Nick Mosley asks the questions to Sally Wentworth James, sales director of Ditchling Spirits in East Sussex.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Sally Wentworth James, 58, born and raised in Sussex – I’m definitely a Brighton Girl! I’ve been very lucky to have had an amazing career primarily in the alternative and healthcare education sectors. I started as a teacher in a sixth form college, setting up vocational qualifications before then spending 15 years working with ex- and serving offenders in a training, employment and resettlement capacity.
My final teaching role was working with South East Ambulance as their Head of Education. In between I was a sports coach, sold chartered aircraft, enjoyed various roles in hospitality and even starred in an ITV social experiment called Bring Back Borstal. I’ve certainly had a varied and fascinating working background.
What led you into a career in distilling industry?
My partner – Helen – and I by chance became redundant at almost the same point in time. Unsure of the next step in our careers, we got the opportunity to enter this incredible industry, which at that time I have to admit we knew nothing about. We studied for some qualifications, spent time with distillers, publicans, drink retailers and spirits experts and – along with our investor, friends and family – we set up Ditchling Spirits.
Take us through the process of creating Ditchling Gin…
We started off experimenting with the local botanicals from the surrounding Sussex area and would drop our creations onto friends’ doorsteps on a Friday afternoon for them to try. It was a bit like carrying out a milk round. On finding our perfect combination of quality UK grain spirit and carefully sourced botanicals, we launched our new gin at the local village ball and Ditchling Gin was born. It was greeted with such positivity, that we realised that we had created something very special.
There must be around 20 craft gin brands in Sussex at the moment. Why do you think the interest in small-batch gin is so strong locally?
Sussex is becoming recognised for outstanding vineyards, breweries and gin. The quality of Sussex-based gins is incredible; the passion of local distillers and the drive to make the region the best it can be really appeals to consumers.
We started operating at the beginning of the pandemic which unfortunately scuppered our plans to have our own distillery. However, everything about Ditchling Gin is ours and we are extremely proud of our brand and what has been created. We use South Downs water, the best UK grain spirit and a range of quality botanicals. The gin is a fresh, well-balanced spirit with coriander, juniper, orange, lemon, bitter almond and cassia bark botanicals combining to create a rich taste with a subtle sweet orange citrus finish.
What’s it like being based in the village of Ditchling?
We’ve an incredibly passionate team of local villagers who help us and we’re proud to support local charities and fundraising.
We believe both of our drinks perfectly represent the community we live in, the beautiful environment we enjoy and the Arts and Crafts movement heritage of the region.
Where can consumers try and buy Ditchling Spirits?
We’re in almost every local independent retailer including Quaff, South Downs Cellars, Higgins of Hove and Brighton Your Spirit as well as farm shops and garden centres. You can find a list of our retailers and pubs on our website www.ditchlingspirits.com. You can also buy online at Virgin Wines, Masters of Malt, Amazon and the Drink Shop.
What successes have you recently had?
We’ve had an incredible two years of trading, winning a total of nine international awards for both of our products. We are recognised for the quality and design of our drinks and have won international competitions for creativity and authenticity, including a Harpers Gold Design Award for both our Ditchling Gin and Fling toffee vodka branding.
We’re really proud to be stocked in numerous prestigious venues including Glyndebourne Opera House, The Polizzi and the Elite collection of hotels, as well as numerous well-known chef-led premium restaurants.
We are also stocked by most of the UK’s major wholesalers with our bottles available in over 400 outlets in the south of England alone.