Interview With Marie Davies – Business Manager at Stopham Vineyard

26th January 2024

Interview With Marie Davies Business Manager at Stopham Vineyard

Wine is one of the most fascinating and exciting industries to work in, from the winemakers to the business managers, each person plays an equally important role in bringing the world of wine to life, and it’s our mission here at Glass of Bubbly to shine the spotlight on everyone within the industry, highlighting their positions, sharing their stories and inspiring the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

In this feature we speak with Marie Davies, the Business Manager at Stopham Vineyard, an Award Winning English Winery located in Stopham, West Sussex, their Sparkling Brut Prestige 2018 took home a well-deserved Gold Medal in the Creamy Category at the Glass of Bubbly Awards 2023, so let’s discover a little about her time at Stopham Vineyard and in the English Wine Industry.

It’s Lovely To Meet You Marie, Can You Tell Us A Little About Yourself?

“Hello, Oliver! Nice to meet you too. So to give you a little bit of background, I grew up in Kent and we were fortunate enough to live in some very pretty rural villages as my (Irish) parents were publicans so hospitality and good wine have always been in my DNA!

After graduating from Portsmouth University with a French degree, I spent several years living in London and travelling to continental Europe for work before heading to live in Castelnaudary in South West France, where I was surrounded by vineyards, the stunning landscapes of the Pyrenees and the Montagne Noire and a French vigneron next door neighbour to boot.

Following a career in media and luxury cosmetics, I now live in Brighton with my husband and 2 children and have worked in the UK wine industry since 2018. I am passionate about art, travel, all things French and of course fine wine.”

How Did You Find Your Way Into The Wine Industry?

“After a long career in media sales, then working with Paris based skincare brands and fragrance houses I moved back to the UK and met my husband.

I moved to Brighton in 2008 and after the birth of our daughters, travel to France became too tricky so I decided to look for something closer to home. Being based in Brighton I could see that I was surrounded by vineyards in Sussex and my new career path became clear. It felt like the right timing to make my passion for wine official and sign up for a WSET Course to get qualified and (hopefully) get a job in the wine trade.

With my qualifications in the bag (WSET Level 2 and 3 and French Wine Scholar) I set about getting a job in English wine and after visiting 2 vineyards I was hired. My first job was at Bluebell Vineyard in East Sussex where I worked alongside Kevin Sutherland and the management team. Learning from Kevin and getting up close to the winemaking equipment was incredible and brought all of the knowledge I had learned from the text books to life.

In January 2020, I was approached to work with Simon Woodhead at Stopham Vineyard and jumped at the chance to work for such a highly respected winemaker of aromatic still and sparkling wines. I joined the team at Stopham in February 2020 just before the lock down. An interesting time to join to say the least!”

As The Business Manager at Stopham Vineyard, Could You Give Us Some Insight In The Day To Day Operations Of What It’s Like Managing An English Winery?

“We are a small team of 4 at Stopham and no day starts without a good coffee! Seated around the table in our Victorian barn, which houses the winery, we then get to planning what we will all be focusing on that day or week.

Our weekly team meeting will usually cover firstly what’s happening in the vineyard and then winemaking, any new equipment needed, timescales, sales, new leads or issues, marketing, forthcoming tasting events, distributor updates or if we have any grant opportunities coming up. We work very closely with our district councils and Sussex Modern to drive tourism to our business.

In the vineyard, as well as keeping a close eye on mother nature and potential frost alerts, we need to manage the soil and forward plan for additional resources needed for pruning, bud rubbing or harvest. We also ensure we have the right equipment in place for the year ahead and that we are doing everything we can to be a sustainable grower.

In the winery, we need to ensure we have all of our materials secured, bottles, labels, and screw caps as these all have a lead time and some items come from France so prices can fluctuate and there is a need for quality control – best price and best quality. We also make wine for other vineyards so we have to manage production and tank space for the contract winemaking customers. With Simon’s background in engineering, the winemakers at Stopham are known for their attention to detail, constantly monitoring the wines in the tank, temperature controlled fermentations, testing, topping up barrels, lees stirring, filtering, fining, sterilising and planning for bottling.

In everything we do, we try to hold our brand values close to our hearts; passion, precision, craft and sustainability.”

Will Stopham Be Releasing Any New Sparkling Wines In 2024?

“This summer we will be releasing our new 2019 sparkling vintage, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A portion of the wine has been in 2 year old French oak barrels so we are excited to taste the wine with this added complexity.”

What Are The Short Term And Longer Term Future Plans For Stopham?

“We do have some short term exciting plans for Stopham. We are exploring some new equipment for our winery which will make us more efficient and more sustainable with our use of electricity. We are also committed to our sustainability goals in our vineyard so we have now moved away from using herbicides by using an under vine mower to control weeds.

With regard to the long term, we do have plans for a shop/tasting room in one of our outbuildings.”

How Important Is Sustainability To Stopham Vineyard?

“Sustainability is hugely important to us and underpins everything we do at Stopham. As we are located within the South Downs National Park we have to be protective of our environment. Here’s a list of things we do:

Encourage healthy soil. Improving soil management for soil health.
Cut out cultivation.
Allow natural fauna to grow.
Reduce herbicide.
Manage pests.
Promote biodiversity.
Plant trees.
Protect against frost”

How Do You See The Future Of English Sparkling Wine?

“The future of English Sparkling is looking bright! In one word I see ‘Growth’.

I see lots of choices ahead for consumers as more and more vineyards are being planted.

For me, the smaller producers harvesting grapes from their vineyards are akin to the smaller growers in Champagne. As buyers become increasingly curious and explore more of what’s on offer I see the sector growing as a whole and consumers becoming more confident with what they are purchasing. Some consumers will cherish the thought of buying from a lesser known, smaller producer, like finding a hidden treasure from Burgundy.

Other consumers will prefer the tried and trusted, bigger brands which will, in turn, become our equivalent of the ‘Grand Marque’ Champagne houses. They offer brand awareness and foster consumer loyalty through schemes and wine clubs. I think we will start to see more celebrity endorsement and more joint ventures with celebrities putting their name to wine e.g. Alex James of Blur and ‘Britpop’.

I also see the continuation of diversified styles being offered alongside the traditional method, e.g. Pet Nat, charmat (tank method), sparkling varietals like Bacchus frizzante and piquette, a cheaper, lower alcohol wine.”

Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?

“At Big Sur in California on honeymoon. Arriving at our hotel, The Post Ranch Inn, and being welcomed with a glass of Champagne overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

Thank you Marie, for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Marie Davies. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.