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Q&A: Mike Roberts, Ridgeview Wine Estate, England

by admin / 2018-09-10 09:17 Click: © Ridgeview Vineyards, Sussex, England | Mike Roberts in his laboratory Britons are currently primed for celebrating and/or commiserating, with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend in June and the Olympic Games in July. An appropriate drop is at hand. Ridgeview Wine Estate produces sparkling wine in Sussex, England and is already reporting an upswing in sales. Mike Roberts, 69, director and winemaker of the family-run winery, takes stock. By Rose Hoare | Posted Wednesday, 11-Apr-2012 Advertisement

Where did you grow up? 

Until I was four I lived in North Wales, and then I was brought to a place called Sanderstead, which is near Croydon, south London. I was educated close by, at a school called Purley County Grammar. Played lots of rugby. I was doing the hundred yards in 12 seconds despite being 15 stone-plus, so we were a bit like the French, really.

How did you get into winemaking? 

I became a chartered accountant, went through to become a director of a public company, and started my own computing business in 1983. Sold that in 1994. I’d been often saying, "I fancy a vineyard," and I just happened to stumble across this particular piece of land. I went to college, planted up here and got cracking. Lots of people thought we were mad. "English" was probably the worst marketing word you could put on a bottle of wine. We couldn’t understand why people concentrated on very strange German varieties, with Champagne just 100km south of here [across the English Channel], with the same geology, almost the same temperatures, same moisture.

What drew you to wine? 

It's one of the few products in the world where you make it entirely. When I go to a restaurant and suddenly, "Oh, there’s a bottle of our wine," I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction to know that we planted the vines, we picked the grapes, we harvested it, we made it into wine, we bottled it and we even stuck the label on it. The only thing like it is making software.

Is great wine made in the vineyard or the winery? 

A bad winemaker can ruin good fruit. A good winemaker probably can never make a really good wine out of bad fruit. So it must be the most important thing to have good fruit.

Do you make wine for the people, the critics, or yourself? 

I make it for the tastes that I want to see in the wine. I like freshness, fruit characters. As for awards, they're incredibly important to us. We regularly put all our current production through competitions. There are always aberrations but they get tasted professionally – and to us, that means someone’s monitoring our wines for quality.

What impact has the recession had on your business? 

Can you ask me in a couple of years' time? All sorts of things could happen; some of them could be extremely nasty.

Whom or what do you most admire? 

Champagne. They’ve managed to create an environment where they have a reasonably fair share between growers and négociants – one wants to grow as much as possible; the other wants only enough of the best – and they’ve been able to create a marketing attitude way beyond any other wine product. I love the way some of the Champenois make their wine and how good they are. Some are truly beautiful; some disappoint. I had some Cristal – everyone talks about it. I thought it was extraordinarily ordinary.

And least admire? 

People that don’t take enough care with their wine, don't drink enough other wine. There are boutique wineries in the UK that make small amounts of wine and don't subject it to any form of getting someone else to taste it. They don’t even bother to have laboratory tests. Then I come across people who say, "I've tried English wine, it was awful."

What is it that you most dislike in a wine? 

Really heavily oaked chardonnay. When I first had it, I thought, "God, this is fantastic." But after having it on three or four occasions, you start to realize this is really getting a bit like drinking planks.

What music do you listen to when you are working? 

I am much more a Rachmaninoff or Sibelius man. I suppose, like everybody my age, I enjoy Queen, Charles Aznavour, Barbra Streisand, but if I come into the winery I switch on BBC Radio 4.

Tell us about a surprising wine in your cellar. 

I have a huge bottle – an imperial, six liters – of Margaux. I didn’t mean to buy it, but I went to a charity event at Windsor Castle. There was an auction and I thought I would be very cunning and try to get the price up a bit, and ended up forking out about £700 ($1112) for this bottle. Which is probably quite good value, but I’m not sure when on earth I’m going to drink it.

What do you drink on a school night? 

I love Sancerre.

Your views on climate change?

The most common school of thought is that we will be able to relax a bit more in terms of the pressures of mildew. The other scenario is, the Gulf Stream stops and we become totally ice-aged, in which case I shan't be worrying about wine, shall I?

Do you have a wine-and-food match you find hard to resist? 

I really like our blanc de noirs with lamb. Our way of [cooking] lamb would be to add mint sauce, which has vinegar in it. The French would go berserk at the idea of producing a meal with vinegar in it and then trying to drink wine, which I totally agree with. But you do need something acidic to cut through the fat, so a sparkling wine which tends to have a high acidity but with some bullish flavors. I think they go extraordinarily well together.

Q&A: Mike Roberts, Ridgeview Wine Estate, England© Ridgeview Wine Estate | Ridgeview Vineyards, Sussex, England

If you weren’t making wine in Sussex, which region or country would you want to work in? 

People say, "Why didn’t you just buy a vineyard in France?" I've always said they would have to throw me out of England to get rid of me.

During harvest, to whom do you pray? 

We’re so busy there’s not enough time to pray.

Are you afraid of dying? 

Yes. The thing I dislike the most would be stopping seeing my children develop and my grandchildren, and the business – suddenly being cut off from it.

What would you want the last wine you taste to be? 

We have a wine which is 1997, the first year from this vineyard here. It turned out to be a beautiful year. I wouldn’t mind going out with a bottle and a half of that, or a couple of bottles, or a crate. The other thing I’d want to do, once I’d drunk myself into that stupid state, [is] go in row 22, which we walk down every day to check the weather station. I’m going to feed some vines with a little potash.

Do you have any regrets? 

Giving up sailing. We had to do it; it got too time-consuming running this business.

What brings you the greatest happiness? 

The success of the family, and that we haven’t cajoled anyone to join in. You have difficult times with each other – of course you do – but there’s another dimension that makes it even more wonderful when you do these great things.

What do you think would make the world a better place? 

I would like God to reveal herself, this lovely black goddess, and say, "I don’t exist. I’m just a myth of your imagination." Religion is one of the most malevolent things in life, really. The bigotedness. The sheer illogicality of it all, and then the hatred people create. So, yes: get rid of all religion.

In the end, what really matters? 

My wife is the most important thing in my life.

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