Day in the life of a Kent vineyard owner
PUBLISHED: 16:34 21 September 2017
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
John Rowe on Westwell Wines, an Italian heritage and his low interventionist approach to winemaking
Your name: John Augustus Norman Rowe
Job title: Vineyard owner and wine producer
Where: Near Asford
Tell us about you
My mother is Italian and I spent my early years in Italy. From a very young age my mother used to tell to me about vineyards and wines and I grew up talking about them. I came back to England, was educated here and eventually went to University College, London where I read for a degree in Mechanical Engineering. My early career began designing platforms for the oil industry, but today I work in the consumer goods industry.
My interest and love of vineyards and wines never left me and Westwell is the result of years of planning. Being a mechanical engineer helps me run the vineyard because mechanical engineering and wine-making are both about good planning and attention to fine detail.
Tell us about the estate
Westwell Wines is situated just below the Pilgrims Way on the North Downs between Westwell and Charing. We farm vines and arable.
At what age did you start?
I guess I had an interest from about the age of eight. My mother is Italian and I grew up in Italy where excellent wines are produced.
Where did you train?
I’m mostly self-taught – there are some seriously good text books on the subject – but I also did some excellent theoretical and practical wine-making courses at Plumpton College.
Tell us about the vineyard
Looking for and finding the perfect site for Westwell Wines took more than three years’ of serious searching, but it was worth the effort.
We bought the land 10 years ago, in 2007 and have 45 acres in total, 13.5 acres of which are devoted to vines, the remainder to arable.
The location and the soil are excellent for producing grapes. We’re on a south by south-west-facing slope, the top layer of soil is sandy loam under which it is chalk with a lot of flint. This provides excellent drainage and the flint retains heat which is radiated during the night.
We select vines specifically to suit a particular position. Chardonnay is planted on shallower chalk with high flint proportions. Ortega favours the sandiest, sheltered area. The Pinot grapes – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - are grown on sandy/chalky soil.
All our wines are made from our own grapes, which means that we have complete quality control, resulting in the elegant wines for which we are becoming very well-known.
The arable side of the business is managed by a neighbour. He uses the land - this year for oil seed rape - and in exchange cuts our hedges and undertakes other essential jobs on the farm. It is an excellent arrangement that suits us both.
A typical working day?
I normally start at about 7am in the office. I deal with orders that have come in on the internet overnight and there is always considerable admin to do. Loads of emails and meetings take up a fair amount of my time. Outside activities, of course, depend on the time of year, consequently staffing levels vary between five and 20 people. Adam, my right-hand man, is part-time.
In the winery we employ a low interventionist approach using modern but gentle equipment. Our grapes are all hand picked, which allows us to be selective throughout harvest. We believe in gentle pressing and the juices are handled minimally – either by gravity or the use of gentle pumps.
How do you market?
We are currently marketing four premium, hand-made sparkling wines, two Ortega whites, an Ortega Rosé, an Ortega dessert wine and a Chardonnay.
Between 15 and 20 per cent is sold direct online, 40 per cent goes to wine merchants, most of whom are based in Kent and Sussex, but our fame is growing and we are now also available nationally - including Selfridges Food Hall, which has a good reputation for wines. The reminder is sold via wholesalers and through them our wines are now available as far away as the Channel Islands.
Have you won any awards?
Indeed we have – the latest being Best English Sparkling Wine and Best Classic Sparkling Blend The Gold Medal we were awarded at this year’s International Wine Challenge (IWC) was for our Special Cuvée Sparkling 2014, which is also shortlisted for the Best Sparling Wine Global Champion with the IWC.
Any children following in your footsteps?
My son Guido is 13 and he is already showing an interest and is very helpful. I have high hopes!
Marks out of 10?
Can I say 11? I love it – especially on a sunny quiet morning - then it is simply blissful.
Find out more
Westwell Wines Estate, Westwell, Ashford TN25 4NG
Visitors by appointment only. 01233 714618 or firstname.lastname@example.org