Ridgeview is one of the pioneering vineyards of Britain’s sparkling wine revolution. It was founded by Mike and Christine Roberts back in 1995, when they couple were early to spot South England’s excellent potential for sparkling wine production.
It has gone from an original production of 25,000 bottles to producing around a half a million sparkling bottles annually.
Since his father’s passing in 2014, Simon Roberts has headed up the Winemaking team, with his sister Tamara at the helm as CEO.
Simon originally began his career by studying Marine Engineering stemming from his love of sailing. But after a summer helping out the family business, he caught the winemaking bug.
After studying viticulture and winemaking in the UK, he went to complete a vintage in Australia at Brown Brothers where he met his wife Mardi – now Ridgeview’s Communications Director.
In 2018, Ridgeview with Simon as Head Winemaker, received the ultimate accolade by being named global ‘International Winemaker of the Year’ in the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition.
The family are incredibly proud to have served at a collection of Royal occasions including to former US President Barack Obama at Buckingham Palace and for both Her Majesty the Queen’s 80th birthday and Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Simon is passionate about sustainability and was a founding committee member of Sustainable Wines GB.
We caught up with him over a glass or two of the good stuff…
What was your first experience of wine?
Probably about 16, drinking Bulgarian country wine! Though the first wine I ever truly fell in love with was the first release of Pelorus by Cloudy Bay, which is a sparkling New Zealand wine. The winemaker was Harry Osborne – and it was the first [proper] wine I tasted. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness – I really do love this.’
And what about champagne?
The first wine I tasted which really stood out was from De Venoge, which my dad really loved – so much so, that he ended up buying pallets of it. I think it was the 1983 vintage, which he gave out to all his staff at his old business. I remember one Christmas having a glass before lunch and just thinking, ‘Wow, this is incredible!’
Was there a specific moment when you decided you were going to change your career path and move to the family business?
There was actually, I had just finished studying at college, something completely different. Dad showed up and said, “Look, this is what I do, this is what is going on currently and would you be willing to come and spend the summer, and help plant this vineyard?” I sort of quite begrudgingly agreed. I had never even sat in a tractor before, or never done anything with farming.
I remember a really early Sunday morning spraying – and thought, ‘I love this. I absolutely love this.’ I decided to go back to college to study viticulture and winemaking.
How was the course at Plumpton College?
Plumpton College is probably the most important institution in our industry, with the majority of winemakers studying there. It's been really nice to be one of the first commercial wineries to see how that's evolved.
When my dad studied there, the course was held in a reconverted chicken house, I think. Well, it certainly felt like that.
When I was there, I only had two other people on the course with me. And now it’s grown, they've got a fully operational land, they've got a proper working winery, it's a completely different place. The impact that the college has had on our industry is just amazing. There's a lot of loyalty and I think people appreciate how much the college has done for English Wine.
Talk us through your time at Brown Brothers. What did you learn there?
That was a great experience. I was there working alongside five winemakers from around the world to complete a vintage, I got assigned one of the winemakers to shadow.
The year I was there, the other four people I was with weren't really that interested in wine. So, I got really immersed into the culture and got to experience so many things, I learnt so much.
Even though back then it was a massive business, it was still very much a family business and that was inspirational.
John Brown Sr on a Sunday morning would come down to the winery with a five-litre container, go up to one of the tanks, and say, “Oh, that's for Sunday dinner”.
It was a great experience and then I've still got friends that still work there and some people I met that have now become winemakers in Australia and I still keep in contact with them.
How has the English wine industry changed since you started in it?
It's changed a lot. When we started, the industry was so small that everyone knew each other. There was just this collective feeling of what we wanted to achieve as an industry and quality was always paramount from day one.
We really did help each other out, and we enjoyed really good relationships with the original founders of Nyetimber and Chapel Down. We were making wine with many figures from really well-established brands, and studied together with many key figures in our industry.
Looking at the 2022 industry, it’s so much more professional now, there’s a lot of investments. Long gone are the days when people are retiring and starting vineyards up as a hobby.
Our industry is still rather small globally, and if those in the industry work together productively we are still much stronger together as a collective.
How was this year’s harvest for you? Is 2022 going to be a good vintage?
This year’s harvest is really interesting. Because we've had such a hot, dry summer, the yield is slightly down because obviously you need the rain just to plump up the fruit and help with the ripening. This year we didn’t have that, so it was a lighter harvest than we'd hoped. But because it was so hot, the ripeness and the complexity and the quality of the fruit is just amazing.
We've nearly finished tasting all the finished fermenting tanks and there's not one bad tank out of more than 100. They're all absolutely amazing. There were quite a few challenges this harvest for one reason or another, but the quality has been excellent.
What are you working on next – any new varietals or blends in the pipeline?
We’re really excited to announce we’ve released a limited-edition Sparkling Red Reserve NV. It’s our first since 2009. We're very excited about our first new release for a couple of years.
What was the best piece of advice your father gave you?
I think that probably the reason he wanted to get into the English wine industry is that he wanted to be involved in something with like-minded people that shared the same values.
I believe that's what we do at Ridgeview. We have our values, which everyone that works with us shares and everyone that we come into contact within the industry shares those values and that's what we all work together to do.
Aside from your father, who else in the industry has inspired you?
So, there is a winemaker in the English wine industry called Peter Hall, his vineyard is called Breaky Bottom. Peter Hall has been making wine since the 1970s and does everything himself. He’s an absolute legend in the industry, a real character. I met him when I was still pretty young, early 20s and alongside my dad, he would be one of my inspirations.
If you could only drink one grape for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
Pinot noir, hands down. I absolutely love it. It's my favourite grape because you can do so much with it. You've got blanc de noir sparkling wine and then you’ve got burgundy. I mean, do you need to drink any other wine?
What are your death-row bottles?
Of Ridgeview wines, I'd have to be very selfish and say our Oak Reserve. And then any other wine, no shadow of doubt, it would be Au Bon Climat, which is a Californian wine. He was a legend, the winemaker Jim Clendenen. Every wine he’s ever produced, I've just absolutely loved.
For more information, see ridgeview.co.uk.