Tell us a bit about yourself…
Collette O’Leary, Winemaker and Estate Manager at Henners Vineyard in East Sussex. I retrained as a winemaker in 2011 following a career in marketing and PR.
What led you to a career in the English wine industry?
I came at the winemaking industry from being a wine consumer at a time when English sparkling wine was really beginning to make its mark. I took a career break in 2006 and went travelling around the world which included a stint working at a cellar door in New Zealand. The experience opened up the wine world to me and so I started looking into the burgeoning UK wine scene and Plumpton College. It took a while to get things in place, but in 2011 I quit my job and enrolled at Plumpton to study the three-year winemaking degree. Since graduating I have worked at wineries in England, California and South Africa, and joined Henners Vineyard as Winemaker in January 2019.
Tell us about Henners Vineyard…
Henners Vineyard & Winery was established in 2007 in the Sussex village of Herstmonceux. We have chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier planted and work with partner growers to source additional fruit from sites across the south east of England.
We look out across the Pevensey Levels – only five miles from the English Channel – so we benefit from a strong coastal influence, low altitude and rich, free draining clay soils, which we feel brings a richness and depth to our wines.
We are a small team, with just three of us working across the vineyard and winery, although we are part of a wider family of winemakers with sister wineries in France, South Africa and Italy. As such, everything is personal to us. We live the trials and tribulations of the fickle English weather with the vines; the risks of frost in Spring, poor weather at flowering, summer humidity and rain through the ripening period until we heave a sigh of relief and bring the grapes in at harvest.
We are a growing business and have invested heavily in the winery over the last few years to increase our winemaking capacity and we are taking on more growers to help us source high quality grapes so we can continue to develop our wines. Four years ago our focus was just on sparkling wine, but now we have white and rose still wines available and will be looking to produce red wine in the near future… weather dependent!
What’s the ethos of the vineyard?
We are founding members of Sustainable wines of Great Britain and are working consistently to encourage biodiversity across the vineyard and reduce our impact on the environment around us. This ethos runs across the Estate, whether it’s planting wildflowers, eliminating weed sprays, harvesting rainwater, or moving to lightweight bottles for our still wines. We look at every process and see how we can make improvements.
Can people visit the vineyard?
Yes, we are open to the public for tours, tastings, cheese and charcuterie boards, pop up dinners and by the bottle purchases. We also have wines from our sister wineries in France, South Africa and Italy available to taste and buy. There’s a beautiful seating area overlooking our vineyard and the Pevensey Levels so people can by a glass or bottle and soak up the view.
We also have a self-guided tour where people can walk around the vineyard with wine tasting samples, stop at barrels along the way and scan a QR code to watch a virtual tasting delivered by one of the winemaking and vineyard team.
We only opened to the public earlier this year and we are so pleased to welcome people to the Estate so they can learn about us and what we do. I got into winemaking through visiting vineyards and tasting rooms on my travels so who knows, perhaps a visit to Henners will recruit future winemakers!
Where can people enjoy Henners wine?
We are listed in some amazing restaurants and bars in Brighton including Burnt Orange, Coppa Club, Lion & Lobster, Brighton Beach Club and The Walrus where people can enjoy our wines by the glass and bottle.
What are your thoughts on the Sussex PDO (protected designation of origin status)?
Wines produced in Sussex are some of the most exciting produced in England and they deserve the recognition they are receiving. There has never been more interest in the wines we are making and as an industry it’s important we continue to raise the profile of our vineyards and wineries.
Henners Vineyard, Herstmonceux, Hailsham BN27 1RJ