
Catherine: In favour or the bubbles.
Martin: In favour of the sparkling. I think if you’re not careful, you’ve got to be careful as you go do this, but they are almost looking at the money rather than the product.
I was always told by Gillian not to look at the money side of it, look at the product side. She said, ‘if you can make a good product, a good product will allways sell itself’. You haven’t got to spend time, money and effort in advertising it, because it will very quietly create its own customers. She was absolutely bang on the money.
Catherine: Talking about selling products, could we talk a little bit about your revenue streams? We’re actually sitting in your lovely vineyard shop, so you will have sales from here. Do you have things like trade sales to hotels, restaurants, pubs…
Martin: This one, I’ll leave …
Amanda: We supply local delis and local farm shops, and we supply wine merchants.
Catherine: Oh, wine merchants too?
Catherine: Okay, so the likes of, say, Tanners?
Catherine: They are based in Shrewsbury?
Amanda: Yes, Shrewsbury.
Catherine: A very old business.
Catherine: Of course, you’re online as well?
Amanda: We’ve got an online shop, yes.
Martin: It’s not the biggest and the best, but it works …
Amanda: It works.
Martin: … very quietly.
Catherine: What do you think is your most important stream in terms of sales?
Amanda: It is the shop sales. It does most of the sales. Then we open a Christmas shop in Shrewsbury as well.
Catherine: Oh, yes. You’ve actually opened that at the moment, haven’t you?
Amanda: No, we open it …
Martin: Two weeks’ time.
Amanda: Fifth of November, we get the keys.
Catherine: That’s to capture, I suppose, the gift market?
Amanda: People would miss us if we weren’t there, because it’s just been tradition. We’ve been a pop-up shop for quite some time.
Martin: Even in the summer, the security guards have been talking. They’re asking ‘where is the shop going to be this year?’ because we’re already being asked. You could say that we were, in fact, one of the forerunners to the pop-up shops as well. We led the way that way. It was just something my father decided to do years ago. Instead of spending the money trying to advertise for people to come here to buy the product, it was just easier and just as cheap to go to the people.
Catherine: Absolutely. I like that idea, taking it out to where the people are.
Martin: People are going to town to go shopping anyway. For that instance, we might as well… and the fact that we’re doing it, it’s not at present set forth for the 12 months. We’re still a specialist shop.
Catherine: Sure. You don’t have that commitment and that overhead for 12 months.
Martin: It’s expensive enough!
Amanda: Oh yeah, they keep asking us to stay, but we need to come back here, to be honest. Yeah, just the eight weeks, we have the shop for eight weeks.
Martin: You see, at the end of the day, we’re only a band of four people, and we’re only eight and a half acres. If you have vineyards, they have the potential to put a lot of employment into the countryside if they’re worked that way.
Catherine: I think you started out with six acres, but you’ve just mentioned…
Martin: We planted originally 7 and a half. We put another acre in about 10 years ago. We haven’t got a lot more land to go at. Then again, I wouldn’t want to move particularly, because at the end of the day, the draw is for the customer if for the fact that we are what we are, and the Roman city is what it is, and as such we go together very well.
Catherine: It’s the whole point of you being here, isn’t it?
Martin: It’s the whole ethos, yeah.
Catherine: You recently moved into cider making, a very interesting step to take. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Martin: It’s quite a strange thing. We had finished picking the one year. The harvest wasn’t as big as it sometimes is. I had a couple of vats sitting doing nothing. Of course, I’ve got the pipe-work. I’ve got the pumps. I’m working with the yeast. I was just chatting away to a friend of mine. He turned and said, ‘Have you ever considered making a cider?’ which to somebody standing outside the box, if you will, was a bit of a no-brainer. But because it was so close to what we’re doing anyway, you don’t see the forest through the trees, if you will. About three or four days later, I went to an event in the Ironbridge Gorge, which is the ‘Apple Day’. Once they had finished the day. They’ve got this big pile of apples left.
I just said to him, ‘Mike, what are you doing with those apples?’ He said, ‘We’re finished with them. We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with them.’ I said, ‘Can I have them?’
Catherine: This was quite a few apples?
Martin: Yeah. I’ve got a 12-foot trailer, and it filled the 12-foot trailer, a big mound in the middle. He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, help yourself’. I went the next morning with a trailer, and we literally put this pile off the floor, onto the trailer, brought it back here.
I remember coming around the corner. Parked up and got out. My dad looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do with them?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to crush them. We’re going to make some juice out of them, make a bit of cider’. ‘What with?’
I said, ‘I’ve got the tanks. I’ve got the pumps’. He said, ‘Yeah, you can use the press there for getting the juice out, but you can’t put whole apples in the press’. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a bit of a problem then’. He said, ‘Well yeah, you’ve got to get rid of those apples’.
So that was a Sunday. On the Monday morning, we had to look at various bits of machinery that our vineyard suppliers do. They had a machine that chumbled up the apples and mashed the apples up, chipped the apples up. I paid for that on the Monday morning. By dinnertime Tuesday evening, all the juice was in the vat bubbling away. It just sat very nice and neatly into physically what we were doing.
Catherine: You’re going to continue making ciders every year, do you think?
Martin: Yes. Some years, I’m out there more getting more apples than others because of the vat space that we have depending on what the crop is for the vineyard itself. Obviously, first and foremost, we’re making the wine rather than the cider, but the cider does seem to have its own little bit of a following.
Catherine: Yes, I think there’s quite a revival. I was talking to Tom Oliver in Herefordshire from Oliver’s Cider and Perry. It does seem that things are really moving in the…
Martin: We naturally, in this country like fruity things.
Catherine: Yeah. One of the things you offer is vineyard tours. I know that people give vouchers as gifts a lot for a tour of your vineyard. If someone gave one to me for a tour of your vineyard, what could I expect?
Amanda: A good day.
Catherine: A good day out.
Martin: We are a family. We’re a family business. While you are here, you are part of the family. We just try and have a good time. What I try and do is try and get everybody a nice relaxing day out, morning out, evening out, whatever. If I sell a bottle of wine at the end of it, it’s my bonus, but the point is, I try and make it that everybody enjoys themselves and if you learn something along the way — fantastic.
Catherine: You will actually take people into the vines?
Martin: Up around the vines, yes. Depending on what time of the year you come will depend on what you see. The problem is, a lot of people don’t understand the link between what you see as a bunch of grapes and what you see as a bottle of wine. A lot of people say, ‘How many harvests do you have a year?’ The answer is one. That is very much weather-dependant. Depending on what time of the year you come is depending on what you see on the vine itself.
Catherine: Yes, of course.
Martin: At the beginning of the season, you’re lucky if you see about two or three leaves on the vine. By the time you get towards the end of the season, you’ve got the fruit coming on the vine. In fact, actually, the last tours we had this year were just after we physically had physically picked. We had to leave some grapes on the vine for people to look at. Then after the last tour had taken place, I went through and picked them. I actually got to pick some this year, which was nice.
Amanda: Only a few. I did the rest.
Martin: Well, you and some helpers. Yes, we do, do a lot of tours. The tours themselves physically wouldn’t take place without Amanda doing a lot of the food and the work behind the scenes, to be fair, because she books everybody in.
Catherine: Of course, details of the tours are on your website.
Amanda: On our website, yes.
Catherine: If people phone up, they probably speak to you?
Amanda: They do. They speak to me or Allie, and we get them booked here.
Catherine: Yes, that sounds great. Just a quick word on your marketing of your business. Clearly, you’ve got a web presence. You’ve got an online store. You’re on Twitter. You’re on Facebook. You obviously believe in the importance of marketing.
Amanda: I don’t go on there as much as we should. I have a fircle now and again to be quite honest, but we should do more, yes.
Martin: We do have Facebook accounts, and Twitter accounts and so on, but to be fair, as my wife says, ‘Have a bit of a fircle every so often’, just to keep us out there. We don’t necessarily use it to possibly the full effect that you can have nowadays.
Amanda: We don’t have the time.
Martin: We don’t have the time, that’s true.
Catherine: It is a time investment definitely. So, having spoken about marketing, what about your distribution? You’ve got a relatively heavy product per unit. A bottle of wine is relatively heavy. And I suppose it’s relatively fragile. Although, I do remember once dropping a bottle of wine from a fairly decent height, and it bounced.
Amanda: It bounced back.
Catherine: I was very relieved, because it was a very good red.
Catherine: What is distribution like for you as wine and cider makers, well mostly winemakers? Is it a headache?
Amanda: To be honest, we’ve got a good courier to be quite honest, very local, good courier. If it’s the wine merchants and that, we deliver ourselves. On the online ordering, it goes through the courier service, which is next-day delivery, which is really good, to be quite honest.
Catherine: That’s throughout the UK?
Martin: The other thing is, when we’re doing the tours, and the customers come around the corner, if you think about it, they like the idea of the fact that if they buy a bottle of wine, and they take it down the road, the furthest that wine will have travelled is when they get about 100 yards down that road, quite literally, because the grapes themselves have travelled no more than 100 yards to get into the press itself into the winery. So, from that point on, from sitting in the vat, to being put in the bottle, I reckon that wine moves about 20 yards.
Catherine: We’re not even talking air miles, or miles. It’s yards.
Martin: No, and that’s what people like.
Catherine: Of course, yes.
Martin: They like the idea of the fact that the furthest that wine has travelled is where they’re going to take it.
Catherine: On that note, I’ve got one last question for you, which is: When you started out all those years ago, if you knew then what you know now about being a winemaker, what would you have done differently?
Martin: If I knew then what I know now, I would probably be an awful lot better off than we physically are, insomuch that when we started, I’ll be blunt, I didn’t know anything about the vine. I have learned about the vine through the school of hard knocks, and I have grown up with the vine.
There’s a lot of people out there that are making an awful lot of money in helping put vineyards in, portraying that they know an awful lot about the grape. They might know an awful lot about the grape on the vine on paper, but they don’t necessarily know anything about the vine in the ground. And on paper, and in the ground are two completely different things.
Even if you go down the road 30 miles, that vine will do completely different things to what it will do here. So, I would be able to give people better advice, more advice if I knew then what I know now. As such, I could make a bit of money trying to help other people putting vineyards in. But, on the big scheme of things, no I wouldn’t change anything.
We were very fortunate to have met Gillian when she helped us put the vineyard in. Very early on, she gave us some home truths about what the vine is, how to look after the vine and so on. One day, I was starting the shop here. We hadn’t gotten anything back yet. At that point, all our grapes were going to another vineyard to be made to come back as wine.
And I said, ‘I can’t wait to get our wine back on the shelf’. She said, ‘No, hold your horses’. She said, ‘You’ve got to remember this. Yes, it’s nice to have the wine one the shelf to be able to sell, but if you look at it from the point of view of having the wine on the shelf, you’re going to try to get as much as you possibly can out of those vines’.
I said, ‘Well, isn’t this a little bit of what it’s all about?’ She said, ‘No. She said, ‘Look, if you go out there, and look after those vines, and tend those vines, the vines will look after you.’ She said, ‘If you’re looking at it from the point of view of getting as much on the shelf as you possibly can, you’re not going to look after the vines to the best of your ability, insomuch as if there’s a sick vine, you’re going to strain it.’ When I’m talking to the groups, I find it is my privilege to forward that knowledge, if you will.
Catherine: I know she gave a lot good help to a lot of English and Welsh winemakers.
Martin: Yeah, I think, if I remember rightly, we were the last vineyard she helped plant before she passed.
Catherine: There’s some good advice in there, actually, as well for people considering taking the plunge. I think that pretty much wraps it up. So, thank you both very much for your time.
Martin: It’s been a pleasure.
Amanda: Thank you.
Catherine: The notes associated with the show, I will put links to your website and everything, so people can get in touch, and taste your wines to see what you’re all about.
Martin: Yeah, if anybody has any questions, we’ll try our best to answer them.
Catherine: Thank you very much Martin. Thank you Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you.
Catherine: Thank you very much Martin and Amanda, for welcoming me into your vineyard shop, and for taking the time to come on the show and talk about your business.
You can visit Wroxeter Roman Vineyard website at www.wroxetervineyard.co.uk. And if you’d like to get a free transcript of this episode, just go to www.myartisanbusiness.com. You can also get in touch with me via the contact form on that website. Alternatively, why not follow me on Twitter. I’m on there as @FoodDrinkShow.
That’s it for this episode folks. I’m Catherine Moran from the Artisan Food and Drink Business Show. Until next time, happy cooking, happy fermenting, happy brewing, and thanks for listening.
You can listen to the podcast episode with Martin and Amanda at myartisanbusiness.com/podcast.