The Buyer
Defined Wine’s Henry Sugden on promoting best of new English wine

Defined Wine’s Henry Sugden on promoting best of new English wine

“We see ourselves having a symbiotic relationship with our producers - after all if they can’t sell their wine, they won’t want it made in future.” There in a nutshell Henry Sugden explains the business model of Defined Wine, arguably the fastest growing contract winemaking business in the UK that is helping to make and bring to market wines made from a wide range of English wine producers. It’s also why it is hosting, on June 18, its fourth trade tasting in order to introduce and promote its customers’ wines to key wine buyers, distributors and the wine press. Here Sugden explains what buyers can look forward, to including a keynote debate on the future of English wine, and what his hopes are for the industry it serves.

Richard Siddle
30th May 2024by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Supplier,

For those that don't know Defined Wine can you explain what it is you do and what makes you different in the English wine industry?

Henry Sugden in the heart of Defined Wines' contract winemaking facility

We are the only winery in England that is dedicated 100% to contract winemaking. We have no vineyards or labels of our own, so our focus is entirely on adding value to the people we make wine for.

Tell us about the English wine tasting you have planned in June and what makes it special?

Most of our producers are quite small, those present at the tasting range from an annual production of 5,000 to 50,000 bottles per year and even the largest of those find it difficult to attract trade interest. By gathering them together, we can provide a showcase of over 100 English still and sparkling wines.

What do you hope it can achieve?

That it will help our producers sell their wine – whether by connecting them to independent wine shops; distributors; retailers; journalists or influencers. Some of our producers already have distributors, the majority do not – sometimes because they are too small, sometimes because they are very new. But even the smallest will benefit from direct sales to on or off-trade customers.And we hope it will be a great opportunity for trade buyers to source new wines that they wouldn’t fine elsewhere.

What sort of wines will people be able to taste?

We are very lucky to have a wide range of clients from across the South East of England with different terroirs, different varieties and different styles of wine made. Visitors will be able to taste a wide range of still and sparkling wines; from Bacchus to oaked Chardonnays; Pinot Noirs that make a firm statement that red wines are possible in England; new PIWIS; Pet Nats; and of course traditional method sparkling wines.

You will also be having the producers you work with on hand to talk through the wines as well?

Yes, this is very much a chance to speak direct to the producers, as well as our winemaking team who will all be on hand to answer more technical questions.

Have you done an event of this scale before?

Defined Wine works with a wide range of wine growers and producers from small to large and works to help them find the right routes to market for their wines

This is the fourth time we have run this event and they have grown bigger every year – not least as we as a business have grown ten-fold over the last five years. These events have proved really popular with producers and visitors alike and this is the second time we have held the event in London – this year at a new location as we have already outgrown the old one.

Who are you aiming the tasting at?

On and off-trade buyers and distributors, large or small, journalists and influencers.

You are also hosting a debate on English wine between 12pm and 1pm - what are you discussing and who is taking part?

We are discussing what the future might hold for English wines over the next 10 years – can English wine keep growing and what challenges will be faced. We have a fantastic panel, it will be moderated by Guy Woodward and the panellists represent a range of trade perspectives including:

M&S's Dror Nativ MW will be taking part in the Defined Wine English wine debate

* Dror Nativ MW, Champagne and sparkling wine buyer at Marks & Spencer.

* Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, international wine consultant, regenerative viticulture advocate, and makes wine in Roussillon at Domaine of the Bee.

* Nicola Bates, chief executive, WineGB.

* Charlie Holland, winemaker, Jackson Family Wines (formerly chief executive of Gusbourne).

* Charles Carron Brown, head sommelier at Michelin-starred Aulis London by Simon Rogan, who has recently removed Champagne from his wine list in favour of only English Sparkling wine.

What do you see as the big issues facing English wine that producers and winemakersneed to be fully focused on?

I think it’s finding out what the consumer wants; and how and who to sell their wine to - finding the right routes to market.

What are the big outstanding opportunities for Defined Wine?

We are interested in exploring more own label wines. This can often be another way to help our producers move parcels – which is also the reason we set up a website for trading bulk and bottled wine

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

The uncertainty of the climate in the UK and producers not selling their wine. We try to spread viticultural best practice to our producers to help mitigate the first. By consistently making quality wine and holding events like this we try to help with the latter. We see ourselves having a symbiotic relationship with our producers - after all if they can’t sell their wine, they won’t want it made in future.

Do you see the market for contract winemaking going up as the industry expands and more grapes come into the market? 

Yes, although this will continue to be done by many wineries providing contract winemaking for local vineyards.

What are your thoughts on the new relaxed wine rules that will allow imported wine to be treated and handled in the UK?

Potentially far too confusing for the consumer. English, Welsh, Scottish (as the first vineyards have popped up there) and British wine should be exclusively made from grapes grown in the British Isles. I don’t see a problem with secondary processing of other wines, in the same way that we have been bottling in the UK for years, but they should never be labelled as anything other than as wine from the country where the grapes were grown.

Anything else to say?

I think there is a bright future for English wine, especially as people want more local products – why eat local fish or lamb if it is being paired with wine shipped for the other side of the world? But we need people to realise that the quality of English wine is world class – and do something about the price point.

* You can find out more about Defined Wine at its website here.

* The Defined Wine Trade and Press tasting takes place on June 18 between 11am and 4pm at Yeomanry House, Handel Street, London, WC1N 1NP. Click here for more and to register.