Raising A British Glass Of Wine To Brexit
Richard Balfour-Lynn talks to us about his plans for his Hush Heath vineyard following the recent Brexit decision and the future opportunities for the British Wine Industry.
In March 2012, Richard Balfour-Lynn stepped down from his position as Chief Executive and Director of the property group Marylebone Warwick Balfour (MWB) which included the Malmaison, Hotel du Vin, De Vere Hotels and Village Hotels brands, to concentrate on work at Hush Heath vineyard.
Hidden deep in Kent, the Garden of England, the Hush Heath Estate had been acquired in 2000 and has since become home to the award winning sparkling wines, Balfour Brut Rosé and Balfour 1503 which are refined amongst other wines and ciders from fruit grown on the beautiful vineyards and apple orchards.
Over the last few years non-champagne Rosés have beaten their French counterparts in Sommelier and Decanter Wine awards and Balfour Brut Rosé has been selected several times for First Class passengers on British Airways A380 as well as for the Orient Express.
The high chalk soil in Kent is a close match to that of the more famous champagne region of northern France and with climate change providing more favourable conditions for Kent growers the opportunity to challenge the famous champagne vineyards has been steadily growing – although price has continued to be an obstacle with the English wines appearing expensive – however, that all seems about to change and Richard Balfour Lynn is incredibly optimistic about the Brexit vote and what this means for the English wine industry.
“The possibilities are huge, there is so much negativity around Brexit, but there’s going to be a big opportunity to get UK consumers drinking English wine more as we are going to have a price advantage over the next few years. There’s going to be the opportunity to be more competitive.”
There is so much negativity around Brexit, but there’s going to be a big opportunity to get UK consumers drinking English wine more as we are going to have a price advantage.
The United Kingdom is the largest wine importer in the world – it depends on France, Italy and Spain to supply around 60% of the UK’s wine. In the debates surrounding the recent EU Referendum, most wine merchants supported the Remain campaign and these merchants could clearly see the effects that any new trading laws may have on their industry, as well as the time that it will take for these new trade agreements to be put in place by our government.
However, with 52% percent of voters deciding they wanted to leave the EU, the value of the pound has decreased, making European wine more expensive for British consumers. The questions is will this encourage major UK consumers to shy away from buying European wine? Some are saying that an exit from the EU is going to have a considerable detrimental effect on the European wine industry, where wine from the Burgundy region is already under pressure due to reports of bad weather at a critical time ruining the 2016 vintage. Combine this with the lower value of the pound, Burgundy wine will be priced out of what the market can bear.
So, where do British wine makers need to focus their efforts if they are to encourage more home-grown sales? Richard Balfour -Lynn acknowledges that although the industry is in its early stages, the quality of the product is crucial if business is to develop. “We’re still very young as an industry, and it’s only now that we’re seeing an improvement in our reputation. We, as winemakers, need to make sure quality doesn’t slip as we grow.”
Although currently English wine has a very tiny share of the UK wine market, the quality is good, and with a push on marketing, PR and educating the consumer, the opportunity for wine businesses is big. If local home-grown brands position themselves cleverly, UK consumers will demand the product and retailers will need to react accordingly.
It is going to be cheaper for those in Asia, the US and EU to buy from the UK and a focused strategy for this is key. “What Brexit has done is made us put more money into our export strategy. This is going to be a big focus for us going forward.” Balfour-Lynn has recently launched into Japan and is preparing to launch in the US in October 2016. “We need to be successful in the domestic market. As an industry we probably made £6 million bottles last year. The long term projection is we’ll be making up to 50 million in 10 years. We’re going to become a significant industry.”
What Brexit has done is made us put more money into our export strategy. This is going to be a big focus for us going forward.
So, yes we know that the wine industry is dependent on new trading agreements and the financial markets, but there is clearly an opportunity for businesses to develop their offering to the UK market, as well as overseas. Balfour-Lynn finishes with a crucial point though: “The government now has the opportunity to support the English wine industry and lower export duty tariffs.” Let’s wait to see if the government, like the British winemakers, takes advantage of this opportunity.
- Balfour 1503 Classic Cuvee – Gold Medal 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards
- Balfour Blanc de Blanc 2012 – Gold Medal – 2015 International Champagne & Sparkling Wine Awards
- Balfour Brut Rosé 2010 – Gold Medal – 2014 The Drinks Business Rosé Masterclass
- Balfour Brut Rosé 2010 – Gold Medal – 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards
Owner, Hush Heath Estates
Richard is the producer of Hush Heath Estate’s Balfour Brut Rosé, England’s most exclusive pink sparkling wine, which is produced at his Kent vineyard. He farms 400 acres of apple orchards and vineyards, producing and selling his own apple juice and sparkling wine under the brand name Balfour Brut Rosé.
After a 30 year career in property he stepped down from his position as chief executive and director of property group Marylebone Warwick Balfour (MWB) to concentrate on work at Hush Heath vineyard. MWB was noted for its ownership of independent companies: the AIM-listed retail group Liberty, owner of the Liberty store in central London and the luxury goods brand Liberty of London boutique and hotel chains Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.