Interview with Gareth Davies Winemaker at Fitz

31st July 2020

Fitz Sparkling Wine Fitz Pink

Fitz wanted to enter the English sparkling wine industry, but by trying something different, when Fitz first started every English sparkling wine was made using the traditional method, but Fitz didn’t want to make their Sparkling Wines that way, they wanted to create a different flavour, they wanted to give England and the rest of the world a different tasting sparkling wine from England and so their wine is made by the Charmat method.

Their Fitz Pink won a Trophy in the Light & Fruity category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2019 and Fitz Classic a Silver Medal in the Spring Fling category.

How did you become involved in the wine industry?

A love of food landed me in restaurant kitchens – firstly part-time whilst still at school, followed by a couple of seasons cooking in the French Alps. From here I started to develop a passion for wine and soon realised there are many parallels between creating food and oenology, but that work/life balance was perhaps more forgiving in the world of wine (that’s excluding harvest, of course!). When I found out that you could study winemaking at Plumpton College it was a no-brainer, really. I got myself on the course and haven’t looked back since.

I think people transitioning from the hospitality sector to wine production is an increasingly common route into the industry, particularly for those involved with wine service where there’s obviously a prevailing passion for wine. Coming from the kitchen, however, means I’m a stickler for hygiene!

I have spent zero time in the financial sector and my 12-year career has been entirely vinous-based – I absolutely love what I do!

What has been your hardest obstacle to overcome in producing wine?

Wine production is full of obstacles and challenges. You have to be dynamic and think on your feet, particularly when the grapes are coming through the door thick and fast. I spent 2011 in Marlborough, New Zealand, where we processed over 10,000 tons of fruit throughout harvest of mostly sauvignon blanc, of course. I was on the night crew, we worked 12 hour shifts for nearly 8 weeks straight – it was truly exhausting and there were some moments where I started to question my career choice and my conviction outlined above. But there was a real camaraderie within the crew and now looking back at that harvest it was a lot of fun and I learnt a great deal from it. Experiencing wine production on that scale gives you a great understanding of how to run an efficient facility, but I’m relieved that we’re not quite as big-scale here at Fitz (yet!).

How do you see the future of English sparkling wine?

The last few years have been hugely interesting when it comes to English sparkling wine. We’ve seen some of the larger producers firmly cement the UK’s position as a serious wine-producing region on the world stage through their continued success.

We’ve also seen diversification in the sector when it comes to production methods and winemakers experimenting with grapes other than what are often dubbed the “holy trinity” of grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. There’s no question that these varietals can make exceptional traditional method fizz – after all, our neighbours across the channel have been doing it for a fair while now. But with the emergence of Charmat wines like Fitz, pet nats and ancestral method sparklers, plus sparkling wine in a can, there’s an ever-increasing choice for the consumer which can only be a good thing. These new product types can offer value for money, interest and convenience, and I hope that we continue to see winemakers experiment and diversify as the industry moves forward. I’ve got no doubt that traditional method fizz will continue to be the predominant style of wine produced here, but there’s room for everyone and we have to make sure we continue to offer our consumers choice – even though you technically can’t call these other aforementioned products “English Sparkling Wine” – but that’s a conversation for another time.

What is your favourite food pairing with one of your sparkling wines?

Without a doubt, Fitz and a dozen oysters – plus the company of someone special to share them with.

I’m a real believer in pairing food and wine – it’s fantastic when you find a combination that really compliments and enhances the other. But at the end of the day, I don’t think there should be any right or wrongs, do’s/don’ts when it comes to food pairings. It’s entirely subjective, so don’t let anyone tell you not to enjoy that vintage Krug with a packet of Nik Naks (Nice ‘n’ Spicy works best).

Where’s the most memorable place you’ve enjoyed a Glass of Bubbly?

In bed. When we’d finished the very first bottling of Fitz, I took a bottle home to open up. Obviously the wine should have ideally spent a bit of time on cork, but I couldn’t wait to get a bottle popped. After two years of planning, R&D, countless prototypes, this was the culmination of all that hard work and a product that was a World first – a Charmat-method sparkling wine, made in England.

Sharing it with my partner who’d been a huge support throughout the Fitz adventure made it all the more special. I couldn’t stop smiling and we had to bring a glass to bed – it was delicious!

Glass of Bubbly

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