As pioneers in the English Wine Industry, we’re proud of our history and how far the business has come since the vineyard journey begun in 1972. This International Women’s Day, we want to highlight an important story that lies at the centre of this history and shines light on two inspiring women who have been instrumental to our growth and success as a business. From planting the first 1,000 vines in 1973 to celebrating our 50th Anniversary last year, both Janet Pratt and Sam Linter’s expertise and commitment have provided a constant guiding force helping to fulfil Bolney’s vision.
Our story begins in 1972 when founders Janet and Rodney Pratt purchased the land and started Bolney Wine Estate, under the original name of ‘Bookers Vineyard’. Whilst Rodney discovered his passion for winemaking during a placement at Gutenberg University, when back on British soil, Janet’s support was crucial when purchasing the run-down smallholding that would later be transformed into the Bolney Wine Estate.
To support the vineyard getting started Rodney continued with his career in the city and it was Janet who worked full time on the vineyard, with Rodney supporting at weekends. In this early time of our industry there was very little knowledge. Janet learnt what she could and the rest by continual experimenting. She always shared what he had learned with others, which was reciprocated. Our industry has always been very collaborative. She was as a very cool lady, working in the vineyard, planting, pruning, training vines.
She was also the main Tractor driver, mowing, spraying and fertilizing. From the field then to the office to cover all the admin, book keeping and some sales too. She worked very hard and long days. It takes many years after planting a vineyard until you have wine to sell, between 5 and potentially up to 10. Janet diversified by planting Courgettes, Tomatoes, Strawberries, which she sold to the Brighton wholesale fruit and veg markets, produce destined for Brighton’s restaurants and hotels. As a child Sam and her brother helped in the vineyard during school holidays and Janet taught them what she had learnt and inspired them to experiment too. They also kept Goats, her daughter Sam became more involved at that time and they worked together to care and milk them to make cheese, yoghurt and with the milk Janet sold these to local delicatessen’s.
In 1995, Sam Linter, Rodney and Janet’s daughter, joined the business full time taking over the reins and started a growth and quality improvement plan from which we can now see the results. Later in the 90’s, in 1998 we made our very first red wine, this was a blended red wine, our hero Pinot Noir was to come a few years later.
In 2002, we started to plant our Eighteen Acre Vineyard, which is an excellent site for vines, due to its south facing slope, sandstone soils and height of 35 metres above sea level. Following Sam’s growth and quality improvement plan, we built our first proper winery in 2005 which was officially opened by the then Secretary of State for DEFRA, the Rt Hon. Margaret Beckett MP. This new winery was made possible thanks to DEFRA who supported the build with a grant.
Diving in-to the Teens, we have seen some great things for our vineyard over the past decade. In 2012 we won ‘UK Wine Producer of the Year’ as well as Gold for our ‘Blanc de Blancs 2007’ in the International Wine and Spirit Competition. In 2015 our Pinot Gris became the first ever English Wine to be served at Wimbledon.
The following year in 2016 we opened our doors to our visitors centre with a new café, shop and stunning viewing balcony. In 2017 we won ‘Winery of the Year’ and Gold again in the United Kingdom Vineyard Association Competition. And in 2019, we had the pleasure of welcoming HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who officially opened our new state-of-the-art winery.
“Mum was an amazing role model for us, she taught us so much about viticulture and how to grow the best quality grapes. She encouraged me to think independently, to experiment and be true to myself, not to fear to be different. Which was a very value lesson to learn and needed in the early days of my career at Bolney Wine Estate. There was little recognition in her time for women and what they were achieved, she did so much towards starting the English Wine Industry we have today and Bolney Wine Estate too, of course. I think she deserves a hero’s recognition for that ”