Mike Wagstaff took a degree in engineering, but in 1988 he became involved with corporate finance when he joined the investment bank Schroeders. It was around this time that Bill Croxson and Philip Underwood were busy planting vines on a 0.5 ha site on Surrey's North Downs. They chose to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which was pretty radical for the time when many other English vineyards were populated with Germanic vines. Wine production was always a sideline to their main business which was a veterinary practise, but they achieved some success in selling out their annual production of ca. 6,000 bottle of still and sparkling Greyfriars wine each year.
Fast forward twenty years and Mike Wagstaff is heading up the UK oil and gas company, Venture Production. When Centrica took over the company, he suddenly found himself with time on his hands and money in the bank. So he did what many wine lovers dream of doing. Together with his wife Hilary he purchased the Greyfriars vineyard together with the adjoining land and buildings.
That was in late 2010 and it's been a busy time on the Greyfriars Estate since then. Firstly, the Wagstaffs had to put together their vineyard/winery team and for this they recruited David Line and Hans Schleifer. Line studied viticulture at Plumpton College, though for some he will be better known as the lead singer/songwriter with Seafood or as a London bar manager. Schleifer on the other hand has very extensive vineyard and winemaking experience and is a former production manager at Denbies wine estate. So you could say that the team is a mix of enthusiasm, experience and creativity coupled with a hard-nosed finance/business sense. Many English wineries have a far less balanced profile than that.
With an ambition to produce 100,000 bottles per annum of quality English wine by 2020, there's been quite a bit of activity in the vineyard. New plantings have taken place each Spring since 2011 and by 2014 had reached to ca, 16 ha on four separate sites. Most of the new ca. 60,000 vines are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinor Munier though there are also a small number of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc vines.
The first wine released under the new management was the Greyfriars Sparkling Rosé 2011 which appeared in September 2013. This was awarded Bronze medals at the Decanter WWA and IWSC in 2014 and a Silver medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards 2014. The Greyfriars Sparkling Rosé 2012 was released in May 2014 together with their Blanc de Blancs 2011. They also released still Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines, while a highly unusual sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is promised for 2015.
These are still early days to make judgements on the new Greyfriars Vineyard, but it is clear that it has drive, ambition and a propensity for taking calculated risks. There seems to be plenty of enthusiasm, but will they be able to enhance wine quality while at the same time increasing volumes? We should know the answer to that in a few years time.
(Images © Greyfriars Vineyard)
The Hog's Back
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Greyfriars Blanc de Blancs
Greyfriars Sparkling Rosé
(Greyfriars Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc)
Greyfriars Sauvignon Blanc
Greyfriars Pinot Noir