There are many weird and wonderful ways that people get into the wine and drinks industry but being a specialist in radiochemistry for medical imaging research must be somewhat different. But it seems there is only so much radiochemistry you can take and Sam Hill was more than happy to combine his day job learning about wine doing WSET courses, before deciding to throw himself into a MSc course in viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College. Now he is ready to use all his skills and experience and find a career in the wine and drinks industry.
Sam Hill is looking forward to applying his MSc in viticulture and oenology in the real world of the drinks industry.
Tell us about yourself and what you were doing before going to Plumpton College?
I studied chemistry at university and then got into radiochemistry for medical imaging research. After 16 years in that industry it felt like time for a change!
How and why did you get interested in the wine industry?
I have been interested in wine since I was young. Our family holidays were always to France where I was introduced to wine at the dinner table. Over the years, I have studied wine through WSET courses and visited wine regions around the world. It is a fascinating and never-ending topic to learn about. So when I felt like my time was done with medical research wine seemed like the perfect direction to go in.
How and why did you want to do a course at Plumpton?
With my science background, I thought that the Plumpton MSc. was the perfect way to learn about the industry and feed my curiosity. I studied part time so I was able to fit it around my job at the time and keep paying the mortgage. I enjoyed the course immensely and really enjoyed my “day off” once a week to go and learn about wine production and viticulture.
How did you hear about it?
I heard about it through applying for jobs in the wine industry and hearing that a qualification from Plumpton was a huge plus on a CV.
What’s subject did you investigate for your main project and why?
I decided to study the use of cloches to ripen Riesling in the UK climate. Riesling is an exciting grape variety but many people have tried and failed to reliably ripen it in England. Riesling’s high acidity means that it often doesn’t reach the required maturity. When the opportunity at Beacon Down vineyard came up to experiment with their Riesling vines, I jumped at the chance. I knew that it would make an interesting and important project for UK viticulture.
What did the research involve?
It has involved a significant amount of hours in the vineyard. First we installed homemade cloches on 500 Riesling vines made from polythene. Then I took measurements of temperature and humidity throughout the growing season to measure the impact of the cloches on the microclimate surrounding the vines. After veraison, I monitored maturity levels to see the impact on acidity and sugar.
What challenges have you had pulling it together?
The biggest challenge was getting to the vineyard as often as I needed to! I worked closely with the vineyard owner Paul Pippard, who gave me a lot of support and guidance during the more challenging moments. The project was a real pleasure to spend time on and the final results were very positive.
What do you hope your research will achieve?
Firstly, the research in 2019 achieved ripe Riesling grapes that have been used to produce an English Riesling for Beacon Down, which I am very pleased about.
Secondly I hope that my research has shown that it is not only possible to ripen Riesling in an English vineyard but that by installing cloches on the vines you can significantly increase yield and maturity.
The potential applications of this treatment are far wider than just ripening Riesling.
How will you apply what you’ve learnt to your future career?
I am very keen to be involved in planting unusual varieties in the UK. If this process can broaden people’s minds to what can be achieved in the UK then I hope I am very much a part of that. I have also learnt a huge amount about the practicalities of working in a vineyard throughout the growing year. This has been invaluable experience.
What would you say to people looking to do a course at Plumpton?
I would make sure you spend your summer before the course starts wisely. If you can, get a placement at a vineyard or winery to start to learn the ropes. And then take all the opportunities that are offered to you at Plumpton and take full advantage.
What you are now planning to do after Plumpton?
I am planning a career in the wine world and would love to have my own vineyard in the UK and to make my own wine with unusual varieties and probably some Riesling!
Which countries andregions around the world have you visited and most liked?
I have visited many wine regions around the world but especially enjoyed my time spent in Franciacorta in Italy. I had a two month placement there for the 2018 harvest and loved immersing myself in that culture. I also love Alsace for its variety, culture and beauty. I have a placement in Alsace coming up for the 2020 harvest, which I am very excited about.
Which countries and regions would you most want to go to and why?
I would love to revisit California to go to the lesser known regions and try the range of Pinot Noir that’s on offer. Jura is also on my list because the wines are fascinating and unique.
Any wine figures you look up to?
There are too many to name, but I think that anyone who bucks the trend and forges their own path is inspiring. And anyone who takes a chance and dares to plant a vineyard in the UK with our climate I admire greatly.
Your favourite kinds of wine and why?
That is a very difficult question to answer and maybe a top ten or twenty would be fairer! I do love the red wines of central and southern Italy and the white wines of Alsace.
What are you eating with it and where?
Well I’m probably drinking the Italian with pizza and the Alsace wines with flammkuchen!
- If you are interested in a doing a course at Plumpton College you can find out what might be suitable for you here.