Today we popped in to visit Iain Dalton (see picture) at Waitrose’s very own farm at Leckford Estate. Partly to check it out for potential Wine School visits. But also to have a snoop around, particularly in their newly planted 11-acre vineyard. And generally enjoy the surroundings.
It’s a beautiful place and made for a fascinating visit. So it was a shame I forgot to bring along my notebook…
But, from what I can recall Iain telling us, Leckford covers around 4,000 acres and has a 600-head dairy herd (making five million litres of milk a year). It also produces bucket loads of apples, mushrooms, eggs and free range broiler chicken. They sell a few apples for cider making and, from 2012, aim to be selling around 35-40 tonnes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes for English fizz (the vines were planted in May 2009). The plan is to make the wine with an as yet unannounced partner, to make a Leckford brand to be sold in Waitrose. But things are still at the drawing-board stage.
As we strolled through the vineyard – populated by tiny spindly vines with yellowing leaves – estate manager Iain was refreshingly candid about things. While Leckford is clearly an impressive working farm estate, he recognises that one of its primary values is as a marketable commodity for the John Lewis Partnership. And, while he’s not the kind of man to grumble, I did get the feeling that he’s quite regularly put upon by Waitrose buyers who say, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if Leckford could do this for us…”
The vineyard being a case in point: hard work, tons of money (an initial £100,000 investment to this stage) and no cash flow until 2012. Financially, as Iain noted, disastrous. But if you’ve got solid backing, as Leckford does, it’s feasible. And, as Susie later said, you need this kind of faith and investment if English wine is going to progress from minority niche to mainstream.
So we’ll keep you posted on how things progress.
In the meantime, I noticed this extremely polite sign on the way out of the vineyard enclosure (robustly fenced to ward off the local deer). I couldn’t help taking a photo. Such social nicety could only happen on a Waitrose estate!