The Black Dog Hill family

The Black Dog Hill family

‘For English wine producers like us, the world is our oyster’

Family run Black Dog Hill Vineyard in East Sussex is going global after landing a deal to supply its sparkling wines to 24 countries.

Black Dog Hill Vineyard is a family business spanning three generations, with high ambitions to lead the emergence of boutique, grower-style English sparkling wines.

Founded in 2007 by husband and wife team Jim and Anja Nolan, the Westmeston-based company is championing the evolution of English Sparkling wine.

The vineyard started producing its wines in 2007 however their first signature bottle, the 2011 Classic cuvee, didn’t mature until 2015. Produced in a limited quantity, the cuvee was an exceptionally ripe vintage and helped kick start the vineyards rapid growth.

The drink saw the company storm onto the English Sparkling Wine scene winning a much-coveted gold award from the IWSC, a silver from the prestigious Decanter competition and a bronze at the IWC.

The award-winning vineyard has since gone on to land a lucrative deal with Waitrose as well as being stocked by a number of leading online retailers. Now, they are eyeing further growth as they expand overseas.

“We’ve now consolidated sales and established a good line with Waitrose who we’ve just sold our 2013 vintage to,” said Jim. “The most exciting part however is that we’ve just landed a deal to supply our wines to a luxury hotel group who have luxury resorts in 24 countries.

“They’ve taken us on exclusively to provide wine to them which will go out to all of their resorts across the globe, including their luxury resorts in Bali, Goa, Australia, Thailand and across Europe and the UK.

“We had an existing relationship with Karma’s CEO and owner John Spence prior to the deal which helped get our foot in the door. He is also a Sussex guy, he was born and brought up here but now lives in Australia.

“We approached him and have been speaking for the last year or so. He has been testing the wine and getting feedback from his company. He then finally decided to go ahead on 7 January and we signed along the dotted line.”

Black Dog Hill is a family-run operation and prides itself on the fact that it is a single producer vineyard. This means they don’t buy grapes from anyone else, the company strictly uses its own produce which is grown at home in Sussex.

In fact, it is so dedicated to producing the very best wine possible, that if the season isn’t favourable, the business doesn’t produce. In 2012 for example, Jim made the decision to skip production for a year as he wasn’t happy with the growing conditions. This meant new wines weren’t released until their 2013 vintage hit shelves.

The family’s dedication to fine-tuning their product has led to the company winning countless industry awards as well as landing deals with the likes of Waitrose and Swig.co.uk. However, such high demand for its products has left Jim and his family in a bit of a pickle.

“We’re selling out of wine rapidly,” said Jim. “We’ve planted some more vines and we are extending the vineyard and will be looking to continue expanding going forward. What is really key to me is to make sure we have this firm grounding of really good awards, really good press and this expansion into global markets.

“I am incredibly proud of my product and I’m also incredibly proud of my country – I want to be out in the world selling the wonderful English sparkling wine that we and this country produce to people outside of the UK as well as focusing on the growth that we have really enjoyed in the UK with the backing of people such as Waitrose and swig.co.uk and the rest of our supporters.”

Black Dog Hill is a fine example of how English sparkling wines are making a huge impact on the global stage and Jim believes the sector is well placed to capitalise on this soaring demand. Not only has the recent EU Referendum made it cheaper to export but the UK Government and the industry are also working together to cut duty prices for UK-made wines.

According to the latest government research, English and Welsh sparkling wines were shipped to 27 different countries last year, compared to 19 a year earlier and it is expected that the industry will see a 10-fold increase in wine exports, increasing from 250,000 bottles to 2.5 million bottles by 2020. 

He added: “I think it’s now generally accepted that top end English sparkling wine is superior to the average champagne. That is borne out by blind tasting sessions and awards ceremonies held across the globe. I also believe that there is more knowledge in the wine world and acceptance of cold climate wines like English sparkling wine.

“I think Brexit will also have a positive impact on the industry as it will make English wines cheaper. People have always said it is quite expensive and the truth is, it is. It costs a lot to produce. But if champagne and French wines start to move up in price then comparably English wine will be slightly cheaper and it is just as good, if not better.

“There is also a lot of talk in the industry about duties being lowered for English wine as we pay huge duty on each bottle. There is a big ground for politicians to reduce duty on English wine which at the moment is very heavy.”

And when it comes to Black Dog Hill, Jim is even more optimistic: “I see Black Dog Hill continuing to expand globally. I’m really excited about this opportunity we have to push out into global markets and allow other places to try and really enjoy our wonderful produce.

“I think there is going to be huge consolidation in the UK as well now that we have actually excited some of those European markets and I believe strongly, as well as quality is kept high, English wine will continue to flourish.”