Squerryes: a licence to enjoy

View down the vines in the Squerryes vineyard. Anthony Rose

“We need someone to be saying it’s not just about the wines but the whole experience”. Thus spake Henry Warde when I met him at the family vineyard, Squerryes at Westerham on the North Downs near the Surrey border in Kent.

Warde is a wine hospitality evangelist. The restaurant, the cellar door, the membership list are part and parcel of an experience that for him is greater than the sum of the parts and at the heart of what he feels the English wine industry should be about.

“Just as the English wine revolution is having an effect, I think the hospitality thing is an opportunity that will lead to a winery restaurant-type revolution.” – Henry Warde

It’s no coincidence that Squerryes belongs to the select Wine Garden of England group that includes Chapel Down, Balfour and Champagne Taittinger’s Domaine Evremond. Henry Warde regards Balfour’s Richard Balfour-Lynn as the godfather of the hospitality industry and he sees Evremond as instrumental in the creation of the Wine Garden of England, thanks to their respect for the region and an open-minded camaraderie.

It was another Champagne company that inspired the Warde family to plant a vineyard with a view to making sparkling wines. On a reccy for a south-facing chalk site similar to their own chardonnay vineyards in Vertus in Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, Duval-Leroy visited Squerryes (they also looked at Bride Valley, Steven Spurrier’s property in Dorset) in 2004.

“Looking to Champagne for inspiration, it was our first lightbulb moment,” says Henry Warde.

Confirmation that the Squerryes property ticked all the sparkling wine boxes thanks to its combination of chalk soils, south-facing escarpment and a relatively dry, warm site, gave Henry and his father John the confidence to start planting vines in 2006. John, a farmer for 45 years, attended Plumpton College to learn about viticulture and winemaking and they took on Stephen Skelton MW as their consultant. Their first vintage was 2010, after which they started to sell their wines in 2014.

The second lightbulb moment occurred on a trip to the Napa Valley in 2005. Their eyes opened to a warm and welcoming consumer experience.

“The way our American cousins think of the consumer is exemplary,” says Henry.

“They value the direct-to-consumer model highly with first-rate hospitality and the ability to buy into the philosophy of the estate. What’s super interesting about the Napa scenario is their proximity to San Francisco and their ability to engage with the local community and tourists to allow the values of wine and hospitality to flourish.”

Henry Warde feels that English wine should also draw on the way the beer industry has integrated pubs into the cultural psyche. Like pubs, wineries—he believes—have the potential to create places for people to come for a joy-filled experience.

“Licet Esse Beatis, a licence to enjoy, is our family motto. We’ve been creating joy for 300 years, and now we’re bottling it.”

“Hospitality is critical to the Garden of England ethos,” says Warde, who believes that there are huge opportunities for the English wine world to create places where people come to celebrate or just gather as friends in a sociable environment that includes good wine and food.

“We’re discovering that wineries are becoming places for celebration and special occasions, sitting in between the pub local thing and the Michelin star experience, which for me doesn’t exude joy, and can be a bit starchy.”

He cites the example of South Africa, where the culture of food and wine is embedded.

“We will get South African ladies-who-lunch looking for a place to meet up with friends and celebrate; they’re happy to spend money because it’s a familiar experience.”

Henry Warde at Squerryes. Anthony Rose

Comprising 2,500 acres, of which 900 acres is woodland managed by the family, the estate has been in the family for 300 years. As farmers who once traded wool with the French for red wine, they are well aware that running an estate is not just about the growing, but the making and the selling too.

On the growing side, Ernst Weiss from Germany planted the vines back in 2006. They then found workers from Romania who remain with them to this day. Marian, Henry Warde’s ‘sergeant-major’, has been working in the vineyards since 2007, barking out the orders.

There are 50 acres under vine, 40% planted to chardonnay, 37% to pinot noir and the balance to meunier. They historically have had a swap deal with Henners, whose winemaker, Collette O’Leary, has carried out the winemaking under their supervision. This year Squerryes are developing their own winemaking operations which will increase production to 100,000 to 120,000 bottles per year.

Squerryes have 1300 members on their list, who buy at least 12 bottles a year.

“It’s like a wine club but more than that,” says Henry Warde.

“You come along for a great meal and buy a few bottles or a case at the same time.”

There’s an all-year-round calendar of events including a black tie opera at Squerryes Court in the spring and a summer party in June.

“It’s becoming a membership people are proud of and they like to spread the word,” he says.

Over half of sales are direct to the consumer, roughly a third from the cellar door/restaurant and there’s an allocation to local restaurants. As the output grows, the aim is to sell three-quarters of production direct to the consumer, the remaining quarter to local restaurants.

“Just as the English wine revolution is having an effect, I think the hospitality thing is an opportunity that will lead to a winery restaurant-type revolution. The more people can do what we’re doing well, the greater the opportunity there is for this culture to become ingrained.”

The Wines

Squerryes Wines

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