Working in the wine industry is often not the first career that people choose to take. Lucy Chilvers is no different. After years working in restaurants and helping to manage wine lists she decided – as she puts it – to take a “leap of faith” and go back to school so that she could make winemaking her future career. A decision that has seen her enrol at Plumpton College where she is now in the midst of her viticulture and oenology course.
It’s the fact you get the chance to do everything when it comes to wine production and winemaking that makes a course at Plumpton College so much fun, says Lucy Chilvers, from driving tractors, pruning vines to doing laboratory tests.
Lucy Alice Chilvers, aged 30, from Karlsruche but brought up in Cambridge, UK
Started on FdSc Wine Production, but switched to BSc in Viticulture and Oenology.
How did you become interested in wine (production or business)?
I have worked in catering the majority of my adult life, and worked on many wine lists. This luckily gave me the opportunity to visit several vineyards around the world, sparking my passion in the production of wine, and in the summer of 2017 I decide to bite the bullet, take a leap of faith, and at the age of 30 embark on a course to hopefully make wine production my career!
Why did you choose Plumpton?
Where else is there that offers the type of opportunities that Plumpton does. It’s not just about sitting in a class room and studying text books. I have hands on experience day in day out. Whether that is in the full sized commercial winery; on one of the Plumpton-owned vineyards, learning to drive a tractor and tend to my own vines, or being led by industry experts in the lab doing wine analysis.
What’s it like studying at Plumpton?
I’m not being cheesy, or even paid for this comment, but it’s literally a dream. I have met the most diverse, wonderful group of people and made friends for life. I have as much contact time as I would like with all of my lecturers, who are always on hand to offer academic support and life advice. We have a wealth of world renowned guest speakers on a weekly basis, that I would have never thought possible to sit in a room and have intimate conversations with.
Every day different opportunities arise across winemaking in the UK that we are asked to participate in. The level of study is balanced, in depth and fascinating. I feel very lucky to be a part of the Plumpton community, now and going forward.
What have been your highlights whilst studying at Plumpton Wine Division?
I love the vineyard, and learning to drive a tractor, (not one but all sizes ) has been a real achievement. The Montpellier college trip was phenomenal. So much fun and again the activities that were arranged for us, made me feel very lucky to be a part of it. Achieving high enough grades to transfer on the Bachelor of Science degree, something I never thought possible when first starting the course. The things I have learnt, and how that has made me feel, I made the right choice!
What will you take away with you from studying at Plumpton?
Hopefully being an expert to some degree. Knowledge to set up my own low-intervention vineyard in the UK. Life long friends and colleagues.
How will you apply what you’ve learnt to your future career?
As hands on as I can be. Knowing that you never stop learning in this field, and you definitely get out what you put in. It’s hard work, but if you work hard it pays off.
Ummm, tough one. Hopefully to complete a few vintages around the world. I have already been in touch with some of my winemaking heroes, (in all honesty not expecting to hear back from them – but I have) to work with them over the next couple of years, and see where that takes me. I have found through this course opportunity shows it’s hand at the most unexpected moments, so for now my plan is to just learn and experience as much as I can.
What would you say to someone thinking of starting a career in the wine industry?
Do it! It’s a lifestyle choice. You meet the most incredible people, all who share one thing in common, a love, passion and belief in wine. When I am driving my tractor on a Monday morning, or picking grapes in the sun, I think about my friends at their desks in London… not to be smug, but Ha! But seriously, it is a wonderful diverse industry with so many opportunities to hone whatever particular strength or skill you may possess, and I have really appreciated that through what I am doing.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Apart from my mum, dad and partner Luke (cringe). More recently – my lecturers. They have all done pretty amazing things, and we’re lucky enough to be told some brilliant stories. In wine, Nicolas Joly, one of the biggest and most prominent voices in biodynamics. Ben Walgate, an English guy making some very special wines out in Rye. Isabelle Legeron, my absolute hero, incredible talent, supports and promotes low intervention wine from around the world, she is a true inspiration to me.