We had the pleasure of putting our wine-speak to good use recently (think ‘balanced’, ‘full-bodied’ and ‘I’ll take the whole bottle’) during the planting of Simpsons Wine‘s newest vineyard on the chalky North Downs of Kent. Their sleek wine room is open for tastings this summer, and Smith members get two free tasting experience tickets, plus 20 per cent off their online wine shop (more on that here). In the meantime, though, here’s Ruth and Charles Simpson on wine…
What led you to a career in wine making, and did you face any challenges along the way?
We started out in very different industries: humanitarian aid (Ruth) and pharmaceutical marketing (Charles). It all came together when we were living and working in Baku, Azerbaijan – that’s where we wrote our first business plan.
Our focus was to invest in emerging wine-producing regions. This led us to Languedoc–Roussillon in France, where we found the bones of a perfect property: Domaine de Sainte Rose. We’ve since re-designed the winery and vineyard with environmentally-friendly materials and farming methods, and in 2012 we established our second business – Simpsons Wine Estate back in the UK. The British climate is definitely a challenge (even with Kent benefitting from the highest sunshine hours in the country) – and a lot of factors need to come together to make good wine: a south-facing vineyard on a decent slope, at less than 100m from sea level and with protection from the wind.
Describe your wine in three words
Pure, authentic, handcrafted.
Tell us about the pairing of Kent and Montpellier – how do they complement each other, how do they differ?
We bought both vineyards when their respective regions were in relative infancy – it’s the idea of change and challenge that appealed to us. We make wine from estate-grown grapes only at both sites, and carry out the entire process ourselves. But the land is very different. The terroir of Sainte Rose is a mix of clay, limestone and gravel soils; Simpsons is on intense chalk soil, which means we use specially selected rootstock and clones that can survive that environment.
Do you work closely with any other local artisans or businesses?
Our most important relationships are with local restaurants and hotels – namely the Fordwich Arms, Bridge Arms and Hide and Fox (we’d recommend a meal at all three), plus the Pig at Bridge Place. We also work closely with the Macknade delicatessen and Gibsons Farm shop.
Beyond that, we partner with the Oak and Rope company – local artisans who made the signs, posts and row markers you’ll see hanging in our vineyards and the winery.
How important is the branding of Simpsons to you?
When your name appears on every bottle, branding definitely takes a front foot. The crest in our logo reflects the three elements of Simpsons: the lion from our ancestral crest (people); the white horse from the flag of Kent (place); and then our product in the centre – where the manes intertwine to form a vine leaf.
Is there a hotel that best resonates with your brand or product?
We already loved the ethos of the Pig hotels, and particularly their restaurant menus that source all ingredients from within a 25 mile radius of their grounds. We were over the moon when the Pig at Bridge Place opened just three miles from our estate, and have since spent a lot of time there.
Where did you learn the most about yourselves and your company: is there a particular trip that inspired you?
While living in Azerbaijan, we went on multiple holidays to wine regions across Europe – such as Tuscany, Rioja, Turkey and Georgia – learning as much as we could about the product that we loved (and having a good time doing it, naturally).
What’s next for Simpsons?
We’re marking our first decade at Simpsons with a third vineyard – Bonny Bush Hill – which will help us to keep up with the demand for our still wines. We’re really looking forward to seeing what that brings for us, and are keeping everything crossed for a good harvest season.
And where’s next for a much-deserved break?
We tend to live at our French Domaine in the Languedoc over summer (the weather is a bit more, shall we say, predictable than in England). It’s still work but in a different place – and the change of scene and pace are something we always look forward to: there’s certainly something enduringly romantic about a slow European summer.
Additional photography by the author