“Some people might not expect to see wildflowers in a vineyard. But those wildflowers can attract insects that help to pollinate the crop.
“Weeds could be like the wild grasses growing around a section of the vineyard I replanted earlier this year, which have helped to shade the young vines over the summer and hold moisture in the top layer of soil.”
I wonder whether ten years ago, when the English wine industry heard that an inexperienced new grower was going to lean wholeheartedly into organic wine production, Kristin might have been regarded by some as a bit out of place too.
“I guess I must be Gen Z in spirit!”
For Kristin of course, part of the answer to these concerns is organic production – yet organic wine is still firmly a minority pursuit in the UK. In 2021 there were estimated to be 44 organic and/or biodynamic vineyards out of 879 in the UK (S. P. Skelton MW www.englishwine.com).
That’s just 5% of the total – and includes those still undergoing conversion.
Yet Kristin feels that interest is growing as more growers see that growing organically is possible, and she has started regularly to field questions on organics from both new and established growers. She modestly won’t accept the title of ‘organic pioneer’ – that’s Will Davenport – but she’s certainly pioneering and showing not only that organic grapes can be grown in the UK, but that the wines they make can be amazing.
It wasn’t always this way.
Kristin didn’t grow up drinking wine – “that didn’t happen in protestant Norway” – but she fell in love with food, cooking, and growing things. As her London-based PR career took off, she was able to educate her wine palate, and afford to buy farmland in the beautiful East Sussex countryside near Rye.
Despite the success of her career, she always knew that she wanted to do something more tangible, that would connect with the soil. For a while she thought about growing herbs. Finally, wine won over – she “couldn’t imagine anything more satisfying.”
There was never any question for Kristin about trying to grow organically. But back in 2012 she faced a huge level of scepticism about whether an inexperienced grower like her would succeed. Even ten years on there are plenty who still argue that growing organically can’t be done profitably in England.
Of course, Kristin disagrees. She feels that she faces no more ‘disaster’ years than anyone else – by her measure around one in five years will be severely constrained by weather conditions. That means that she needs good harvests in the other four – and so far, that’s holding true.
“It’s a huge amount of work growing organically, and there are always curveballs,” Kristin tells me. “For example, this year there’s a big problem with wasps. We’ve had wasps before, but they had never attacked the grapes.”
But Kristin’s principles run deep. She lives as sustainably as possible, growing her own food, using solar panels to generate power, driving an electric vehicle for deliveries. And sustainability isn’t just about avoiding chemical sprays – she uses organic sprays as sparingly as possible and organises vineyard work to do as many tractor jobs at the same time to minimise diesel usage.
It’s a whole system of thinking that uses as few resources as possible. Yet ultimately, Kristin is very clear that a business must make money – it’s no good being systematic about sustainable production if nobody wants to buy your wines. That includes people who have never bought a bottle of organic wine before.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Oxney.
Tasting through Kristin’s range recently, it’s clear that her wines are up there with the best of England. As well as the superbly elegant, refined sparkling wines, her still 2020 Pinot Noir is exceptional – and could easily be mistaken for something Beaune Premier Cru-ish: ripe, silky, and awash with red berry fruit. It’s one of the best English examples we’ve tasted.
If a weed is a plant that thrives despite doing the unexpected, then Oxney Organic Estate must be one of the strongest weeds in English winemaking.
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