Despite being brought up on a farm, I started work agency-side, where I met Pod, my wife. After helping set up and then selling Oystercatchers to Centaur Media, I started Alchemists in May 2019 and am relishing the thrill of a start-up once again.
But the past 10 years have been particularly challenging and rewarding for me and Pod (pictured below right, with their children), as we have tried to transfer our marketing skills to creating Tuffon Hall, a vineyard and wine venture. The family farm had always been in the back of my mind but growing barley and wheat did not seem as exciting to me in the early days. But growing vines did. And the final product has certainly always appealed, as some of you reading this might attest.
We started in 2011 by planting the classic Champagne varieties on a South-facing hill: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, as well as Bacchus. We have chalk (marine shell) underneath sandy clay, which is poor soil for growing wheat, but brilliant for growing grapes.
We’ve picked up numerous regional and national gold medals and just won a silver medal from the London Wine Competition, open to wines from around the world. We sell our wines in Waitrose and at The Dorchester and Soho House, as well as local restaurants and bars. Anthony Foster, the well-known Master of Wine, has compared our produce to some of the great wines of France, placing our Bacchus alongside Sauvignon as a noble variety and our rosé alongside the top Provençale rosés.
I tend to deal with sales and Pod is the organisational genius. Her training as an account handler means she can cope with anything and she runs the business pretty much full time; I focus on Alchemists from Monday to Thursday. It works as a partnership and it’s so important our three girls see their mum as an entrepreneurial role model. In fact, our daughters are a major part of the enterprise. Amelie is the name of our Bacchus. Beatrice is the rosé, and Charlotte is the sparkling pink. Hamish, who is nearly two, is likely to give his name to the grape gin or perhaps the brandy, which is still maturing in barrels.
Last year, we finished converting our 17th-century barn into a cellar door for tastings, weddings and other events. Right now, selling direct to consumers has been critical to preserving margins and May was our best month ever for sales because of local support and the weather. We have launched a membership programme and regular customers receive additional offers and exclusive invitations.
To be fair, it’s become much more of a side hustle but, during lockdown, it has been a joy to be able to switch between setting up Alchemists and seeing the vineyard flourish. And it’s the perfect tonic to have a walk among the vines between the grind of daily Zoom calls.
Angus Crowther is co-founder of Alchemists and founder of Tuffon Hall
As told to Jeremy Lee