Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Gnina Balchin, I’m 30 years old and I have a mish-mash of skills under my belt. I started my professional career as a product developer in the food industry after completing a BSc in Food Science, which I funded by waitressing.
After a few years as a developer, I quit my job and studied for an MSc in Oenology and Viticulture at Plumpton College in East Sussex. I worked at Albourne Estate whilst studying and was offered a permanent position just after I graduated. My job was mainly in the vineyard for a few years before leaving to start my own business.
What prompted you to set up In The Loop Drinks?
A few things really. I had always wanted to run my own business, and was just waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Whilst studying and then working in the English wine industry I could see how fast it was growing, and I knew that there would be opportunities there, I just had to figure out where.
Then I had that lightbulb moment. Someone asked me ‘why would anybody make Vermouth?’. So I defended this often under-rated drink and, well, I found my niche.
What is vermouth?
Vermouth is an aromatised, fortified wine that must name Wormwood as one of its botanicals. We use English wine and flavour with predominantly fresh botanicals we grow ourselves or forage for around our solar-powered winery in Uckfield.
We were the first to market with an ‘All-English’ Vermouth, that showcases English wine and only English botanicals. We work with like-minded producers for our bottled cocktail range including Brighton Gin and Two Drifters Distillery.
Why did you choose to make vermouth?
If you look at ‘Old World’ wine regions, there’s what we recognise as wine and then there are all these other products that are connected to wine in some way like Grappa, Brandy and Vermouth.
These types of products come about naturally by – in many cases – utilising alternative wine that didn’t quite make the cut or grape pressings. Drinks like these are now popping up in the UK, which is a really strong sign of how much the industry has grown.
We’re called In The Loop Drinks because we take English wine from other wineries that is too flavourful to be English sparkling wine but also – in most cases – just doesn’t fit with anything else in their range. So we keep it in the circular economy – ‘In The Loop’ – by making Vermouth out of it.
What are your thoughts on the seemingly unstoppable rise of English wine in Sussex?
There are some really beautiful vineyards and wineries in Sussex and what’s really nice is seeing more consumers getting behind their local brands in one way or another, whether drinking it or helping with harvest.
If the momentum behind English wine continues to grow, I see no reason why drinks born out of another part of the industry shouldn’t grow alongside it, if they’re marketed right.
Do you think the English wine industry is establishing its own unique identity?
I definitely think that English wine is forging its own identity in the world and it is a positive one that is largely thanks to the larger wine estates in Sussex and elsewhere in England.
I believe that there’ll always be room for high quality drinks – whatever form they take – but what is really important is that there is an occasion to enjoy that drink.
A big part of my job – as a small producer and, I guess you could say, a creative winemaker – is trying to showcase those other, lesser known products and showing what you can do with them. That’s why shortly after launching our Vermouth range we launched a ready-to-drink cocktail range that showcases some of the things you can do with Vermouth.
Vermouth is a challenging category in the UK. Do you think UK consumers are gaining a better understanding of the drink?
Yes, one bottle at a time! With the increase in home-made cocktail consumption during 2020, I think more people now understand how much of a cocktail staple Vermouth is and also how to use it. Couple that with the rise in ‘the aperitif moment’ trend and many are starting to see why Vermouth has been around since the dawn of time… well, 400 BCE actually.
What’s your In The Loop perfect serve?
I really enjoy our dry white Vermouth with tonic water and a splash of pear syrup, and our semi-sweet red with grapefruit juice and gin.
All of our bottled Vermouth cocktail range are perfect as they are, simply served over ice.
Where in Sussex do you personally enjoy eating and drinking?
I keep meaning to go to Pesca trattoria on Church Road in Hove. The staff are so friendly. I did a Vermouth masterclass at the bar there a few months ago and the food that was brought out looked and smelled amazing.
Where can people currently buy your product in Sussex?
We are now proud suppliers of the National Trust and our products can be found at most of their properties sin Sussex. We also supply a few wine shops including Quaff in Brighton and Bottle and Jug Dept in Worthing. Our full range is also available online at www.intheloopdrinks.co.uk