Interview With The CEO of Roebuck Estates
10th November 2023
There is no denying that English Sparkling Wine is on the rise, becoming an undeniable contender to Champagne, and although it still has some way to go in convincing the rest of the world, to the English, it’s becoming a fan favourite and a go-to Glass of Bubbly, it’s quality is improving with each year and thanks to innovators and those willing to follow their dreams, the choice of English Sparkling Wine is expanding.
In this article we speak with Michael Kennedy, the incredible mind running Roebuck Estates, crafting English Sparkling Wines in Sussex, let’s discover a little about his time in the Wine Industry.
Tell Us About Yourself
“I am originally from Northern Ireland but have been living in London for the past 25 years. My wife is also from Northern Ireland, although we actually met at business school in France a long time ago. I have three kids, two of them are now at University and one is in her last year at school so soon it will be just me, my wife and our two Labradors, Reggie and Ozzie at home. I love my sport and can often be found out on a bike somewhere. Rugby was my sport originally and I have been coaching kids rugby for the past 12 years.”
How Did You Become Involved In The Wine Industry?
“I am a relatively recent addition to the wine industry although I have been in the drinks industry for over 20 years. I joined the Drambuie Liqueur Company as European Regional Director in 2002 and became CEO a few years later. We sold the business to William Grants in 2014 and then I joined another spirits business, Stock Spirits Group where I ran both the Italian and Export units. Whilst I was running Italy, we bought a grappa business in the Franciacorta region which also had a Franciacorta sparkling wine. It was a great wine in a beautiful location just outside Lake Iseo and it really opened my eyes to other high quality traditional method sparkling wines. When Stock Spirits Group was bought by private equity, I had the opportunity to leave and with my new found interest in sparkling, I looked to the flourishing English wine market for a new and exciting challenge and here I am at Roebuck Estates.”
How Rewarding And Challenging Is Working As The CEO Of Roebuck Estates?
“I absolutely love it although that doesn’t mean to say it is not without its challenges. We are a relatively new entrant to the market, even though this is our tenth year anniversary. We produce vintage, traditional method sparkling wines from our own estate grown fruit. When the business was set up, the vision was to produce an exceptional vintage every single year. That might sound like an oxymoron but it defines the challenge that we have set ourselves and so far, we have met that challenge. It all starts with producing exceptionally high quality fruit every year and to do that, we realised we needed to build up a compilation of the highest quality vineyard sites. We now have 5 sites producing across West and East Sussex and another two in the pipeline. We put the vineyards at the heart of the business and take a meticulous data led approach with an incredibly talented viticulture team.
We recently launched our Viticulture Academy where we bring in a small group of trade partners to our lead vineyard at key points in the growing season to learn both the theory of what we do as well as well as the practical application. The feedback has been great and even the most experienced sommeliers have told us what an eye opener it is. Another challenge of course is how we protect and re-build our natural environment, whilst ensuring the best possible fruit. We have a saying in the business – like the Roe Deer itself, Roebuck will aim to leave as light a footprint as possible on our environment. Sustainability has always been at the core of the business and we have made real progress in this. We recently employed an ecologist as part of our viticulture team, which has taken our plans to a whole new level.
Of course, the challenges of running a business like Roebuck Estates aren’t just about the weather, the fruit and the winemaking, there is also the matter of bringing our brand to life with both our existing and future consumers. We are making good progress on this in the UK, internationally and direct to consumer channels. Hopefully, you will see a lot more about Roebuck going forward but we recognise we still have lots to do.”
How Do You See The Future Of English Sparkling Wine?
“I think the future of English Sparkling Wine is very bright indeed. As I said I see myself as a newcomer and the more I have gotten into the industry, the more I have been impressed with the increasing quality, professionalism and appetite of so many people and businesses. To get to where the industry is today has taken a lot of hard work and effort from a lot of great businesses but I still feel like we are at a pre-tipping point. We are winning the hearts and minds of many people in our home market but we are still a fraction the size of Champagne sales here. We are making great progress in export markets as an industry and there is no doubt the awareness of English Sparkling is growing quickly internationally but realistically we are only scratching the surface of many international markets. Of course, there are challenges as we develop, quality needs to remain high and we have to work together as an industry to champion a path forward to success.”
Where’s The Most Memorable Place You’ve Enjoyed A Glass of Bubbly?
“I think I can safely say my most memorable places to date have come in the last year. Sitting on the rooftop bar of Seabird London with my family to celebrate my daughter’s 21st birthday in June this year was special. Equally sitting at the top of our home vineyard, just outside Petworth looking down over the South Downs with the full Roebuck team on a warm Friday night is pretty special too.”
Thank you, Michael, 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 Michael Kennedy. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.