Pursuit of excellence key to Gusbourne wines success


By Maciej Lesiewicz

When South African consultant orthopaedic surgeon Andrew Weeber purchased the Gusbourne Estate in Appledore Kent in 2003, with the vision to make of it one of the world’s leading producers of wine, he probably didn’t expect that he would achieve his  dream so quickly.

The awards received in 2013 as ‘English producer of the year’ and the ‘International trophy for the best bottle of fermented sparkling wine’ at the International wine and spirit competition, clearly show that after only ten years he has reached his goal. The sparkling wines produced in the Kentish countryside are considered by experts to be among the best of those produced in the UK.

Andrew Weeber - Gusbourne Estate

Andrew Weeber of Gusbourne Estate

Originally from Stellenbosch, a town in the Western Cape province of South Africa, Weeber grew up surrounded by vineyards and wine production.

When he moved to England and saw the south facing slopes of the Kentish coasts, he knew that they would be perfect for a vineyard, and that the climate and the quality of the soil suited the production of sparkling wine perfectly. Weeber saw an opportunity in what was at the time a fresh and young market and invested his energy into it with the belief that he could create something special.

In his pursuit for the creation of a great wine he joined forces with winemaker Charlie Holland, who has been key to the success of Gusbourne wines.

“I studied business at university and I was going into a career in marketing – said Holland – but when I left England for Australia I had the opportunity to work in a vineyard in McLaren Vale and I remained fascinated by the science and the culture that surround winemaking. I understood it was an interesting career that I could do, so when I came back to England I decided to study winemaking, and then moved in several countries all around the world, including New Zealand, Germany, USA and France, in order to take a look at how different countries make wine”.

“I went back to England in 2009, but it wasn’t originally on my radar as one of the places where I wanted to go to make wine, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting places in the world to do it at the moment – Holland continued – because there are a lot of investments and expertise. It’s a huge growth market”.

The company owns 40 hectares in Kent and a further 21.9 in West Sussex which are all planted with the classic Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and use exclusively his own grape so that the sense of provenience is not lost. And in order to create the best possible wines, there is a strong combination of age-old traditions and methods of winemaking with modern technologies.

“We have of course legal restrictions to follow in terms of winemaking – he explained – but we are not as strict as an old established producing region like Champagne where there are a lot of things that you are not allowed to do. This gives us more freedom to experiment and introduce new technologies”.

Many new companies have to take into account that the beginning can be hard and they may not receive an immediate earning from their investments. In the case of a vineyard, the word patience is key because it’s necessary to invest a large fortune even though it can take four years before it’s possible to get enough fruit for the wine. In Gusbourne’s case, it took even longer because all the wines are aged for a minimum of 36 months in order to achieve a high quality product.

“If you think that you could potentially pass eight years before you get back the money that you’ve invested, there can be the temptation to release your wine earlier to try to keep the money up. But if you want to really obtain the best product – Holland underlined – time and patience are your biggest friends.”

The popularity of English wine is constantly growing; but despite this, Gusbourne’s strategy is not to produce large quantities of wine, but tiny amounts. Every year 40,000 bottles are produced, hence the reason Kentish wines can be considered to be a kind of boutique product.

“We don’t want to be available everywhere, we want to remain exclusive. We work mainly with high quality establishments, like Michelin starred restaurants and hotels. We feel – Holland said – that this synergy is really important, because we want our clients to share our same values on excellence”.

In 2013 Gusbourne was admitted to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in the London Stock Exchange with the distinction of being the first and only UK wine producer ever quoted in the AIM. In the same year, Lord Ashcroft got involved in the business, becoming the main investor with 64.4% of the shareholdings, when his company Shellproof bought Gusbourne.

“We are expanding, but it’s not going to be an uncontrollable growth. What we want to do is consolidate our position in England, but we also want to grow into other markets. We export a small amount of wine abroad at the moment – the winemaker added – but our plan for the next few years is to increase the quantities and enter in a different export market because there’s a big opportunity to do that”.

“In the future we’ll plant more acres to increase production – he continued – English sparkling wine is getting very popular and people have a huge appetite for it, so we need to make it more, but you can’t turn on the taps overnight. If we want to preserve the quality it has to be a slow growth”.

The constant pursuit of excellence brought Gusbourne sparkling wines unanimous appreciation nationwide. Now the challenge for the company is to conquer the foreign markets, and they’ll do it continuing to bet on their strong point, refined quality.


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