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Bex Fisher

Bex Fisher on the fresh notes of english wine

By Bex Fisher

Partnerships & Events Manager, Hattingley Valley Wines Limited

It was at a career fair at the age of 24 that Bex Fisher unexpectedly found her calling in the wine industry and instinctively took a 50% pay cut from her job in property to join the Majestic Wine graduate recruitment scheme.

After an education in wine from Great Britain’s largest specialist retailer in the industry, Bex was approached to join Australia’s largest family-owned wine producer, De Bortoli Wines, based in their UK office but had the pleasure to work a harvest at their vineyard in the Yarra Valley in 2013.

Following her love of wine closer to home, Bex became Partnerships & Events Manager at Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley Wines in 2016. As she celebrates her seven-year anniversary with the vineyard, she uncorks the fine details of the English wine scene which is blending timeless taste with free-spirited innovation.

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What types of wine does Hattingley Valley create?

We specialise in traditional method sparkling wine – it's the same way that Champagne is made in France. The base wine gets bottled, some sugar and yeast are added, and then it's enclosed with a crown cap and laid down for the secondary fermentation to take place inside the bottle. It's quite a timely process but it's the way that you can achieve premium-quality wines.

There's a lovely purity of fruit – that sophisticated, elegant finish that you would associate with Champagne. But we're not restricted in England by the traditional laws of Champagne, one of which stipulates when a vineyard can pick their fruit. We let the fruit tell us, we analyse the grapes so that we can pick at the optimum ripeness, and we generally have a longer hang time because our summers are cooler and longer allowing the fruit flavours to develop in the grape berries.

Innovation is widely encouraged at Hattingley, and we've got various interesting smaller projects in the range or in-development. We launched a still rosé in 2019 and in the beautiful weather of the 2020 lockdown we were able to make our first still white and red wine.

England has a relatively cool climate compared to other wine-growing regions, so most wines are sparkling because our climate compares to where Champagne was 35 years ago. We benefit in Hampshire from being on the same band of chalk that Champagne sits on, it comes under the channel and permeates through parts of the south coast, and in Hampshire, we're lucky to be right on top of it.

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"England has a relatively cool climate compared to other wine-growing regions, so most wines are sparkling because our climate now is where Champagne was 35 years ago."

It feels like an exciting time for the English wine industry; how would you describe the English wine scene right now?

England is renowned for the new wave of sparkling wines. We’re still riding that wave of awareness, but it’s an exciting opportunity for anyone who’s passionate about wine because it’s starting from the beginning.

The English wine scene has a lovely following and people are very passionate about supporting local. But there are also so many people who don’t even realise that England produces wine – let alone decent wine! – and with over 800 vineyards in the UK it’s going to be a big thing. What’s really exciting about now is we’re currently on that wave – there’s still so much more to come and being involved in that is exhilarating.

How is English wine being received internationally?

Exports have always been part of the business model at Hattingley. Our biggest market currently is Norway; they absolutely love the English style.

The US is quite a tricky market because each state has its own licensing and import laws, but we distribute with an importer called Valkyrie Selections who has access to most states. In the winter of 2018, we secured a national listing with Whole Foods Market, which is an organic high-end supermarket in the US.

We changed our branding to embrace our British roots; our strapline is Unapologetically British. We like to add fun and character to the brand; all the boxes have got the Union Jack and renowned British items like the Bulldog and telephone boxes. We’re proud of our heritage and the Americans love it.

We’re going to be doing a bit more in Asia. We’ve got a good relationship with Japan and we’re going to be doing a wine exhibition in Singapore.

Finland, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia are also good markets for us – and even Kazakhstan has bought on a couple of occasions.

"The English wine scene has a really nice following and people are very passionate about supporting local."

Bex Fisher - Partnerships & Events Manager, Hattingley Valley Wines Limited

How are you using events to build your brand and wine loyalty?

We run a tour and tasting programme throughout the year at the vineyard, and we go to external events.

We run the members’ sparkling wine bar at the New Forest and Hampshire County Show. What’s nice is that we can tell people about the story of the brand and the production of the wine, and they come back each year excited to try new releases or products.

We also do Lymington Seafood Festival and Alresford Watercress Festival as local staples. For the summer of 2022 we joined Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park festivals – last year I was pretty much on tour from mid-May to mid-September! Events are a great opportunity to speak to a wider range of people and spread not only brand awareness but promote the [English wine] category too.

Hattingley is recognised for its dynamic approach to winemaking; how is the business embracing innovation and sustainability?

Hattingley is a very advanced winery; we’re about the fifth-largest producer in the UK now. There are always experiments going on – if they work well, they’ll become a product; if they don’t work, it’s a brilliant learning curve.

We were the first winery in the UK to be built using solar panels: sustainability is something that has been at the forefront of the business since its inception. We’re trying to be as green as possible, from the vineyard, through to the winery, and the end product. We’ve got a new member of staff focusing on sustainability practices and we’re working with our suppliers to ensure that they’re as green and sustainable as possible as well. We’re not just going to be complacent; we’re going to continue to drive that forward. In 2022 Hattingley was awarded the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain Trade Mark by the SWGB committee in partnership with industry body, WineGB.

Bex Fisher

If you could invite anyone as your guests for a wine tasting, who would they be?

One of the kindest people I've ever met was the late Shane Warne. I’m a big cricket fan, he was a client of mine when he was at Hampshire cricket, and he enjoyed a drink!

Over the years I've had the pleasure of meeting some truly knowledgeable people in the food and drink scene, and it’s been fascinating learning about their careers and wine-tales. Last summer I met numerous chefs on the Pub in the Park circuit – Matt Tebbutt was great fun and I've known wine expert Olly Smith for years – I imagine lunch with the pair of them would be non-stop chatter about food and wine pairings but also highly entertaining!

Camilla, Queen Consort, is patron of our industry body of wines. It would be great to host her at the winery because she's already invested in the industry but also to gain insight into what life as royalty really entails.