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When I was little it seemed totally normal to me that my grandparents lived on a vineyard.
Mum's job as a winemaker was also rather standard in my mind. I never considered the fact that there was less than a handful of female winemakers in the whole of the UK. It was just what she did, and the vineyard was where my brother and I went during the school holidays and for family get-togethers.
By the time I was 14, Mum was running Bolney as Managing Director as well as Head Winemaker. She was determined to grow the estate from her parents' small, non-commercial vineyard into a serious company, winning international awards for our wine and expanding to both trade and retail sales, plus tourism through vineyard tours and wine tastings and eventually creating a restaurant on-site as well.
In the English Wine industry some of us literally started from nothing, and that’s how it was at Bolney. For years we fought to keeping growing, with limited cash-flow and ploughing any profit straight back into the business. We were at the mercy of the weather each year and all the UK vineyards were competing to secure the same key trade deals and press coverage in an industry that still had so much to prove. Most people had not even considered the concept of English wine a few years ago!
When the business started, my grandparents had no idea how to make wine or how to grow grapes either. They made all the classic mistakes in the early days, but quickly learnt from them. In 1972 they bought four and half acres of farmland and planted Müller-Thurgau (a Germanic variety). They had no equipment back then, except an old 1950s tractor. They filled a sprayer (found abandoned in a hedge) with some weed killer and used that to start tending the land. Their first attempt at fertilising was a complete disaster - I always remember my Grandad telling me the story of how they used pig manure. Unfortunately, the pigs had been eating dock leaves, so he came back from a business trip one day to find a green sea of dock in the vineyard!
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