“I knew I wanted both creativity and science in my life,” says Nyetimber’s Cherie Spriggs, who trained as a biochemist and went on to gain a master’s degree in wine research at an educational centre in British Columbia. “It was great because what I was learning was so cutting-edge, but I realised that as fascinating as it was to study wine, what I really wanted to do was make it.”
She travelled to Australia to qualify in winemaking at the University of Adelaide, expecting that she would either stay there or return to Canada to work, but following stints at a few different wineries, she and her husband Brad Greatrix – also a winemaker – decided to follow their hearts and pursue a career in the UK, where her father had been born. “My parents had once brought back a bottle of Nyetimber from a trip to England, and I remember tasting it and thinking it had so much potential,” recalls Spriggs. She wrote a speculative application to the team at the West Sussex winery, who by good fortune were looking for winemakers, and by February 2007 – within just three weeks of making contact – she and Greatrix were happily installed in their new roles. “I guess it shows that when you’re walking on the treadmill of life, it’s important to step back and ask yourself what your dreams are – because they might actually be possible,” she says now.
As the head winemaker (with her husband reporting in to her), Spriggs is ultimately responsible for the quality of wine that Nyetimber puts on the market. “Every day is different, but there’s an annual rhythm to our work – the peak comes in the autumn, when we’re working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to harvest our grapes,” she says. “The Christmas period is busy because there’s a lot of decisions to be made on the production side, but we’re also occupied with sales and marketing initiatives. Then spring comes round and all the tastings get underway.”
Here, Spriggs shares some advice on what it takes to succeed in the winemaking industry…
1/ Science and instinct go hand in hand
First and foremost, you need a very deep knowledge of wine and a high degree of scientific understanding. But you have to use the science as a signpost, rather than as an absolute, because a lot of gut feeling goes into winemaking.
2/ Be open to anything
It’s important to be willing to turn your hand to things you may not be an expert in, because you’ll be working in so many diverse areas of business. That means getting just as comfortable with managing finances as you are with doing tastings.
3/ Try to stay stoic
Risk is inherent to the wine industry. I remember back in 2012, we had a really cold, wet summer, and the fruit just never reached the point when we were able to harvest it – we knew we wouldn’t be able to make wine of the quality we’re known for and expect of ourselves. That was tough emotionally. But actually, most of the time I’m OK with the weather making our lives difficult, because it’s something we know we can’t control – we just have to deal with the consequences.
4/ Keep focusing on the future
I’m always thinking about what we can adapt to make the product even better – it’s all about attention to detail when you’re striving for perfection.
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