Interview with Cara-Lee, Winery Productions and Operations Manager

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This week, we’ve spent some time in the winery to catch up with our Winery Product and Operations Manager, Cara-Lee.

Can you introduce yourself and your estate for our readers? 


Cara-Lee Dely – Winery Productions and Operations Manager

Having grown up in South Africa, I diverted my childhood dream of being a helicopter pilot into winemaking. This newfound passion meant that I would have to learn from work experience and mentoring rather than from textbooks. Over the following ten years I developed my career, with the majority of that time working for an award-winning wine estate, Môreson, in Franschhoek, South Africa. Here I decided that I was ready to take on a new challenge and having seen the exciting growth of the English wine industry, I knew I wanted to be a significant part of it.  I was delighted to join the team at Bolney Wine Estate in the spring of 2021, where I head up the winemaking operations.

Why did you choose to practice this profession?  


Whilst I was completing my pilot licence, my father sadly passed away in an aeroplane accident. This naturally made me step back and reassess my life. During a holiday with my family, we visited a wine estate called Packwood, which is a family name going back centuries. I very much believe some things are meant to be and after speaking to the owners of the estate, within a few hours I had agreed to move there and help out on the farm. The first day I walked into the winery, I took a deep breath in and fell in love. From there, I made it my goal in life to become a winemaker. When I started learning about wine I realised why I was so attracted to it – it is a profession that has a beautiful synergy between science and art. This application of the two inspires me every day.

What is the most exciting part of your job? 


When you have a plan for the day, wine dictates how this plays out. The excitement is no day is ever the same. It makes you think on your feet and allows you watch how diverse the life of a wine can be, seeing it grow into something exceptional. It’s like everything is in suspension the entire time and only when it goes into the bottle does it all come together.


What are your greatest challenges as a winemaker?  


The greatest challenges always relate back to what excites you. Because wine is so temperamental and is constantly changing, it creates an environment that can be quite unsteady. You need to be realistic and flexible to the fact that your day could take an unexpected turn in the name of quality and perfection. This can be tough for someone like me who thrives on organisation and planning.


fermentation wine

What are your guidelines in the wine-making process? 


My father was a professional photographer and he would always say that a photograph is only exceptional when it is captured correctly in the camera. When photographers only had access to film they didn’t have a second chance at capturing the soul of an image. In the new era of digital, because it was so instant, more mistakes where being made and the photographers were relying on technology to fix it. This is how I feel around harvest. This is the one and only time to capture and embrace the soul of the wine and make a product with minimal interference that allows us to showcase the integrity of the fruit.
How would you describe the style of your wines? 


My team and I aim to create wines that are rich yet crisp and clean. We strive to embrace the integrity of the fruit whilst using it to develop our own signature style.


In terms of distribution, what are your main sales channels? 


We are very lucky to work with several national partners and independent retailers. We have a fantastic range of customers from all sectors of the market and they have helped us to grow steadily over the last few years. We also have a burgeoning export market too with some very loyal customers who are passionate about English wines. We export to the US, China, Japan and many other countries around the world. I am hoping we will be exporting to my home country of South Africa soon!


What is your favourite wine and why? 


Chardonnay. This variety is one that has such extreme diversity. It can offer you the opportunity to make still wines that are rich and full or lighter and leaner. It is great for sparkling wine and can even produce an opulent and complex dessert wine. There are opportunities with this variety to make unlimited styles of wines with such depth through the various clones and treatments allowing you to utilize it and make more multi dimensional wines.

cara checking wine

How do you see UK wine evolving in the next few years?  


Whilst Bolney have been producing wines here in Sussex for 50 years – the UK wine industry as a whole is still very young and pioneering. This creates a platform for such exciting times ahead, especially for winemakers. It has opened up the opportunity to be innovative and define the style of the region in order to create wines that are unique to us and launch this further into international markets.


What is your advice for a typical English food and wine pairing?  


The British are known for their eclectic mix of cuisines inspired by many countries. What has struck me in my time here is the Sunday roasts – warm and hearty comforting food! With roast lamb I would suggest our Pinot Noir and for roast chicken, our Pinot Gris compliments it wonderfully.