The Property Chronicle speaks to Jim Nolan, CEO and founder of Black Dog Hill
Operating since 2007, Black Dog Hill is a family-run vineyard in Ditchling, Sussex. The Nolan family didn’t have to travel far to find one of the world’s finest vineyard sites, since they were already living on it. The serendipity of geology, geography and benign maritime climate encouraged the Nolan family to plant the vineyard in 2007, which has since grown to produce award-winning, sparkling wine that has found national and international success. The Property Chroniclesat down with Jim Nolan, CEO and founder of Black Dog Hill, to discuss the process of producing sparkling wine on a vineyard located 830ft high in the South Downs National Park.
What is the core principle of your business?
Family. My parent’s ashes are in the vineyard and my four children work there. My wife is the managing director and my parents-in-law are hugely involved. Since we were brought up here, the Sussex soil is in our blood. We believe Sussex produce to be the equal or better than any in the world; cheese, meat, beer – but especially wine.
What encouraged you to plant the vineyard 12 years ago, and how have you managed to maintain its success?
Fun is at the heart of our business. Above all, we love what we do. It’s quite simply the most stunning vineyard and working there to produce our incredible, award-winning wines is a pleasure. Some cold, wet mornings perhaps less so, but it’s always a privilege to be a part of it.
How does English sparkling wine compare to other countries?
It’s now comparable to any in the world. We have been named in the Sunday Timesas a one of the very best “sparklers” and we consistently beat comparable champagne in tastings. In a survey conducted five years ago, only 12% of participants said yes to trying an English wine; last year, that figure was 48%. The industry still has a long way to go, but recognition and awareness is growing hugely and it will not be long until every table and home has a bottle of beautiful English wine in pride of place.
Three generations of your family have lived and worked at Black Dog Hill Vineyard. Can you tell us more about how the vineyard began?
I have loved wine since the age of 13; my father’s cellar had many missing bottles because of this, wine that was never to be seen again. If I was always aware of wine growing up, then I equally knew that that if there was ever the opportunity to produce it myself, I would do so in Sussex.Having travelled far and wide tasting the odd glass, I knew that the perfect conditions to grow my favourite styles of wine could be found right here, at home. Luckily, my wife, Anja, shares the same passion.
What are some of the advantages of having a vineyard in the South Downs?
Beauty. Terroir and climate. In 30 years, this area will match and surpass the great growing areas of the world.
What are some of the challenges of having a vineyard in the South Downs?
Like anywhere you farm, the weather can be a cruel mistress. Beyond that, I can’t think of any draw backs to farming this beautiful area.
How has the world of English sparkling wine changed over the years?
Beyond anyone’s imagination. From often derided old style fruit and an unimaginative wine making process, we now lead the world in cold climate wine innovation. Regularly winning international awards and beating many of the more established growers, we now stand proud on the world stage.
English vineyards and land values… does it add worth to create a vineyard?