Pershore Patty meets sales & marketing manager / wine maker Chris Haywood at Astley Vineyard to ask a few personal questions and for a general nose.
Tell me a little bit about how you came to own or work in your business.
Although our family have only owned the vineyard for 14 months now, it’s actually one of the oldest vineyards in the country. An old, established business with new, slightly mad owners – perfect!
Our family have called Worcestershire our home for the last 25 years. We may have been spread across the country for part of that time (university in Nottingham, and London) but our family home – and therefore my Mum – was always Worcestershire.
As for why, all of our family are doing this for different reasons. I was working in wine retail before this (Harvest Nichols) so I have the knowledge/taste/ambition to work with wine. I do all of our retail, online, wine-making and events. For my dad Tim, this is a “retirement project”…which isn’t that at all as he’s never worked harder in his entire life! He’s a busy, energetic guy so he needed something to do. He’s the real owner of the business and does the viticulture and landscaping. For my Mum Bev, it was a chance to bring her family back together and stay within the community she loves. She helps me with business development, events, viticulture and admin. And finally I say that my wife is the mad one as she decided to come into business with my family – poor woman! She helps my dad with the viticulture and landscaping, as well as doing our accounts.
What achievements, awards or accolades are you proud of?
Because we have inherited a large stock of wine that will keep us going for at least the next year, I would say that we are all very proud of the re-branding and redesign of our customer experience. We have relabelled all of our wines, are marketing ourselves in a much clearer way, and are basically presenting ourselves in a way which reflects the quality of our wine! A lot of elements of our business felt tired and underdeveloped when we moved here, so it feels great to breath some life into old bones.
Our brand new visitor centre (not to mention all of the work around our entrance) is another huge step for our business. We now have a comfortable and sophisticated space to sell our wines, host vineyard tours and hold events. It’s not even quite finished yet and everyone says it looks great!
Finally, I would say that we have all had to learn a lot of new skills; not least learning how to work with each other! We are not a family of farmers, so there are some basic jobs we have had to learn from first principals. I think we’re getting there!
Any news announcements, or events that you’d like new and existing customers to be aware of?
One recent piece of news is that we came away from the Visit Worestershire Awards for Excellence with a Highly Commended in the Drinks Producer of the Year category! We were pitted against some stiff competition (plus have only owned the business for 14 months now) so we were really pleased with the result.
As for events, we have recently launched a new series of events here at the vineyard called The Woodland Terrace. Not quite a wine bar (but almost) we turn our new visitor centre into a venue for socialising and enjoying wine just twice a month. We limit the number of guests who can attend so you are always guaranteed a relaxed setting to mingle with wine lovers. We have an Oktoberfest social event coming up, with more planned for the remainder of the year.
What makes your business unique?
Not only is English wine quite an oddity this far north, but the quality of our wines and the quality of our customer experience/events are fairly remarkable within our industry. For our size, we have one of the nicest cellar door shops that I personally have seen. Combine that with interesting, premium events for local people and wine enthusiasts-alike and we are really proud of what we offer to the people of Worcestershire. Almost everyone who visits us are surprised by how professionally we run our business.
Favourite restaurant to visit if you get a night off?
I don’t have a favourite ANYTHING unfortunately! I love trying new things and going to new places whenever I can. I hate repetition – variety is the spice of life! If I HAD to choose, though, one of Friar Street Kitchen’s themed nights would be nice and convenient. Or if I had all the money in the world and someone could drive me there, I would have all of Green Cow Kitchen’s taster menus.
Last thing you watched on TV?
The Good Place on Netflix. It’s hilarious (in a very American way).
Which person in your life do you most admire and why?
Can I be all romantic and say my wife Matleena? She really is crazy for joining me and my family in this life, and the way she puts up with us bickering is amazing. I also absolutely love how much she’s taken to learning about wine. She might not have the qualification that I have, but she has a great palate and is very thoughtful about what she drinks. She’s amazing.
What was the last gift you gave someone?
It’s usually booze!!
Because we have our own shop we do a lot of trading with our suppliers – a sample bottle here, and new product there…
Aside from business, we have a couple of friends who are really into their food and drink (like us). They have kids, so it’s usually dinner at theirs, and we bring the wine. The perfect deal!
What’s your favourite smell in the whole world?
An aromatic wine. Any wine. Red. White. Sparkling. Sweet. Anything. If it’s complex and enticing, I am in heaven.
Coffee in the morning is also up there.
(And can I be boring and just say food? I love food).
What’s your favourite kind of sandwich?
I don’t have a favourite anything!! But again if I had to, perhaps a reuben sandwich? Or maybe something Asian-American? Again I usually go for the thing I’ve never had before!
Who would you want to cook your last meal on earth, and why?
Tom Kerridge springs to mind. Not the new ‘healthy living Tom Kerridge’ – which is fine, good for him – but the older, “all the butter, all the flavour Tom Kerridge”. It’s all about taste for me.
Or any of the chefs off “Chefs Table” on Netflix.
What is the most annoying habit that other people have?
Being picky eaters. I can’t understand it sorry. Sushi, for example, is an entire category of food – not just one dish!
“I don’t like white wine”…………………………..?
If you could eat only 3 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Pork belly. Cassoulet. Asian cuisine (literally anything – Korean, Thai, Japanese….)
What’s your claim to fame?
I would like to think that our business will be! I’m already getting spotted on the street which is quite a nice feeling. Time will tell…
Which food & drink business (other than your own) do you wish you had created?
There are several AMAZING wine bars around the world which inspire me. I watched a documentary about the owner of Terroir Wine Bar (started in New York) and his absolute belief in the wine list (and ideology) he wanted to create was astounding. An abrasive human being apparently, but the epitome of running a business that you want to be known for.
67 Pall Mall is rather more highbrow than this, but it’s similar in that they are both renowned for what they do. I dream of being able to afford to go there.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
One that has stuck with me over the years is a quote from Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) which said something like “People remember the nice guys. Be that nice guy”. I think when you’re growing up and moving through a career that it’s easy to aspire to be the achievers. But as we all know, not all achievers do things the nice way.
Also generic advice which I can’t pin down onto one person/saying: “do what you love”. Pretty simple to understand!
If you could be anywhere else right now, where would it be?
At a fantastic restaurant, sipping wine and eating wonderful food with a view to die for. Half way up a mountain? On a beach? A super snazzy city restaurant? I don’t really care!
What’s the best thing that happened to you last week?
We completed our first harvest, and processed all of the grapes with our brand new machinery for the first time!! An absolutely amazing feeling. So excited for the future.
Name a product or service you love so much that you’d happily be that company’s spokesperson.
I love what The Wine Society do. A fabulous selection of wine (both big producers and small producers) that encourages people to try new things and perhaps the unknown. I was lucky enough to meet one of the buyers here at the vineyard, and his passion for small producers like ourselves was so heart-warming. I see photos of him visiting producers like us all around the world. A) makes me extremely jealous and b) makes me think “what a nice guy/company!”
As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A musician! I spent the ages of 12-23 trying to be in a successful band or simply “make it” in music. I made some decent headway, but not enough obviously. I wouldn’t go back to music, but neither do I regret giving it a go. I’ve found my calling luckily.
What is the perfect combination of pizza toppings?
If the dough is the best, the cheese is SUPER high quality, and if you’re eating it in Italy, then you can’t beat a simple margherita. Fresh buffalo mozzarella is also great. You can’t beat simple perfection.
What was the worst job you ever held and why?
I did some internships in the music industry which made me feel pretty low. They masqueraded work as a “trial shift”, but they never spoke to me, never let me fight my corner or prove myself, and basically used me to get some grunt work done. That made me really angry and is one of the reasons why I left music behind. Sad times.
Sometimes it’s jazz. Sometimes metal & rock. Acoustic. Electronic. Classical. Whatever suits the situation is probably the most accurate answer.
What was the last thing you ate?
I made myself a rather nice (and quick) mushroom pasta for lunch. Garlic, thyme, cream, pecorino. Yum.
Favourite cut of steak?
The massive sharing cuts. The bigger the better. Our family had an absolutely sensational Cote de Boeuf between the four of us when we were on holiday in Canada. I still dream about it.
What website do you visit most often?
What is the most impressive thing you know how to do?
I had to ask my wife this: she thinks I’m really open to trying things and not making a big deal out of it. I suppose I have eaten a goats head when I visited Morocco, and the two of us went on a food tour of Cambodia where they gave us fertilised chicken egg and insects. Yum.
I am also very tall which is impressive. I reach things.
What do you hope never changes?
My senses. If I lost my sense of smell/taste/hearing/touch it would devastate me.
Any finally a question from those who are married to you…When are you coming home?
I’m always home – that’s the problem!! My wife probably wants me to leave her alone more!
Dating back to 1971, Astley Vineyard is one of the UK’s oldest, producing c.9000 bottles of high quality wine each year. You can book a tour with tasting or purchase from the online shop and keep an eye on the website for other events at their Hampstall Lane, Stourport on Severn base. They are also an official stockist of Dartington Crystal.
The Foodie Card offer: 5% off in-store (btl or case) on Severn Vale 2016, Madeleine Angevine 2016, Old Vine Kerner 2015, all Dartington Crystal products & all Netherton Foundry products.