Charlotte Harding talks to the first woman to win sparkling winemaker of the year at a prestigious award ceremony.
When Cherie Spriggs was named ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ at the International Wine Challenge awards not only would it be the first time a winemaker from outside Champagne had won, but also the first time in its history that a woman had won.
“I just feel very honoured,” enthuses Cherie, who has been nominated for the award twice in the past three years.
“This win is for everyone that works at Nyetimber, who day after day provide inspiration, as well as endless passion, drive and commitment to exceed expectations, all in the pursuit of perfection.
“What is being achieved today here in England, by English wine producers, and particularly by Nyetimber, is significant, as it has never been done before outside of Champagne.”
Cherie and her husband Brad Greatrix moved to Sussex from Canada in 2007.
The couple are both winemakers and became interested in the process because of Brad’s parents.
“I studied biochemistry at university but it was my husband’s parents who introduced me to wine,” reveals Cherie.
“At the end of the week they wouldn’t get in and watch TV but would open a bottle of wine and talk about the week and I just thought ‘wow this is a good thing to do’.
“They really opened my eyes to wine.”
After finishing her degree Cherie was at a crossroads, having trained in classical piano she felt her love for the arts and sciences always clashed, but after a holiday to Burgundy, where she says they make spectacular wine, she fell in love with the process.
“At a similar time to all this the Wine Research Facility was opening in Vancouver and were looking for masters of science so my husband and I did it,” she explains.
“It was great but we started to realise we were more interested in the making rather than the science behind it so we went to Adelaide University to fill in any gaps in our knowledge.”
Cherie has dual Canadian-British nationality as her father is English and while on a trip to the UK Cherie asked her parents if they could bring her back a bottle of Nyetimber’s English sparkling wine for her to try.
“As soon as I tasted it I saw the potential in it that I hadn’t seen before in any other sparkling wine or Champagne,” she reveals.
When Cherie and her husband were thinking about their next career move he suggested applying for their dream job.
“I emailed Nyetimber,” she smiles. “I just asked about the industry and if it would be worth moving from Canada to the UK. The woman working in the cellar got back to me and asked us to send in our CVs, which we did. After numerous phone calls in February 2007 we moved over.”
Cherie’s title at Nyetimber is head winemaker and sees her working across the wine making and vineyard departments looking at what land needs to be bought, harvesting, labelling and bottling.
The harvest takes place in October and Cherie is hopeful that it will be a good year even though we have had a long heatwave over the summer months.
“The vines roots go very deep so it can go a while without water and be very happy accessing water below ground,” she explains.
“The hot weather was at the time of flowering which was ideal so it is looking go so far.”
Winemaking, Cherie reveals, is all about patience and at Nyetimber they like to do things slowly.
“The grapes we pick this year won’t be sold until three or four years later,” she adds.
“We could do it sooner but we want to do it when it is at its peak and tastes its most amazing.”
Nyetimber currently has five sparkling wines in its portfolio and sent in three to be judged in the awards - the Cuvee which is blend of the vineyards three grapes, the Blanc de Blancs which is from the Chardonnay grape and the rose which is mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Nyetimber won three trophies the 2009 Classic Cuvee Magnum won the English Sparkling trophy and English Sparkling Classic Blend Trophy while the 2010 Blanc de Blancs won English Sparkling Blanc de Blancs trophy.
The categories are all judged blind and points are given to the wines.
“Points can also be deducted if the wine isn’t good enough,” reveals Cherie. “It is all done with statistics and you are awarded gold, and silver trophies. It is great as it is about points not politics.
“On the night you can kind of look around and see who has won what but I did think we were good that year but still to win was amazing and I couldn’t stop smiling all evening.
“Now I am both excited and honoured to continue my journey with Nyetimber.”
For more information, visit nyetimber.com